COMAID's diary from knowledge to action: experience with the Community Land Initiative

Jitar Christain Taku, COMAID
Mardi, mars 13, 2018

With large-scale acquisition moving to rural villages in Cameroon and threatening community land rights, we are learning new strategies to protect community lands against corruption.

Imagine you are fighting for your life. Your only source of livelihood, a family heritage is taken away from you. Everywhere you go, looking for help, you are asked to pay money. The police, the village chief, the public administrator, the land commissioners, etc. all ask you to pay what you cannot afford to restore your land. Without it, you will watch the rich and the influential take your land and evict you from it. This is the reality of many rural families I work with in Cameroon.

Cameroon has no clear protection on community lands. Its 44-years-old-land law has tremendously weakened the customary tenure system, which protected family, and community lands. Under it, all untitled lands classify as state owned and citizens must hold tittles to claim land.

Citizens corrupt to earn titles

But land tittles are so difficult to get. With a long and expensive tittle process, vulnerable people are often faced with the problem of corruption.

In 2017, Transparency International uncovered evidence that most documented landowners in Cameroon bribed their way to the land tittles they held. In fact, 99% of respondents of a survey it launched in 2015 confessed bribing to earn land titles.

No doubt only about 2% of all the lands in Cameroon are tilled, according to a 2009 African Development Bank (AfDB) study.

Meanwhile, pressures on the land keep creeping with population growing at 2-3% every year and investors moving into rural areas.

While dealing in such an environment where transparency and accountability are far fetched, advocating for community land rights need knowledge, innovation and special skills.

That is why we are always on the look for new skills that can enhance our campaigning and lobbying capacity.

Changing context

Few years ago, at Community Assistance in Development (COMAID) we developed a participatory land use plan, which we used to protect the land rights of local communities in the Mbaw plain, found some 450km away from Bamenda, Cameroon.

Although the efforts served the community well and the plan is still being applied today, the dynamics of the northwest region of Cameroon has drastically changed recently. Two years of unrest and protests, peppered with violent secessionist movements and military crackdown have forced many families to flee their homes.

Protecting community land rights in such a chaotic, corrupt and divisive environment will not be an easy task.

Sharing and learning new strategies

Fortunately, my colleague, Kenneth Tah and I recently received cutting-edge solutions to enhance access, control and ownership of land to local communities in an eight-day learning workshop last February 3-11, 2018 at the Aberdare Country Club in Kenya.

Here, we met 12 other experts from across the globe, shared practical approaches and teach one another ‘what works’ in challenging contexts.

At the workshop, we presented our experience on participatory land, using spatial data to lobby corrupt officials and enforcing social inclusion and gender balance in local land governing structures.

We equally learned from other participants. Namati taught us how to implant strategies to encourage accountability through by-laws and land and natural resources management.

Jaringan Kerja Pemetaan Partisipatif (JKPP), a network based in Indonesia that uses participatory mapping to solve spatial conflicts and campaign for community land rights shared their approach to land boundary harmonisation and conflict resolution.

Away from Indonesia, the workshop exposed us to rich strategies of community land protection actors working with indigenous people in the Amazon. Corporacion de Gestion y Derecho Ambiental (ECOLEX) –Ecuador and Instituto del Bien Común (IBC)-Peru showcased accomplishments in their work of using paralegals and village life plans to protect community land rights in the Amazon.

I particularly found the workshop unique and extremely useful. Not only has it increased our knowledge about protecting community land rights, but also blessed us with useful strategies we hope to implement in areas where we work.

Taking the knowledge to the communities

While back in Cameroon, we plan to use the knowledge in the pilot community land protection project in Ngom and Ngomkwo village in the Mbaw plain. The knowledge we received to develop bylaws and community life plans will certainly help us reshape our intervention approach.

We see ourselves empowering weak communities in the northwest region of Cameroon to protect their rights in the coming months. The National Engagement Strategy of Cameroon is already working with several communities in the country. The platform will serve as a yardstick to reach more communities. The Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) and other ILC members in Cameroon do a lot on community land rights, transferring the knowledge to their target communities would be another way to make the knowledge more actionable.

Jitar Christain Taku, is the coordinator of COMAID. He will be blogging about his experience all through the learning journey