For years, traditional forms of land management have been able to accommodate population growth in the city of Ziguinchor [Senegal] without any significant intervention by the government. The National Lands Act of 1964 introduced a new system of land tenure which formally displaced local forms. But because of the strength of local forms of organization, and the state’s inability to implement new policy, traditional notions of law have continued to play a role among the urban population.

Urban expansion and old local land tenure systems around the city of Ziguinchor, Senegal.

© John Lucas Eichelsheim

Published in Netherlands Review of Development Studies
Volume 3 1990/1991
IMWOO / Nuffic
The Hague
ISBN 90-71444-05-8

photo's by Jeroen de Rooij, 4 - 10 february 2002  



The film ‘Zan Boko’ by Gaston Kaboré of Burkina Faso begins with some beautiful images succeeding each other slowly and showing the daily troubles of a peasant family. The camera makes a 180 degree turn and shows us a blurred view of a vast plain baking in the sun. The colour yellow dominates the scene and is omnipresent in a vast gradation. In accordance with the images, time seems completely adapted to the oppressive heat: extremely slowly the events drag on. On the courtyard, fenced with mats made of straw, stands a woman bending over a big, flat stone over which she rubs a smaller stone in a continuous movement. Now and then she throws a handful of grains between the stones. In the background sits a man in the shade of a small tree. He is busy making some sort of tool out of a chunk of wood. On the horizon the flickering figure of a young girl appears, bearing a huge calabash on her head: she has fetched water somewhere. The houses on the courtyard have walls erected of dried mud above which we detect a thatched roof. In the shadow of one of the houses ruminate some goats.
In which year or season the film is set is not clear and seems not to be of any importance, until the events follow each other more rapidly. The woman appears to be far advanced in pregnancy and preparations for the birth are being taken. Then she clutches a screaming baby to her bare breasts. The placenta is buried near the biggest house on the courtyard to consecrate the new tie between the newborn and the nourishing earth. Then a Toyota pick-up car rides into view. Three men jump off and begin unloading surveying equipment. Behind the steering-wheel sits a very big, fat man, dressed after the latest western fashion, a golden watch around his impressive wrist and gold rimmed spectacles glued to his nose. A man in uniform steps out of the car. After some juggling with red and white striped laths and binoculars, big white numbers are chalked on the mud walls of every house.
From the conversations between peasants, flocked from all quarters to see what is going on, we understand that these people come from the city of Ouagadougou and are busy mapping out the future extension of the capital. With this we now know in which time to locate the events we just saw in the film. Not much later we see the peasant compound, introduced to us in the first images, being surrounded by a quivering heap of people and houses. The city has enveloped the village of the protagonist. We are then introduced to his new neighbour, a rich politician who wants to buy out the peasant because he wants to enlarge his estate with a swimming pool. At the end of the film we rejoin the peasant who is building a mud dwelling in a deserted countryside. This time no story about rural exodus and peasant families flocking to the cities which become ‘pools of despair and perdition’ in the eyes of many a western educated government official. No, this time the description of an all devouring urban monster with a peasant family as victim.

It will take too long to further recount the events in ‘Zan Boko’, but I would like to emphasize one point of utmost importance. Eventually, the protagonist does not yield to the temptation of money offered to him by his rich neighbour.  He does not sell his family land, although he was forced out in the end. He tries to avoid the confrontation he did not seek by retreating to the countryside, trying to seek new shelter for his family in the way he knows best. The fact that he did have to give up his family land shows that his cosmos was interfered with. But at least by moving he kept his pride and the blessing of the Gods and his ancestors which, in his eyes, he and his family would have lost by selling the family land. This case in the film clearly shows that possession of land must not be regarded solemnly as a material factor in the interpretation of processes of change. The ritual aspects of local relations must also be taken into account if we want to understand the motives, both practical or emotional, of all the actors involved in the processes of change.

Now it also becomes clear why Gaston Kaboré has chosen for a ‘slow’ beginning of the film:  it was essential to demonstrate the real value the protagonist attached to his land. He had received it from his father who, like his grandfather, was buried there; it is the land which had nourished the family for as long as anyone could remember, the land where the place known as ‘Zan Boko’ is located, the spot where the placenta is buried. In short it represents his whole past, the world of his ancestors and the future of his children - not something you throw away for money.

The emotional attachment to land and its consequences were very recognizable to me because I had the same experiences during my own field research in the town of Ziguinchor, Senegal. In this regional capital of the most southern province Casamance, fights broke out on the 18th of December 1983 between the inhabitants of Ziguinchor and the armed forces, resulting in 200 people dying in the streets. It is now generally accepted that the origin of the conflict lies in land disputes, which arose during the execution of a re-allocation programme by the Municipality of Ziguinchor. In the 1970's the local bureaucracy wanted more say in the vast, expanding city. So they began mapping new extensions of the city and started a programme of land re-allocation and legalization of the so-called ‘spontaneous’ settlements. This paper tries to account for the effects of this instance of State interference on the way of life of the inhabitants of Ziguinchor.

In Senegal, as in most African countries, an extremely rapid urbanization process has taken place. Senegal is now one of the most urbanized countries in Africa south of the Sahara desert: 32% of the Senegalese people now live in a city. Although the capital Dakar attracts most of the people, intermediary cities like Ziguinchor have also grown considerably. At the turn of the last century the population of Ziguinchor was about 1.000, in 1960 it had risen to 30.000 inhabitants and by now it will have exceeded 120.000. The present annual increase of more than 5% can be attributed half to natural processes, and half to the influx of immigrants from the surrounding villages and from other parts of Senegal. With this rapid growth in the city's population comes an increasing demand for building plots. A great area of agricultural land has thus acquired another function. Ziguinchor may be seen as a semi-rural city characterized by building plots with a surface of at least 400 square meters, broad roads with trees on either side and the general lack of buildings with more than one floor. It is therefore not surprising that land nowadays has become rather scarce in the periphery of the city. Over the years, Ziguinchor has expanded with little or no involvement from local authorities, often due to the lack of money. As a result of the constant growth of the population and the comparatively low supply of legalized building plots by local authorities, people who seek a shelter for their own, are driven to the periphery of the town.

Until 1964, the question of land in Senegal, how it was divided up and how it was used, was dealt with by the different ethnic groups of the country and their respective land tenure systems. Thus, for example, the land on which the ever-expanding city of Ziguinchor stands, belonged to the inhabitants of the surrounding Diola villages. The Diola (266.000 people) form the largest ethnic group in the region and they represent 7% of the Senegalese population. Despite the recent arrival of other ethnic groups, the Diola still form the largest ethnic group in the Municipality of Ziguinchor. The name Diola finds its origin in the colonial period and represents a wide variety of groups which, despite folkloristic and linguistic differences, show great cultural and historic similarities. One of those conformities is the land-tenure system that, as I will show later, plays a very important role in the relations of authority in the Diola villages.

Because local governments paid little attention to the way the town expanded, a great variety of so-called ‘spontaneous’ settlements developed in the periphery of the town. With permission from Diola landlords one could acquire a plot of land. In this way, Ziguinchor expanded over the years in a way that outsiders have inaccurately described as ‘anarchic’ or ‘spontaneous’. In fact, as I will later show, this ‘anarchic’ expansion took place in a thoroughly organized manner. In order to understand how an immigrant to Ziguinchor thinks of getting a plot of land in the town we must know how an immigrant in a Diola village gets access to land, in casu how the land-tenure system operates in the village, because this will be the frame of reference for an urban migrant.

the author in search for the Amsterdam delegation  

Patterns of organization in the Diola villages

The landscape in the province of Ziguinchor is determined by the vast estuary of the broad Casamance river, consisting of an impressive area of  waterways and mangrove fields. These particular characteristics make communication with Diola villages in the area difficult, with the result that they have remained isolated over the years. The Diola villages were very big (consisting of 500 to 7,000 inhabitants) and they were not only economically self-supporting, but were also autonomous in the political and religious field. In Diola society there were no economic, religious or political patterns of organization which went beyond the village level. Endogamy was the rule in Diola villages, which also prevented frequent relations with neighbouring villages. The scarce contacts made with surrounding villages were mostly hostile. These clashes often involved cattle, or prisoners who were exchanged for cattle, but the main reason for hostile relations were disputes about the ownership of rice fields  .

Intensive cultivation of wet rice fields was made possible by an abundant yearly rainfall of an average of 1,200 mm. during the months of June to October. Therefore, the Diola had a long tradition of sedentary agricultural activities, mainly consisting of rice production. According to some, this form of rice cultivation is centuries old. The best rice fields were those at the border of the Casamance river and its tributaries. These low fields, which had value because they were fairly scarce, needed a lot of  manpower for maintaining dikes. They were controlled by a small group of village elders. The fact that many generations invested their labour in the maintenance of these fields gives an extra dimension to their value. The Diola are thus attached to their land more strongly than groups with the usual African system of shifting agriculture.

This also explains the existence of a specific feature in the social organization of Diola society, based on the control over land, namely a sharp distinction between the autochthonous population and strangers from both inside and outside the ethnic group. Each Diola village has witnessed both immigration and emigration flows in the course of years. Those who control the land also control these migration movements and especially the location pattern of newcomers. These newcomers are in every way inferior to autochthons, also concerning religious or political matters.  In Diola society this complex network of relations, based on this contradistinction, is called the adjiati relationship. In these local patterns of interaction the elders of the lineages control the newcomers’ access to land by acting as host (adjiati)  .
A village mostly houses several patrilineages. Each patrilineage owns its rice fields, lives in a distinguishing part of the village (quartier) and each quartier constitutes an endogamous unit and may have its own sacred groves (bukin). There is always one central sacred grove (Kareng) for all the men of the village and one for all the women. This grove Kareng, mostly a dense cluster of trees around a giant old tree, belongs to the village as a whole and plays a crucial role in its social organization. Only married, and thus initiated, men have access to the men's grove, while only mothers may enter the women's grove. The initiation of young men takes place in the Kareng, controlled by the elders. They also have absolute power inside the groves during secret meetings concerning internal village affairs. In this segmented society, control by the elders of all ritual features and the access to land results in a pattern of authoritarian relationship between elders and all other social categories. This relationship becomes manifest when an elder acts as host by giving land to a newcomer, thus making himself the centre of their relationship. Access to land is the first encounter between the two poles.

A newcomer in a village goes in search of an elder who will and can give him access to land. Once found, the newcomer stays in the house of his landlord and adjiati until he is self-supporting, meaning until the first harvest has come from the field ‘let’ to him by his host.

'in the first place the adjiati is a host who gives shelter and food to a newcomer in his own house. The guest or stranger (in Diola: adjaoura) finds in the house of his adjiati his first shelter and access to the society he wants to become a member of; his first necessities of life are cared for and he has a basis from where he can explore the environment and the possibilities of his new home. Then the adjiati provides his guest with the opportunities to settle himself: he gives him a plot of land to build his own house or otherwise puts him in contact with another elder who is prepared to cede land; thus the adjiati can be landlord or ‘middle man’ between the newcomer and a landlord.
In exchange for shelter, mediation and access to land, the adjaoura has to acknowledge his adjiati's superiority. He has to treat him as some sort of father - the relations between adjiati and adjaoura are commonly referred to in terms of consanguinity - as his religious, political and economic superior' (Van der Drift, 1986:22).

the Amsterdam delegation in the Ziguinchor office

The adjiati relationship in the urban setting

     The so called ‘spontaneous’ expansions of Ziguinchor originated mostly in the way described above. Thus these area of ‘spontaneous’ settlements are not as anarchic or spontaneous as often suggested by local authorities. As shown above, these districts proved to have their own dynamics in patterns of organization in which control over land plays a crucial role (see also Eichelsheim, 1986). The inhabitants of these ‘spontaneous’ districts consider their plot of land, on which they build their home, as a safe place, despite the fact that these places of settlement have not been  recognized as such by the local governments, nor have they been legalized. This feeling of security is derived from the adjiati relationship described above. They feel protected by their adjiati, to whom they have fulfilled their obligations, or still do. The fact that these last years the landlords in the city have started dividing their land in plots and sell these plots of land for a lot of money does not interfere with these feelings.

The adoption in 1964 of a National Lands Act (Loi relative au Domaine National) by the Senegalese legislature started a new era of legislation on land tenure. After the adoption of this law, every transaction related to land must go through the government, which means that the government must give approval of the transaction after which it is officially registered (see for the National Lands Act: Hesseling in this volume). In future only the government would be able to grant land to individuals or an organization. But they only have the right of use: officially, land has no market value. When these changes are applied to the situation in Ziguinchor, the effects are drastic: from one moment to the next, the Diola lost their position as landlords, and this was taken over by the State. Both immigrants and those already living in the city, who are in search of a building plot, will in future have to apply to the Municipality. This is a simple description of the official proceedings, which in fact are a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic business. Furthermore, to this day the Municipality has not been able to supply sufficient building plots; far from that. After the adoption of the National Lands Act, all land which was held under the customary land law passed into control of the State. This applies especially to the area of extension of the fast expanding city where Diola landlords from surrounding villages lost their control over the land to the State. From 1978 the Municipality wants a real say in the way the city is developing. To do this, the local authorities have chosen for a programme that aims to legalize and upgrade the ‘spontaneous’ settlements but which neglects all that is going on in the periphery. This means, that for those searching for a building plot in the city, apparently nothing has changed. I will show this with the case of Abdoulaye Diedhiou. This case is interesting for two reasons. Firstly it describes the genesis of a ‘spontaneous’ district in the periphery of Ziguinchor and how, up to this day, people gain access to land without State interference. Secondly it describes what changes the adjiati relationship undergoes in the long term.

on photo-safari and me at work

The case of Abdoulaye Diedhiou: from adjaoura to adjiati

The area in which the new ‘spontaneous’ sub-district of Lyndiane-Golomoute would develop after 1978 measures approximately 21 hectare and lies in the sphere of influence of the nearby village of Djibélor. It is situated on the slopes running from the plateau, on which is located the district of Lyndiane, towards the road that leads to the town of Oussouye. While Lyndiane-Golomoute is still not officially recognized as place of settlement, the district of Lyndiane has been upgraded and legalized since 1978. The road to Oussouye is built on top of a dike which cuts right through a vast valley of rice fields. This means that Lyndiane-Golomoute has few opportunities to expand because rice fields normally contain too much water for house-building. Since 1978 newcomers have flooded this area and nowadays only a few plots lie fallow. These have not yet been sold by the landlords of Djibélor. The addition ‘Golomoute’ means warren in Diola, which explains much about the morphology of this new settlement.

Fig. 1 Ziguinchor and Lyndiane-Golomoute

the district Lyndiane-Golomoute
at right
the town of Ziguinchor

At the beginning of 1978 Sidy Sidiby, one of the sons of a landlord and a high ranking official in the office of the Municipality, started dividing a parcel of three hectare of land belonging to his patrilineage into plots of 15 by 17 metres. He realised that, considering the National Lands Act and the rapid expansion of Ziguinchor, there was no way his family could hold back the developments and thus would lose this land to the State. Better to divide it now and sell it quickly, he must have thought.

While busy with a rope and some sticks dividing the parcel, he met his friend Abdoulaye Diedhiou, who was himself building a house a little further up the slope, because his three children had grown up and the house had became too crowded. That is why he intended to leave the house of his adjiati in the district of Soucoupapaye and to go live on his own. Sidiby and Abdoulaye knew each other from the time they spend together in the army. Abdoulaye Diedhiou was a Diola from the village of Diatock, where he was born in 1939. Like so many youngsters before him, he enlisted in the colonial army. He served in France and Algeria before leaving the then Senegalese army in 1966. With a reasonable pension from the old motherland in his pocket, he returned to Casamance. In Ziguinchor he found a namesake co-villager who was prepared to shelter him and thus become his adjiati. This Demba Diedhiou, was one of the first men of Diatock to settle in Ziguinchor, where he found work in a big trading firm. His permanent and fairly well-paid job and his advanced age made him a respectable man. The inhabitants of the district of Soucoupapaye, where he lived, had elected him to represent them in dealings with the Municipality. In choosing Demba Diedhiou as his adjiati, Abdoulaye had made a good choice.

For his subsistence during the first years, Abdoulaye cultivated some rice fields in the nearby village of Niaguis. At home, in the district of Soucoupapaye, he actively supported a local representative of the ruling political party, the Parti Socialiste (PS). He became friendly with this member of the PS, through whom he met  many people and thus became involved in the political activities of the party. He became more and more interested in political activities and began to play an active role in the party machinery. He persuaded friends from the time he served in the army, members of his family, villagers and co-habitants in Soucoupapaye to play a more active role in the political arena. His star was rising in the hierarchy of the party.

In 1977 the Municipality legalized the then still ‘spontaneous’ district of Soucoupapaye and started a programme to upgrade the district. First the Municipality began with a subdivision of the entire district (see the following for details about re-allocation). After this re-allocation programme, Demba Diedhiou, Abdoulaye’s adjiati, received five official plots of land  . From these, Abdoulaye received two plots of land, which were registered under his name at the department of Land Registry. According to his own statement, Abdoulaye wanted, as a good father should do, to reserve an official site for each of his three children, which meant he was one short. To resolve this problem, he decided to sell one plot of land and to buy, with the money thus received, a bigger parcel in a not yet legalized district in the periphery of the town. Thus he sold one plot of land for 450.000 F CFA (= $ 1,600) and leased the other  . In 1978, with his adjiati as go-between, he bought a site measuring 20 by 30 metres for the sum of 40.000 F CFA (= $ 140). While building his house there, he met Sidy Sidiby.

Because Sidy Sidiby worked and lived in the central district of Boucotte, he could not frequently the spot. So he asked Abdoulaye Diedhiou if he knew people who would be interested in buying a site. Sidiby made it very clear that he wanted Abdoulaye Diedhiou to handle all the searching and selling. It was very wise for him as a civil servant to do so, because it was forbidden by the law of 1964 to sell land without approval from the local government.

For his work as go-between, Abdoulaye Diedhiou could keep one of the sites. The other sites in Lyndiane-Golomoute could be sold for 30.000 F CFA (= $ 105). Abdoulaye Diedhiou grasped this opportunity with both hands. He had no problem in finding potential buyers amongst his friends and relatives. They trusted him because he had close relations in town via his political friends. He sold all the sites to relatives, friends, villagers and co-habitants from Soucoupapaye in no time. After some time people even started coming to him, asking if he had sites to sell or if he knew somebody selling plots of land.

These transactions passed so smoothly that other landlords asked him to sell land for them. The value of these fields had decreased because they had been fallow for some years due to a lack of rainfall in the last years and because fewer members of the patrilineage were prepared or able to cultivate the fields. And, after all, the elders of the patrilineages would keep control over the fields, despite the fact they were ‘sold’ for money. This money was seen solely as compensation for the usufruct of the fields..... in short, there were many reasons to ‘lend’ a small part of the land to strangers who wanted to pay for it. The landlords let Abdoulaye Diedhiou do all the work: he divided the land into plots, searched for buyers and established contacts between the buyers with their money and the landlord. As compensation for his work as go-between, he received a piece of the land.
Gradually, Abdoulaye Diedhiou got hold of the monopoly of all land transactions in the area. Buyers considered his good contacts with the outer world (read: prominent political figures who played an important role in the Municipality) as a guarantee for their high investments in - formally illegal – transactions  . Besides that, he came to be regarded as the  adjiati of the new landowners, and as the highest traditional authority whom they could turn to in case of problems or disputes.

an IDEE Casamance project : oyster culture

Politicization of the adjiati relationship

This example also demonstrates that the adjiati relationship continued to function in the urban context. Abdoulaye Diedhiou, who started being Demba’s adjaoura, became the adjiati for many inhabitants in the new district of Lyndiane-Golomoute.

Money was not the only requirement for gaining access to a building site in the new district of the city. Abdoulaye’s monopoly allowed him to sell the plots of land selectively. Many of his transactions appear to be based on relations of trust, or rather on relations of (putative) kinship, because that is what the adjiati relationships were based on.
Abdoulaye Diedhiou profited greatly from his role as a middle man. By selectively giving access to land, he could surround himself with people who would follow him in his political activities. This enabled him to determine the voting results in the new district of Lyndiane-Golomoute. As a result he became good friends with executives of the largest political party. The party leaders later nominated him district chief which gave him considerable financial advantages. Furthermore he took control over the dispensary that was installed in the district at the recommendation of party leaders, and he built a Coranic school on one of the plots given to him as a reward for his mediation. In short, he became a person in the district who had to be reckoned with.

The case of Abdoulaye Diedhiou shows how urban immigrants first of all seek provisional shelter, from where they investigate possibilities that can provide them with a permanent and strong foothold in the city. This last stage manifests itself in the building of a family house, which in turn, will serve to provide shelter for young people from the surrounding villages who are attracted to the town by schooling and job opportunities. Thus, members of a family and villagers who already live in the city become more and more important as providers of first shelter in the urban environment. An immigrant (adjaoura) will always maintain contacts with the adjiati who opened the way to the city for him, even after he has obtained his own plot of land.

Access to land, as the most important cement in the adjiati-adjaoura relationship, is gradually replaced by the provision of a first shelter and a smooth introduction in the urban environment. The wider one’s network of valuable contacts in the city, the more one is respected and the more one will be chosen by urban immigrants as adjiati. In return, the adjaoura contribute to the prestige of their adjiati and can be regarded as potential labour  reserve for him.

Because access to land can only been given once, the adjiati must seek other means to create personal bonds with his adjaoura. These are found in his contacts with the ‘outside world’: with local government officials and political party leaders and, later on, in his connections on a regional and national level. This implies a politicisation of the adjiati-adjaoura relationship. This new feature in the role of the adjiati in the urban context is not opposed to the traditional order. It is recognizable and acceptable for members of the traditional society as an expansion of the adjiati’s function, who in the organizational structure of the village already was the highest political authority who controlled the contacts with the outer world. Problems arise, however, when the adjiati, of necessity or by choice, identifies too much with the outer world and neglects his obligations towards his adjaoura. This moment arrives when the regime in Dakar wants to graft modern organizational patterns onto local organizational structures in the districts. As I have shown before, these organizational patterns have their own dynamics with the adjiati relationship as influential centre. The point of articulation of this transformation will therefore be the adjiati.

an IDEE Casamance project : oyster culture

The re-allocation programme as example of State penetration

In order to gain some control over the promiscuous growth of the city, local authorities had, since 1969, drawn up town plans for the city of Ziguinchor. This Plan d'Urbanisme was adapted several times, notably in the years 1973 and 1982. On paper, the ‘spontaneous’ residential areas were restructured in small plots of building land, roads and public spaces, all according to a strict grid-pattern. The intention was to upgrade these ‘spontaneous’ settlements in several stages. First, the individual plots of land, the proposed streets and the positions of public places were laid out with little concrete markers in accordance with the plan. After that, the inhabitants had one year to adapt their environment to the new division, which meant that all houses standing on the newly traced roads or public places had to be removed  . The Plot Allocation Board supplied each family head in the district with a written note (ticket) stating the name of the family head and the number of the plot allotted to him. After one year the whole reshuffle of the district should have been completed, but many disputes originated from the allocations made by the Plot Allocation Board.

It appeared that local politicians from the ruling PS had a considerable say in this board (Eichelsheim, 1986:53). Considering the fact that at that time a fierce battle for supremacy in the party was taking place between three factions within the PS, the presence of local politicians in the Plot Allocation Board had far reaching consequences. Faction leaders within the PS spent a lot of energy and money securing themselves a flock of faithful followers, so that they could end the battle between the factions to their advantage. The subdivision of the ‘spontaneous’ settlement areas, whereby the then illegal inhabitants were given an official plot of land by the Municipality, appeared to be a welcome new source of capital for these politicians. The population density in the residential areas which were to be subdivided was low. This made it possible for plots of land to be left over after the subdivision. The number of ‘spare’ plots could be increased by assigning fewer or sometimes even no plots to political opponents. The spare plots were given to members of the same faction within the party or sold to other interested people. Members of the military elite who were born in Casamance, members of the higher bureaucracy from the north and natives of Casamance who worked in Dakar or France, were particularly interested in the spare official building sites. In 1983, the prices paid for these plots could go as high as one million F CFA (= $ 3,500) or even more.

It will be clear that the results of this form of subdivision clashed with the organizational structure of the district, which was specifically based on old land tenure systems. For, as we have seen, before the subdivision, the adjiati in the district gave the usufruct of land to his adjaoura and with that, according to the old Diola organizational patterns, automatically agreed that he would protect his adjaoura as though they were his own children. The selling of land to people from outside the adjaoura group was at the expense of members of that group. Before ‘outsiders’ could gain access to land, the needs of all members of the adjaoura group should have been met first. In this respect the members of the adjaoura groups tended to define their group in a very inclusive way : sons, daughters and all other members of kin have priority over outsiders.

In this structure, the position of adjiati becomes untenable when the roles of adjiati and politician come together in one person. As described before, this politicisation of the adjiati relationship is not so surprising: the adjiati has, by giving the usufruct of land, surrounded himself with dependant followers. According to ancient traditions, he is their political authority. But as a local political leader he also became interesting to the regional and national political machinery. Thus, it happens frequently that the function of Responsable Politique and the role of adjiati come together in one person. When, in the eyes of his adjaoura, he does not fulfil the expectations connected to both roles he has lost his authority. Then, there is a great change; the adjaoura will turn against him and his political associates. These tensions are usually accompanied by high emotions resulting from the element of kinship in the adjiati-adjaoura relationship. The case of El Hadji Mohammed Kounta will illustrate the changing position of an adjiati under the influences of State interference in the organizational structure of a ‘spontaneous’ residential area.

an IDEE Casamance project : oyster culture

The case of El Hadji Mohammed Kounta

As its legalization in 1978 the district of Lyndiane was subdivided into 585 official plots of land, measuring 20 by 25 metres. The genesis of Lyndiane has strong similarities with the way Lyndiane-Golomoute came into being. Here, the central figure is El Hadji Mohammed Kounta, who squatted in the area in 1965. El Hadji Mohammed Kounta was a descendant of an influential family of Sheikhs from Mauritania. In the eyes of the Diola, who had become Muslims only in the 1930’s, this meant that his roots were close to the centre of Islam. From this family connection Kounta acquired a great deal of respect from the Diola Muslims, who often consulted him in religious matters. It also enabled him to marry the daughter of the  marabout (Muslim religious leader), Cheriff Mahfus Haidara, who was then very influential in Casamance. Through his religious advice, he was soon surrounded by a flock of devoted followers and sometimes he received a plot of land from his admirers.  El Hadji Mohammed Kounta held a high post in a State owned tree-nursery in the neighbouring village of Djibélor. This meant that he had good relations with both the local governmental elite and the elders from Djibélor.

When Kounta came to Ziguinchor in the early 1960's, he settled in the central district of Boucotte, where he rented a room. In 1965 he was able to buy a parcel of land between the city and Djibélor. There, he wanted to build a big house and start an orchard. At the end of 1965 the house was finished and El Hadji Mohammed Kounta went to live there with his family. At that time only a few families lived in the area. His stable job and good contacts made him by far the most important figure in the area, the more so because the owners of the land in the area were inhabitants of Djibélor. When the expansions of Ziguinchor threatened to invade the area, the landlords from Djibélor asked Kounta to sell their land. Soon El Hadji Mohammed Kounta became the adjiati of the new ‘spontaneous’ district of Lyndiane.

In 1970, the residential area was legalized by the Municipality. The Parti Socialiste nominated Kounta Responsable Politique (the local political representative) of the new sector. As a consequence Kounta could establish very good contacts with the members of the Plot Allocation Board who, in 1978, controlled the subdivision of the district and were to allocate the official plots of land. As happened more often, this Plot Allocation Board charged the local Responsable-Politique, El Hadji Mohammed Kounta, with the supervision of the ‘spare’ plots of land which had not yet been allocated. He began selling these spare plots for a lot of money with which, he said, he ‘greased the political machinery’.  Some plots of land changed hands for 600.000 F CFA (= $ 2,100), a lot of money in that time  . The effects of the powerful position of Kounta were also reflected in the map of the district, as I found it at the Department of Land Registry: a strait road should have cleaved the old parcel of land of Kounta in two, but on the map, and in reality, the road makes a single sharp curve around the now official plot of land, which measures 50 by 40 metres.
I don't think the inhabitants of the district had lost much sleep over the fact he earned a lot of money. ‘Manger l'argent’, or spending the pool, even though it does not belong to you, is a commonly accepted practice for everybody, if you have the opportunity. No, El Hadji Mohammed Kounta, blundered in the eyes of his adjaoura when he appeared to have his political aspirations prevail over the demands of his adjaoura. They had already lost pieces of land after the subdivision, which they could accept because they received an official building site of more prestige and value in return. Furthermore, their residential area was legalized so  that they really could invest in their housing. But when the adjaoura perceived that their adjiati was allocating plots of land in the area to total strangers, to people not belonging to the adjaoura group, the foundation of important security was washed away. In accordance with the old organizational patterns, the adjiati, as the highest authority, was obliged to protect the interests of his ‘kin’. And this group always had relatives who were in need of a building site, to whom the ‘spare’ plots could have been given which had now disappeared to outsiders. To whom should they turn with their grievances- Their contact with the outside world has always been channelled very effectively through the very same person they now wanted to stand up against, namely their own adjiati. The only way out was to blame all outsiders: particularly the civil servants from other parts of the country who always occupied the best positions in Casamance.

Because the same problems occurred in other districts, a general aversion grew against everybody and everything not originating from the Casamance region. The last straw was a dispute in 1980 at the Djignabo High School between a class and its Swiss teacher. This led to clashes with the police (mainly non-Diola) in which one student was killed. The protest at the school soon gained general popular support in the whole region. The Diola association Karambenór   was asked to mediate between army and protesters. From these talks it became evident that the main grievance  of the disaffected was the arbitrary allocation of plots of land during the latest subdivisions.

As mentioned earlier, these disputes could not be resolved by the adjiati, of old the authority in these matters, because they themselves were involved up to their ears. Cumulation of protests and violence forced the Governor, in his function of highest representative of the Government, to look for an alternative and general accepted legislative arbitration commission. The recently founded Diola association, Karambenór, was useful. Its leaders were strongly related to government because many were civil servants in colonial times. Moreover, since they propagandised the old values of Diola society, the Karambenór was in general well respected in the districts. Thus, the Governor nominated members of Karambenór to an arbitration commission, which had to evaluate all plot allocations and, if possible, resolve disputes (decision No. 0434/GC du 16/02/1982). In practice, this meant that the existing administrative arbitration commission, or Commission des Litiges, which consisted largely of civil servants, was enlarged with a board of ‘wise men’. This resulted in a new approach: members of the commission went into the districts to evaluate disputes on the spot. This time-consuming approach prevented the civil servants from fully cooperating and in time they left the work completely to the board of ‘wise men’, in casu the members of the Karambenór.
Between the 15th of February 1982 and the 5th of July 1983, members of this arbitration commission have evaluated 5 171 plot allocations of which they put 1 558 cases of conflict on record. By on-the-spot clarification of decisions made by the Plot Allocation Board, they were able to resolve 826 disputes. Through discussion and deliberation, and by examining each case thoroughly, they were able to reconcile another 696 conflicts. After this success the Governor decided to formalize this form of approach and on July 8, 1983 a new commission was set up: the Grand Commission Administrative (arrêté no. 60/GC/AA). This commission was divided in a technical board, consisting of representatives of the Governor and the Municipality and all the Departments involved, and a board of ‘wise men’, consisting of district heads and dignitaries and members of the Karambenór. In this form, the preparative work on-the-spot by the board of ‘wise men’ was given the legitimacy it needed by the technical board  . The following case will clarify this procedure.


an IDEE Casamance project : oyster culture

The board of ‘wise men’ at work

On Sunday the 23rd of October 1983, a reunion took place in the district of Niafoulène. Participating were members of the board of ‘wise men’ of the Grand Commission Administrative and the two conflicting parties in a land dispute. One party accused the other of illegitimate appropriation of a plot of land by building a house on it. Under a big tree, in the courtyard of one of the opposing parties, two chairs and several small wooden benches were arranged. The two members of the commission sat down on the chairs, their back turned to the big trunk, while the others formed a circle around the chairs. On the left chair sat Faye Badji, school-head and member of the Karambenór association. On the other chair sat Tidiane Bakhoum, pharmacist and representative of the Municipal council. In front of them, on a little wooden bench,  sat Arfang Badji, district dignitary, flanked by the author and his interpreter.  Left and right of this bench sat the two parties to the land dispute. After the usual extended ceremony of greetings, the discussion could begin. For a long time, the father of Yafaye and Kamaka Doucoure and villager Diamanty Koita had lived together on one parcel of land in the district of Niefoulène. First together in the same house, later they each had build their own house. After the death of the father of Yafaye and Kamaka, Diamanty took care of the children which he brought up in his house. When Kamaka married, he went to live in the old house of his father, and Yafaye moved in with him. When news came to them that the Municipality had plans to subdivide the district, they asked Diamanty permission to build a third house for Yafaye. Thus, they expected to be allocated three plots of land by the Plot Allocation Board. But Diamanty refused to build another house of which he could not understand the purpose. Yafaye was not married yet, so what was he supposed to do with a house of his own? In 1978 Niefoulène was subdivided. The parcel of land on which Diamanty Koita and the two brothers Doucoure lived, had now changed into three official plots of land, divided by a narrow road, whilst the rest was reserved as a parking area for the great mosque which was to be build nearby. Only Diamanty and Kamaka received a ticket from the Plot Allocation Board. The other plot of land was given to a neighbour who had to move because his old parcel of land was now enveloped by the parking area. In 1980 Yafaye Doucoure built a house on the fringe of the site of Diamanty, who protested fiercely against it, but in vain. He then called in the help of an old woman to make him a powerful fetish, which would prevent Yafaye from using the house. The dispute became more and more heated. Because both parties blamed the Plot Allocation Board for giving them only two instead of three sites, despite the fact that there were three adults living on the parcel of land at the time of the subdivision, they asked the Karambenór association to mediate in the dispute. This resulted in a few orientating talks. The reunion of that day was supposed to be the last and the arbitration commission was expected to come up with a final solution. But first, everybody would again have his say, the whole matter would be gone over again and, there, quietly under the big tree, the discussion broke loose. The talks were held in Diola and Manding. Arfang Badji, the district dignitary, spoke first and recalled the whole beginning of the dispute. Sometimes, both Diamanty Koita and Yafaye Doucoure would interrupt him to put their personal view of the story and  to accuse the other party of neglect and dishonesty. Everybody was called by his first name and, despite some fierce eruptions, it was a heart-to-heart talk. Both members of the arbitration commission rarely interfered in the discussions. Now and then, Faye Badji gestured to one of the parties to let the other finish his speech. Sometimes he talked to one of the parties, quiet and teaching, illustrating his arguments with drawings in the sand. Finally, Faye Badji began to speak and put forward a possible solution of the conflict, which, as it appeared later, had already been discussed with the technical board of the commission. The house of Yafaye could be left untouched. The Municipality would give him an extra strip of land behind his house, which had to be taken from the parking area. Because the house of Yafaye could remain, the plot of land belonging to Diamanty Koita decreased a bit, but they admitted that both had made mistakes and after all, were they not related? The case was closed, the brothers Doucoure shook hands with Diamanty Koita and both parties apologized to each other. The resolution was sealed with a prayer. The whole palaver had lasted more than two hours.

What is very clear in this case, is the presence of the old atmosphere we knew from the villages: long palavers under a big tree in the centre of the village where everybody can have his say. At the end, an elder made a proposal, mostly a compromise, which in general was accepted unanimously. Furthermore this case showed us that the commission took into account the old claims on land and the existing investments of the individuals.

It is important to notice that, in the eyes of all involved, in the whole course of the resolution of the conflict, the State was not officially represented. For the opposing parties, Tidiane Bakhoum was present as dignitary, not in his function of representative of the Municipal council and, furthermore, he did not mingle much in the discussions. The elders of the Karambenór had solved the dispute, as the elders in the village would have solved land disputes. The fact that the board of ‘wise men’ had discussed the matter with the technical board of the arbitration commission, in casu the State, is not manifest. Neither is the fact that the final solution had been made legitimate by a change in the plans and the registration of these changes by the department of Land Registry.

But on the other hand, the ultimate decisions, made by the board of ‘wise men’, are dependent on the urban environment. Apart from technical possibilities and limitations, expansion plans of the city, increasing demand for  building sites, etc., political machinations will always play an important role. That is why, on the long run, the Karambenór association alienated its supporters. The intermediate role, thrust upon the Karambenór by the Governor, drove it more and more into the camp of the Government, with which it already maintained close connections. For as we have seen, the members of Karambenór were civil servants and thus (still) paid by the Government (‘Government’ can be substituted here with Parti Socialiste, the ruling political party). More and more the political leaders of the PS got control over the Karambenór. While the political character of the item became more evident, people began to identify the Karambenór with the PS. Many Diola nowadays consider the members of the Karambenór as traitors to the Diola cause.

After the intrusion from the ‘north’ in the local land tenure systems, followed by the betrayal of the adjiati , the encapsulation of the Karambenór by local politics represents another proof of the fact that Casamance and the inhabitants are still colonized - this time by their fellow countrymen from the north. The fact that this colonization manifests itself in the control of local land - the crux of the organizational structures of Diola society - had the consequence that the Diola, for the first time, developed something of an ethnic feeling (we as a group against all others). The result was a total denial and rejection of everything which did not originate from Casamance.


Since the adoption of the National Lands Act on the 17th of June 1964, all transactions concerning the control over land must be regulated via the local governments. One of the main consequences of this reform is that the State becomes the sole landlord of all land which has not been registered by the Government, which is about 95% of the national territory. This implies that local, mostly ancient, land tenure systems have formally ceased to exist. This is the official side of the picture. The local populations see it differently. Why and how this distinction exists was the subject of this article. I have drawn the picture of the strength of the local organizational structures which were able to resist this form of State penetration. This means that, for the moment, the grafting of a new official land law, as described in the National Lands Act of 1964, upon the local land tenure systems of the Diola has not yet been a success. On the contrary. The discrepancy between State goals and the reaction of the local population to the way these goals were to be reached, has caused many problems.

It seems that in reality, two worlds are ‘living apart together’. Despite the formally illegal land transactions by the Diola it appears that they themselves have a lot of faith in the security of the land tenure, thus acquired. This security is manifested in the high investments in acquiring access to land and the construction of houses. With an officially estimated average monthly income in 1983 of 30.000 F CFA (= $ 105) these investments can easily run into the equivalent of a yearly income, and all that in projects where no official certificate of ownership can be given. Apparently the mediators in these land transactions can supply enough security for this kind of investment.

I have shown in this article that people who want access to a building plot in the town, always encounter a politician. Only, the politician is not recognized as such by those who want to acquire a plot of land, for them it is their adjiati. In their frame of reference, this politician/adjiati is an extension or equivalent of the landlord, as they have known it in the village. There is no authority which exceeds this adjiati. With this, conceptions like State and political party machinery become very abstract. When the State is going to claim its rights of land tenure, as is the case of the subdivision of districts, whilst the local people think their landlords control the land,  a clash between the two systems is inevitable. One system wants to impose modern organizational structures and to control all levels of the population. The other system is more locally based and has a hate-love affair with the first one.
Because the role expectations of the adjiati clearly originated from the familiar village society, which in the eyes of the town dwellers still dominates their way of living, this clash came unexpectedly for many. The more so, as I have described already, on account of the fact that the adjiati did all to monopolize the contacts with the outer world and emphasized their ‘fatherly’ role. All these, the emotional reactions stemming from the kinship relations between the antagonists, the abruptness of the confrontation, the control over land – upon which the whole Diola society is based - as the objects of the clash, are explanations for the heated reception of the Government’s attempt to graft new forms of land tenure systems upon the local organizational structures of Diola society.

The Basse-Casamance is not the only region in Senegal where the State tried to assert its authority as landlord. It is the only part where protest against the striving for hegemony by the State took such fierce and furious form. This proves once more how the articulation of local organizational structures and a modern State with its own development policies can diverge.

© John Lucas Eichelsheim
1990 Amsterdam / Ziguinchor

at last a cold beer