The conventional perspective on Sudan's recent civil war (1983-2005) - one of the longest and most complex conflicts in Africa - emphasises ethnicity as the main cause. This study, on the contrary, identifies the land factor as a root cause that is central to understanding Sudan's local conflicts and large-scale wars.
Land rights are about relationships between and among persons, pertaining to different economic and ritual activities. Rights to land are intimately tied to membership in specific communities, from the family to the nation-state. Control over land in Africa has been, and still is, used as a means of defining identity and belonging, an instrument to control, and a source of, political power. Membership of these communities is contested, negotiable, and changeable over time. For national governments land is a national economic resource for public and private development, but the interests and rights of rural majorities and their sedentary or nomadic subsistence forms of life are often difficult to harmonise with land policies pursued by national governments. The state's exclusionary land policies and politics of limiting or denying communities their land rights play a crucial role in causing local conflicts that then can escalate into large-scale wars. Land issues increase the complexity of a conflict, thereby reducing the possibility of managing, resolving, or ultimately transforming it. The conflict in the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan, the regional focus in this study, is living proof of this transformation.
Guma Kunda Komey is Assistant Professor of Human Geography, Juba University, Sudan.