Unpacking the Dynamics of Natural Resource Conflicts: The Case of African Rosewood

November 2023
D. H. Dinko, M. Kansanga, H. Nyamtaki-Frimpong and I. Luginaah (Land Use Policy)

This open access academic article is based on literature review and fieldwork in five communities across three districts of northern Ghana’s semi-arid Upper West Region. The authors observe the commonality of links between resource scarcity, livelihoods and conflict throughout the world, and seek to unpack this in the context of struggles over control of African Rosewood, a timber resource much sought after by investors from Asia. Forest management and ownership in northern Ghana is intrinsically linked to land management and ownership. Customary land tenure practices are summed up in the article by one interviewee as follows: “no one owns the land or trees, land is communally owned. Once you’re from this village, you can go into the forest and harvest anything to use at home except sacred trees. For example, when rosewood is found on your land it belongs to the community”. The authors describe how tree tenure arises from the prevailing land tenure, and use rights don’t equate to exclusive rights. Different people or institutions may own the trees and the land they stand on. Local Chiefs following mostly undocumented customary law have great powers over Rosewood trees, and external commercial demand for these same trees results in power struggles, especially in areas where boundaries between different customary groups (clans and lineages) are not clearly defined. The foreign investors then become a third power player alongside national state and local elites, adding fuel to the resource conflicts when logging takes place under statutory licence from the Forestry Commission. Critically, the authors conclude that: “Inconsistencies in ownership rights between statutory and customary resource tenure were also found to be an important determinant of disputes escalating into violence”. The authors call for resolution of underlying structural issues around land control to achieve a sustainable solution to these resource conflicts. The article provides yet more evidence of the links between land and identity, especially in customary settings, and of the importance of involving local people in consultations with external investors.