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Reviewed by:
  • Local Politics and the Dynamics of Property in Africa
  • Dawn M. Whitehead
Lund, Christian. 2008. Local Politics and the Dynamics of Property in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press. 200 pp.

Christian Lund’s book, Local Politics and the Dynamics of Property in Africa, makes a significant contribution to the fertile field of the anthropology of politics on the African continent, particularly in Ghana, a stable West African country. With access to a rich array of research sources, Lund has used multiple microhistories of conflict to offer a lucid discussion of land and indigenous politics in the northeastern (or Upper-East) part of Ghana. This publication, an original study of property disputes in general, offers its users information on politics and the state in that area of Ghana, which well deserves the exposure being provided. [End Page 126]

Dr. Lund is a member of the Social Science Research Council in Denmark and the Director of Roskilde University’s Graduate School in International Development Studies. He shows in this book how access to land is vital to the livelihoods of rural and urban Africans. As he points out, individuals have recourse to a variety of political, administrative, and legal institutions to exert energy and imagination to getting their land claims recognized as rights.

This study provides researchers, students, and general readers with detailed discussion of how public authority and the state are formed in the context of debates and struggles over property. It explores how the 1979 state divestiture of land encouraged competition between customary authorities and other institutions, including what is known as the earth-priest. As Lund concludes, such processes are the key to understanding the notion of property in Africa.

For a meaningful articulation of the nuances of property in this part of Ghana, Lund provides his readers nine useful chapters, beginning with an introduction that begins with a quote from Samuel Beckett: “Any fool can turn the blind eye. But who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand?” (p. 1). Lund begins with an account of a petition for compensation for the taking of farmlands at Pabaga-Damweo Residential Area of the Ghanaian Upper-East. He shows that the land on which the local police station was built was seized, but “not legally acquired by the government” (p. 1). Citizens, to express anger for what they saw as theft, claimed the land back by cultivating the grounds of the police station—a bold act, which led to a compromise with the National Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), to the effect that “the local population can grow only low crops, enabling the police to have a clear view from the buildings” (p. 2).

Lund, in detail, looks at several aspects of the land issues in lively and sophisticated discussions, which touch on the incongruities of the situation, coupled with the history of land policies in the area (chapter 2); the ownership of the major city of Bolgatanga (chapter 3); chieftaincy, land, and local administration (chapter 4); land conflicts and their settlement (chapter 5); Bawku and its volatility (chapter 6); rent and access to forest resources (chapter 7); small dams and fluid tenure (chapter 8); and the conclusion, in which Lund discusses structural patterns, processual patterns, organization, and technology (chapter 9).

This book is basically about property disputes in their sociohistorical contexts, but Lund goes further to provide information on how interest in African land tenure has reemerged, with several international organizations, including the World Bank, as the principal actors. Toward these ends, he points out how property and public authority are mutually constitutive and contingent: “Where land tenure is fluid and the range of public authorities considerable, landed property as well as political institutions become highly negotiable and the object of local politics” (p. 174).

For readers to appreciate unfamiliar terminologies, Lund explains in minute detail how patterns are not restricted to structural outcomes, but [End Page 127] “can equally be identified in the processual dynamics of property” (p. 178). This, in fact, is a book that will benefit academics (including researchers), students, and general readers.

Dawn M. Whitehead
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)


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pp. 126-128
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