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Africa's continental divide: land disputes

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In fact, new violence has flared up. Kampala, Uganda's flourishing capital, saw 20 deaths last year in riots that broke out as a result of disputes between Uganda's president and the leader of its biggest ethnic groups over the country's ancient monarchies and their ancestral land claims. In one rural Liberian county, 22 people were killed in land disputes, mostly over rubber plantations, in the spring of 2008, stoking fear in the postconflict country's leadership that unresolved land issues might bring back war.

Even the continent's most functional governments can't always avoid violence.

"Up until recently, you would have said Kenya" was a model of successful land reform, says Donald Steinberg, deputy president for policy of the International Crisis Group. The violence that followed the 2007 election, he says, suggests generations-old land grievances – the colonial dispossession of the Kikuyu and the postcolonial dispossession of other tribes, in decades of tit-for-tat land policy – haven't been resolved.

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