Sandro Simon MA


Sandro Simon studied History and German at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg i. Br. (DE) and the University of Basel before enrolling for the Master in African Studies with the main modules Social Anthropology and Environment & Human Well-Being. In the course of his studies he also spent a semester at the institutes of Cultural Geography and Development Studies of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (NL). Following his graduation in early 2015, he embarked for six month of national service in Quito (ECU) and after returning, went on to teach the course ‘Social Anthropology and the Anthropocene: Perspectives from Latin America and Africa’ at the Institute for Social Anthropology Basel.


MA Thesis

The Becoming of the Bamenda Wetlands: Cultivation in Continuous Change

Based on the fieldcourse of the institute of Social Anthropology in 2013 and fieldresearch in 2014, the thesis explores the agricultural- and tenancy practices in the Below Foncha part of the wetlands of Bamenda, Cameroon. By applying the Emic Evaluation Approach and by bringing together the land tenancy discourse with Tim Ingold’s work on dwelling, skill and the perception of the environment, emerged an ethnography as well as an analysis of the becoming of place and sociality within a continuously changing set-up, both ecologically (water levels) and socially (users, legal and normative pluralism).


Situated in the North-East of Bamenda, the Wetlands constitute the ultimate larger open sphere within the city and mark the boundary between two Fondoms and two governmental subdivisions. Within the last 50 years, the area changed from dry- to wetland and, in property terms, from customarily controlled over individually held (but customarily embedded) to governmentally owned land. However, despite state ownership and the recent designation to become the city’s second center, the wetlands are today (informally) used by herders and fisherman and cultivated by a multitude of mostly female farmers during the dry season and parts of the rainy season.

The thesis’ focus lies on the farmers’ experiences with/in the wetlands and links these findings to the individual biographies and the historical developments of the area. This allows to trace the increasing migration, urbanization, commoditization and governmental acquisition from the 1960s on in today’s farmers’ attachment to and dwelling in the land as well as in their relationships to local authorities. For the attachment and dwelling accounts, that early-comers who’s families had acquired (then dry-)land through the customary authorities and have a hereditary and progenerative connection to it, call themselves ‘owners’ that ‘lost’ the land through the declaration of wetlands as governmental property in 1974 (although still informally farming or renting out their land). Late-comers that rent or bought (officially state) land, in contrast, perceive themselves as ‘care-takers’ with a more temporary connection. The differing ‘shared histories’ of early-comers and late-comers with/in the wetlands thereby also resonate in the practices of cultivation and tenancy, ranging from technique-adaptation and plant-selection to the degree of commerciality of production or the way land gets alienated.

For the relationship to authorities accounts that farmers find themselves in a situation of legal and normative pluralism, where they are tolerated but marginalized and where the customary and governmental authorities’ services and their claims on property and territory coexist, overlap and contest each other. As a result, farmers could refer to the authority that fits their specific interest best, but their access is bound to their informality, bargaining power and affiliation, so that they effectively try to circumvent both authorities as far as possible and resolve conflict among themselves. In this authority-vacuum and without establishing alternative governing structures like cooperatives, the farmers are hence striving to maintain a social equilibrium based on the interdependent dwelling in a common environment as well as on norms such as seniority, experience, good neighborship, hindsight towards newcomers or generosity towards the ones with little land and on the difficulties to actually enforce these norms in case of transgression.


Parts of the thesis were presented at different workshops and will be published in the book The Politics of Nature and Science in Southern Africa, ed. by Melanie Boehi, Giorgio Miescher and Raamo Ramutsindela, Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2016.