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Of Clubs and Conflict: The Dissolvant Power of Social Capital in Kivu (D.R.Congo)

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Van Acker, Frank
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1314
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
social capital
property rights
land tenure and use
social organization
legal systems
Abstract: "The central interest of this paper is to look at how the dynamic interaction of the attributes of polity, community, and natural resources during a period of intense change in a society affect the institutional framework and one of its main emanations, the property rights system. The central argument is that social capital as the cement of the concept of community, contrary to what is generally considered, can be an important dissolvant factor in the process of unraveling common property structures. To clarify this, the endowments of social, natural, physical, and human capital are brought to relate to entitlements to resource flows in a dynamic framework that households navigate by exchanging different sorts of capital. In this process, the nature of rapid institutional transition is relevant, in that it determines the utility of capital held. This theoretical framework will be applied to a case history of commonly held land in Congo's conflict-ridden Kivu provinces. "In general, a situation in which community governs ecological systems held in common, is presented as a win- win situation. In other words, it allows a more Pareto-efficient allocation of use rights. The social capital embedded in this community is then implicitly assumed to be a uniform public good, non-rival and non-exclusive. This framework however fails to account for differences in power. Our argument here is that at the micro-level at which households exist, social capital acts as a club good, an imperfect public good that allows exclusion. "In Kivu, the land tenure system evolved to function as the main integrative focus of society. Its basis was a hierarchical network of social relations of patronage and dependency, that allowed to spread economic risk and realize economies of scale. Land was held in common but governed as a club good. The place in the structure determined entitlements, with limited social mobility. Failure to acknowledge dependency signified exclusion from the benefits of the structure. "Following Congo's independence, the increasing heterogeneity of markets, and participants and interests present in them, was facilitated by the introduction of a land law that recognized individual ownership rather than use rights, without according any legal status to land held in community structures. The resulting haziness in the legitimacy of reference frameworks allowed political actors to capitalize the rents present in the traditional land tenure structure, and thereby destroy the concommitant social relations and mechanisms that allowed to pool risks and realize economies of scale. To do so, these political actors manage to erode the utility of the social capital embedded in these structures by drawing on the social capital embedded in the informal networks that surrounded the president. The traditional chiefs played a key role in facilitating this process, as they occupied strategic places in both types of networks. "Without arguing that Kivu's tumultuous history bears a linear relationship to these changes, the paper argues that the potential for conflict was greatly enhanced by a hybrid system of property rights, in which legal norms contradicted cultural norms."

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