Coming to terms with the present: land disputes as social spaces for redefining the rules of living together in the aftermath of the Sierra Leonean war
(Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve)
Paper short abstract:
This paper shows how local disputes, particularly those related to land on the Peninsula of Freetown (Sierra Leone), open up new social spaces for people to talk about the Sierra Leonean war and redefine the rules of living together with reference to past violence.
Paper long abstract:
The decade-long civil war (1991-2002) in Sierra Leone produced profound ruptures in social and family bonds. Rebel intimidation tactics such as rape, maiming and execution shattered provincial communities. The conflict also caused massive population displacements, transforming the ways people perceive their attachments to local networks. On the Peninsula of Freetown, permanent in-migrations have considerably reshaped the contours of social and political relationships. Towards the end of the war and during the following decade in particular, Sierra Leoneans from the interior moved to Freetown and nearby coastal communities in search of new opportunities. With rising demand for land, tensions have developed between local populations and settlers, stirring autochthonous claims and exclusive definitions of ethnicity. Land pressure causes disputes between relatives and long-standing neighbors. In the context of changing demography, tensions appear between populations who consider themselves autochthonous and well-established pre-war migrants, who start to lay claims to land that they previously considered belonging to local communities. Yet, this paper argues that local land disputes open up a new social space for discussing issues of inter- and intra-community violence. Land disputes, as they involve people who know each other well, have a short-term disruptive character for social life. Yet, they are also privileged spaces to talk about changing relations between individuals and between groups. Local land disputes allow people to reflect on the violence of the Sierra Leonean conflict, its consequences on contemporary social life, and to redefine the rules of living together in a rapidly changing socio-political context.
Conflicts and social violence in an interconnected and uncertain world