Time for effective land governance at country levels

Sunday, 20th August 2017

Customary laws have blocked women and youth from land ownership for far too long in Africa. Land Commissions in the continent have promised reforms to advance land rights for vulnerable groups and communities.

For decades, the journey to land governance in Africa traces a winding course. However, the last few years have seen some growing progress on reforms and policy. As the trend continues towards increasing access to land and securing land rights and protection for vulnerable communities such as women, the disabled and youth, there is hope for a brighter future.  The recent regional workshop with African Land Commissions on securing community land rights that ended in Accra, Ghana, on July 19 2017, communicated great optimism to advance policy, legal and regulatory reforms and effectively implement in order to promote community land rights.

Pledges to advance policy, legal and regulatory reforms on land

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the Land Policy Initiative (LPI) of the African Union Commission (AUC), African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) co-organised the workshop in Accra. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and Civic Response of Ghana, the workshop reached significant commitments to implement policies with potentials to drive effective land governance and land rights in the continent.

Participants committed to “advance policy, legal and regulatory reforms and ensuring their effective implementation (at country levels) in order to recognise community land rights.” Samuel Nguiffo, Secretary-General of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), an ILC member in Cameroon and board member of RRI facilitated sessions at the workshop. “The existence of these commitments at the international level and at the continental level, to me, is evidence of political will,” he says.

To empower communities, the land commissions also agreed, “to relocate land management institutions in order that they are as close as possible to communities” and “strengthen the capacity for land management for different actors (at the local levels).”

A step big for vulnerable communities

Customary laws and corrupt practices lock young people from land ownership. With massive migration from rural settings to urban areas, estimates show half of Africans will live in cities by 2050, most of which will be young people. The laws also sideline women; 70 percent of Africa’s agricultural labour force according to the World Bank, from land rights.

For this reason, Nguiffo says, “the commitments made by participants to improve land governance, recognition and protection of land rights for communities, including vulnerable groups (women youth, women, nomads, disabled people, and other groups with strong links to their land) is an important step.”

The strong commitments from the 50 African leaders, including representatives from land commissions and similar agencies of 14 countries, present at the workshop makes it increasingly urgent to translate the pledges into actions at national levels, through carefully thought processes and tools. An idea Nguiffo says could happen through increased synergies between actors working on land issues in Africa at all levels and to create a tool that can efficiently measure progress and gaps for improvement.

An avenue for more land discussions at national level

“We need to have a tool that will help the civil society in each of the countries to measure how far we have gone with the implementation of the commitments in that specific country,” says Nguiffo. Currently, Nguiffo is developing a tool he thinks would be useful at measuring the level of implementation of land policy reforms at country and local levels he “would like to share at least a draft of it during the ILC regional assembly in Cameroon in September 2017.”

The ILC regional assembly in Cameroon will focus on "land governance in Africa" and will examine the level of progress in the land rights debate. A rendezvous Nguiffo says is one of the few places in the continent where stakeholders can discuss their involvement in land issues, share experiences and build their capacities.

Co-hosted by CED, the assembly takes place on12-15 September in the city of seven hills, the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé.

Photo credit: Zambia Land Alliance