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Maintaining peace and stability in Mali’s Sikasso Region: Strategies to contain land-related conflicts

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Executive summary

Access to land is at the heart of inter-communal conflict in Mali. Combined with other regional, geopolitical, identity-based, economic and political factors, such tensions have been exploited over time by armed groups inciting violence, resulting in widespread conflict in both northern and central Mali.

To better understand this dynamic, this study explores land-related conflicts in the Sikasso Region in southern Mali. The research has deliberately focused on a region where extensive violence has yet to be observed. In doing so, the research seeks to identify ways to manage and prevent the escalation of land-related conflict at early stages, thereby preventing the spread of instability and violence witnessed elsewhere in Mali. It examines the potential for land-related conflict to destabilise the region, alongside the relevance and effectiveness of different mechanisms and actors to support the resolution of these conflicts.

Land-related conflicts in Sikasso can be broadly grouped into two identifiable types:

  • Conflicts over land ownership: mainly due to a dissonance between weakening traditional norms, incomplete formal norms and corrupt political practices, as well as intensified land speculation.

  • Conflicts over land-use: guided by strong socio-economic and identity-based dynamics, such conflicts are generally caused by the absence of, or a disregard for, shared rules of use.

Positive legal developments have taken place in land-use and ownership, such as the recognition of traditional rights and the creation of hybrid legal-traditional mechanisms. Yet land management laws remain unimplemented due to a lack of inter-agency communication and a lack of awareness of the law. Therefore, traditional authorities still play a key role in preventing the escalation into violence of land-related conflicts. Yet, when it comes to the longterm resolution of such conflicts, the dictates of tradition can work against the interests of women especially, but also of young people and migrant populations, who are structurally excluded from land ownership in different ways.

As such, efforts to improve land governance need to take into consideration both legal developments and traditional systems where these operate effectively to some degree, while being wary of the limitations of both systems.

To address the immediate risks around land-related conflict and to build sustainable land management systems that can mitigate the potential for conflict, the Malian government and its international partners should take the following actions:

  1. Identify and monitor early warning signs of conflict, by undertaking regular local-level conflict analysis in order to prioritise places most at risk. Equally, interventions that derive from this analysis need to be conflict-sensitive.

  2. Train intermediary groups, including young people, in inclusive land governance. Such a move will serve the dual purpose of supporting communities to manage land-related conflicts while tackling entrenched inequalities in dispute mechanisms. This would help increase transparency and oversight in land governance.

  3. Put in place a coordinated system of training local administration in land management and ensuring the proper implementation of the law at all government levels. This would require support for national and local government (including village leaders) to develop knowledge and understanding of the governing legal framework for land management, including a reinforcement of the oversight of local governments by their hierarchy and legislative branches.

  4. Improve the impact and sustainability of donor-supported conflict-mitigation interventions by liaising closely with all levels of governance (communal, cercle, regional, national) and developing communication strategies to disseminate knowledge and to encourage replication of successful interventions.