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Place: Mbeza (Zambia)
Time: 2002-2003
Short description of the case
Mbeza is a rural chiefdom in the semi-arid Namwala district of Zambia. The northern part of the
area, and especially the floodplains of the Kafue River, is used by pastoralists from the Ila ethnic
group to graze their cattle. Further south, various ethnic groups (including Ila, Batwa, and Tonga)
sustain their livelihoods through agriculture. After a prolonged drought and associated food
shortages in 2002, the chief of the area, Bright Nalubamla, proposed to establish an irrigation
project. The project was supposed to facilitate irrigated agriculture around the Kafue floodplains.
Although he secured donor and government support for the project, it faced resistance from
local inhabitants, and particularly from Ila pastoralists. They feared that they would lose authority
over the floodplain and access to the water resources and grazing lands located. After several
months of local protest, the national government withdrew support for the project and it was
eventually abandoned in 2003.
Violence: 0
Lobbying at higher political levels, formal petitions, press releases, rallying for local support,
public protests and personal threats (including death threat) were the major actions used by the
parties involved in the conflict. No incidents of physical violence are mentioned in the literature.
External resource appropriation: 0,67
At least 70% of the land in Zambia is traditionally owned and managed by customary institutions,
but the percentage around Mbeza is likely to be lower. In addition, land privatization has
significantly increased over the recent years due to higher prices (and higher external demand) for
land and cattle. Many opponents of the irrigation project believed that the land would be sold to
an external investor who will restrict or deny their access to the Kafue flats. Similarly, many
supporters of the project hoped for employment opportunities once external commercial
interests would invest in the area. Water of the Kafue is used further upstream for hydropower
generation, commercial industry and agriculture.
Power differences: 0.33
Nalumbala owned a relatively high amount of relational power. He was the chief of the region,
hold close connections to district, provincial and national authorities, and received support from
the government and external donors. The anti-irrigation collation was superior in terms of hard
power because it received much support from affluent households and was able to mobilize
groups of protesters, which disturbed meetings of the pro-irrigation group and threatened
Recent political change: 0.67
Sambia has been politically unstable during the 1990s, but the last major change of the political
system prior to 2002 happened during democratization in 1990. The New Land Act of 1995
facilitated the privatization of land (especially by large-scale and foreign investors) and granted
the local chiefs more power in land-related decisions. Especially in rural areas, the consequences
of the New Land Act did not become obvious before the late 1990s or early 2000s.
Negative othering: 0.33
Historically, the relations between the various ethnic groups living in Mbeza were comparatively
good, although some tensions existed. There were no strong perceptions of mutual threats or
inferiority prior to the conflict. Some Ila perceived the authority of the chief as a relic from
colonial rule and agricultural development as a threat to their pastoral livelihoods, while a group
around Nalumbala claimed the pastoralists to be backward and greedy. There was no clear-cut