Nisrin Elamin Abdelrahman

Doctoral CandidateStanford University

Award Information

2015 IDRF Program

AnthropologyStanford University

Life, Law and Belonging: Contested Land and the Politics of Claim-Making in Central Sudan

The new, yet old, phenomenon of "land grabbing" is often characterized in media and NGO reports as an unstoppable tidal wave that has swept the African continent. Informed by anthropological approaches, my research seeks to conceptualize and examine foreign land acquisitions less as a unidirectional, extractive process imposed by powerful investors on homogenous, rural communities and more as a multi-directional set of historically situated interactions, contestations, and practices shaped by varied interests and relationships. My investigation is situated in the agricultural Gezira region of central Sudan, where government elites recently devised a plan to revive the nation's post-secession economy by attracting foreign investments in agriculture from within the Muslim world. Prompted in turn by the 2008 food and financial crises, foreign agribusiness companies have since leased large tracts of land, previously farmed or owned by Gezira residents, to grow and export food. My project explores how these foreign land acquisitions are reshaping social relations between various stakeholders with competing claims to Sudanese land. Specifically, I seek to understand the social transformations set in motion when different forms of religious and political authority, understandings of Islam, and notions of belonging are invoked and mobilized to lay claim to land. I approach this inquiry by focusing on the role prominent Sufi Muslim leaders (shaykhs) are playing in mediating land disputes and in shaping local efforts to reclaim lands leased to foreign investors.