A Question of Honour: Property Disputes and Brokerage in Burkina Faso

When conflicts over land arise in the region of Dori, northern Burkina Faso, bribery of officials through ‘brokers’ is common. However, farmers often pay more in bribes than the land at issue is worth. ‘It is a question of honour’ people say. Disputes are arbitrated by competing State institutions. ‘Brokers’ monopolize and manipulate access to the institutions and largely control the legal outcome. People do not expect protection from the State but rely on their honour in countering adversaries. When the only defence of property is the owner’s honour, and not the State, the price of infringement must be set high as a deterrent. The land in question may not be important, but any usurpation of it is an attack on the honour and hence on the whole property of the aggrieved party. Competition for access to land between farmers is matched and complicated at a higher level by competition for jurisdiction between the various political and legal authorities. The argument is illustrated by two land disputes – in the first case two litigants are locked in a protracted battle with little chance of a settlement; in the second case, a former village chief runs into trouble when his status and property rights are put in doubt as a consequence of national political changes. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French.

Title: A Question of Honour: Property Disputes and Brokerage in Burkina Faso
Author: Lund, Christian
Year: 1999
Periodical: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Volume: 69
Issue: 4
Pages: 575-594
Language: English
Geographic term: Burkina Faso
External link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1160876
Abstract: When conflicts over land arise in the region of Dori, northern Burkina Faso, bribery of officials through ‘brokers’ is common. However, farmers often pay more in bribes than the land at issue is worth. ‘It is a question of honour’ people say. Disputes are arbitrated by competing State institutions. ‘Brokers’ monopolize and manipulate access to the institutions and largely control the legal outcome. People do not expect protection from the State but rely on their honour in countering adversaries. When the only defence of property is the owner’s honour, and not the State, the price of infringement must be set high as a deterrent. The land in question may not be important, but any usurpation of it is an attack on the honour and hence on the whole property of the aggrieved party. Competition for access to land between farmers is matched and complicated at a higher level by competition for jurisdiction between the various political and legal authorities. The argument is illustrated by two land disputes – in the first case two litigants are locked in a protracted battle with little chance of a settlement; in the second case, a former village chief runs into trouble when his status and property rights are put in doubt as a consequence of national political changes. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French.