The Question of Land

One  thing I’ve discovered about this region is that there is a lot of conflict that arises over land. The problem is that there are multiple claims to land from different authorities. There are cadastral claims that are registered with the city, claims with local chiefs, and even ancestral claims that don’t belong to either group. It is a common occurrence that a piece of land is sold even though it already has another claim. In many cases the conflict becomes violent. There is no easy way to resolve such a deeply embedded issue, but mapping has the ability to offer transparency as a first step to reaching resolution.

An example of land conflict is the tension between the Congo Pygmy population and new populations that are moving in and buying land in the region of Mbau, north of Beni. The chiefs of the area are selling land that Pygmies say they already have claim to. Two weeks ago I went with a few professors and students from UCBC to an advocacy event that was arranged by an organization called PAP-RDC (Programme d’Assistance aux Pygmies) in partnership with the Catholic University of Graben in Butembo. Many Pygmy representatives were gathered to express their sentiments about how their land was being taken from them. They were seated in a circle and people stood up and spoke passionately one at at a time in front of a video camera. It’s a very sensitive issue because the Congo Pygmies have been subject to decades of discrimination and exploitation.  The advocacy group is making a video to spread awareness about the conflict from the perspective of the Pygmy population. It was interesting to be an observer. We are hoping to meet with the team from PAP to see what kind of mapping they have done and to learn from their experience of responding to land conflict.

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2 Comments to “The Question of Land”

  1. Yeah, post-war Sri Lanka is the same way – a lot of confusion about property division and ownership/rights. It’s a reflection of the rudimentary (and therefore excessively bureaucratic) legal systems for documenting, and transferring land ownership in developing countries. Arguably it’s one of the biggest factors preventing developing countries from having robust market economies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernando_de_Soto_Polar#Main_thesis).

    W/r/t property conflicts, mapping can be very powerful by ‘formalizing’ informal agreements or claims (i.e. see China’s mapping of the South Pacific Seas).

    This is why I think participatory OS mapping are tools worth investing and developing for – it can potentially help disenfranchised communities (i.e. semi-legal squatters) claim property, and from there (theoretically) a foot in the door of a more powerful legal and economic systems.

    Question: Are you mapping the architecture as well? I imagine infrastructure for sure, but what about buildings, shacks etc?

    Because, of course the absence or presence of such strengthens/weakens property claims respectively, I believe.

    • Yes we intend to map architecture. Another reason for mapping the buildings is to use them for a population estimate of the city. By surveying a selection of households we can calculate an average number of persons and then count the houses.

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