Land and conflict in Sierra Leone: a rapid desk-based study

Land and conflict in Sierra Leone: a rapid desk-based study

This paper is a desk-based study of land rights and conflict in Sierra Leone.  It reviews post-2002 academic and grey literature. It addresses land ownership and rights within Sierra Leone, as well as exploring the concept of land ownership as a source or driver of conflict. It also reviews literature on the current land tenure system, and government stated policies.

Academic literature suggests that power dynamics have changed in rural areas since the war, but Paramount Chiefs and elders of landowning family lineages still hold more power over local land allocation than locally elected councils. Chiefs have traditionally controlled access to land by individuals of lower social status such as outsiders, women and young men. There is some indication that inter-generational relations and relations between weaker groups and chiefs have improved in recent years.

Among anecdotal sources, there is a significant perception of ‘land grabbing’ by foreign companies involved in large bio-fuel and other projects, which cannot be easily verified due to lack of accurate land use records or research. Anecdotally, NGOs, civil society and human rights groups have documented outbreaks of violence in response to such projects.

Further evidence is required to draw firm conclusions on both foreign and domestic investment in terms of their impact on access to land and their role in sparking land disputes or violent conflict. NGOs are calling for greater transparency in land deals and informed consent, which could help to mitigate the risk of conflict.

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