Catherine Boone, Property and Political Order in Africa: land rights and the structure of politics.
With the publication of her latest book, Property and Political Order in Africa, Catherine Boone demonstrates why she is considered one of the leading scholars of contemporary African politics. Endeavouring to explain the recent rise in land-related conflict across Africa, Boone argues that while the exogenous shock of heightened competition for land is common throughout much of the continent, it is the different ways in which rural state institutions, specifically land tenure regimes (LTRs), 'refract' these external pressures that ultimately determine variations in the form that these land-related conflicts take in practice.
In Part I, Boone outlines her central hypothesis, arguing that in their conceptualization of rural Africa as invariant, institution less and beyond the reach of the state, political scientists have often neglected key structural and institutional variables that shape political behaviour in these areas, such as rural property regimes. To better understand the political effects of these institutions and their relationship to land-related conflict, Boone develops a typology of LTRs, dividing them into two broad categories: 'neocustomary' and 'statist'. In the former, land, which under colonialism was specially endowed to ethnic communities, is governed indirectly through local, neocustomary authorities. In the latter, central governments administer the allocation of rural property directly via state representatives. Boone hypothesizes that variations in these LTRs (in their locus of authority, territorial jurisdiction, and citizenship and property rules) explain differences 'in patterns of ethnic conflict, in the political scale of redistributive politics, and in election-time conflict' (p. 11).
In the remainder of the book, Boone unpacks these arguments as they relate to her thirty-two provincial and district-level case studies. In Part II, she argues that land institutions play a critical role in reproducing ethnicity as a state-imposed political identity, which channels rural tensions over land along ethnic lines. Boone contends that, in areas with high in-migration of ethnic outsiders, this plays out differently depending on which LTRs prevail. Under neocustomary land regimes, rules of land access distinguish between indigenes and ethnic 'strangers' (i.e. in-migrants), imposing a hierarchy of citizenship, which benefit the former and marginalize the latter. Under statist land regimes, on the other hand, rising competition for land finds political expression in tensions between state-sponsored settlers and indigenes. In these cases, it is the latter group that is systematically disadvantaged by the state.
In Part III, Boone finds that variations in property regimes also determine the political scope and scale of land-related conflicts. In neocustomary regimes, land conflicts will be 'bottled up' at the local level by neocustomary authorities, thus insulating the upper echelons of the state apparatus from rural political unrest. In statist LTRs, there is a greater potential for these conflicts to be scaled up to the national level, because the state's involvement in land allocation creates linkages between local and national political spheres. As such, the possibilities for the construction of national citizenship are enhanced in these cases, but so are the risks to rulers of popular mobilization, the creation of robust electoral coalitions, and class politics (though this last scenario remains underexplored in Boone's analysis).
Finally, in Part IV, Boone considers the conditions under which land competition comes to be a salient issue in electoral politics. Here she argues that, in contrast to neocustomary LTRs, land conflicts structured by statist property regimes commonly find expression in the arena of multiparty politics during elections, because state-sponsored settler populations, who rely on the state for their land rights, are highly mobilizable by those who have the power to protect their right to land. On the other hand, aggrieved constituencies, who hold the state responsible for their loss of land, are likely to support opposition politicians who promise to redress their historical land grievances. As demonstrated in some of Boone's more high-profile contemporary cases in Chapter 9, such as the Rift Valley in Kenya and southern Cote d'Ivoire, under the statist LTRs, contestations over land rights can come to be politicized in national elections and thus help to provoke the emergence of violent land-related conflict on a national scale.
More ambitious in scope than her previous Political Topographies of the African State, Boone's latest book shares many of its predecessor's celebrated strengths: an elegant comparative institutionalist framework, a nuanced appreciation of the off-neglected subnational variation of state institutions in rural Africa, and trenchant, historically bound theoretical insights that challenge some of political science's conventional wisdoms about politics on the continent. Specifically, her argument that ethnic identities acquire their political salience in rural Africa 'through everyday practices of land control and administration' (p. 98) acts as a powerful critique of ideational conceptions of ethnicity, which problematically posit these identities as 'pre-political'.
However, Boone's latest publication falls short of its predecessor in its examination of the communal structures and social hierarchies that shape political life in the rural communities she investigates, where such political-economic analysis remains less nuanced by comparison. Moreover, particularly in her discussion of the dominant LTRs in south-western Cote d'Ivoire (Chapter 5), her conceptual distinction between statist and neocustomary LTRs is not always as clearly delineated in practice as her research design suggests.
In spite of this, Boone's Property and Political Order is a masterful work, which offers provocative insights into the politics of ethnicity, the nature of the African state, and, most significantly, the underlying causes of land-related conflict in Africa. It should prove indispensable reading for political scientists, development scholars, Africanists and policymakers alike.
University of Toronto
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2017|
|Previous Article:||Mohammed Hassen, The Oromo and the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia 1300-1700.|
|Next Article:||Christian A. Williams, National Liberation in Postcolonial Southern Africa: a historical ethnography of SWAPO's exile camps.|