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Land Grabs in Urban Frontiers: Producing Inequality in Senegal's Dakar Region


This dissertation examines urban political struggles surrounding the proliferation of middle-class and elite housing estates in Senegal, where urban real estate developments have emerged as a center of political friction and commercial dynamism. Utilizing a variety of methods, including ethnographic fieldwork and textual analysis of secondary sources, this project explores two case studies of large-scale land conflicts in sites of middle-class and elite housing developments in Senegal’s Dakar Region. Through five empirical chapters, I explore how the social, political, and economic context of neoliberalism in urban Senegal has not only produced urban land grabs, but has also fundamentally reconfigured how land is governed and urban politics are practiced.

In focusing on urban land governance, my project examines changes in the cartography of political relationships between and within central/local governments, farmer associations, housing cooperatives, traditional leaders, and international institutions. This dissertation consequently deepens spatial readings on civil society and state relations in sub-Saharan Africa, using conflicts produced through urban land grabs as a lens to examine the spatial logics of in/formal housing, territorial patronage relations, political decentralization reforms, and contentious politics in Senegal’s Dakar Region. This dissertation also throws fresh light on research documenting a recent increase in land conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, drawing attention to how coalitions brokered by farmer associations negotiate legal settlements to land conflicts by relying on private mapping projects, Senegalese courts, formal land laws, and public protests. In studying the outcomes of these urban protests and legal settlements, this research describes how the rise of a new and powerful African middle-class is not only reshaping urban political life, but producing new landscapes of urban inequality.

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