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'There is no family left': Inheritance conflicts and family dynamics in South Benin





Over the last few years, the number of inheritance disputes handled by the Beninese state courts has drastically increased. In Cotonou, State of Persons courtrooms are so crowded that people even have to stand outside during registration. What are those people fighting about, why and how do they proceed? For the purpose of this paper, I will follow Beninese families' itineraries throughout inheritance disputes. When a parent dies, how are commodities managed or shared? What are the discussions and the conflicts resulting from those? What causes people to cease the courts? I will look into the arguments that are raised and the means that are mobilized by the parties, but also by their relatives. What does the 'extended family' have to say about children fighting in court? Those conflicts are about property, about who it belongs to and whether it should be sold. They are about the economic and symbolic value of land and houses. They are about family norms or "traditions" and the individualistic notion that "no one can be forced to remain in joint ownership" (CPF, art 752). Inheritance conflicts are now settled by a new Code on Persons and Family (2004) promoting gender and generational equality. How is it appropriated by both the Beninese families and the judicial officials tasked to enforce it? In short, what are the different steps and justifications behind inheritance disputes, how are they eventually settled and what does it mean with regards to family dynamics in contemporary urban West Africa?

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