Space, Memory and the Politics of Reconstruction: Conflict-related Property Disputes in Mogadishu, Somalia

Mohamed, Surer 

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This thesis explores the politics of conflict-related property disputes in Mogadishu, Somalia. Conflict-related property disputes are interpersonal disputes over private land and homes that are traceable to the violence that engulfed the city in 1991, and the mass displacements that occurred thereafter. An analysis of conflict-related property disputes reveals far more than simply disputes over brick and mortar. Instead, the central argument of this thesis is that claims to ownership in Mogadishu reflect and transform claims to ownership of Mogadishu, in a wider politico-historical sense. While disputes over conflict-related property disputes are fractious on their own terms, this thesis argues that these disputes also reflect wider social conflicts over the meaning of belonging and territoriality in the city through distinct historical stages. In this way, ownership and usage claims to empty plots, refurbished businesses, and reconstructed homes are reconfigured into salient political claims over the right to reside, engage, and belong in Mogadishu altogether. These disputes offer a view into the wider contested politics of belonging in contemporary Mogadishu which significantly predates the coming of urban war in 1991. Conflict-related property disputes reflect political claims to the city, and the right to shape its present and future. In the context of urban ‘reconstruction,’ conflict-related property disputes speak to the contested nature of space and memory in this deeply divided urban space.

This thesis explores how individuals engaged in conflict-related property disputes and those tasked with mediating them construct discursive claims to the city, before and after state collapse. Following an extensive desk review, data was gathered through a combination of life history and semi-structured interviews conducted in person in Nairobi, Kenya and across various communicative forms in recursive and accretive dialogue. Through this empirical material, the thesis argues that conflict-related property disputes in Mogadishu become a site where divided urban communities in the aftermath of mass violence remember the past and make political claims on the present.

Branch, Adam
Somalia, Urban Conflict, Property disputes, Mogadishu
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
David and Elaine Potter Foundation, Cambridge Trust, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada