New Vision 17 February 2015
By Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Eight Eastern Africa governments under their umbrella organization IGAD (Inter-governmental Authority on Development) have been urged to ensure tenure security for customary land rights because it is an essential element for sustainable development, given its dominance.
This call was made on Monday by FAO land tenure officer, Larbi Wordsworth Odame, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia while presenting a paper during the launching of ‘a project to improve land governance in the IGAD region’ at Kampinski hotel, Djibouti.
The project is aimed at ‘facilitating the implementation of the African Union (AU) declaration on land issues and challenges, in order to facilitate access to land and security of land rights for all land users in the IGAD region, especially vulnerable groups – pastoralists, women and youth.’
Through collaboration between IGAD and the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), the Swiss Development Cooperation has agreed to fund a land policy initiative for IGAD. This is a 3-year project with a possibility for Phase II funding, following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding in October 2014 between United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), IGAD and the Swiss Development Cooperation agency (SDC).
LPI is a joint programme of the tripartite consortium consisting of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
‘Secure access to land and natural resources can facilitate investment by the poor smallholders, thereby enhancing self-employment, improving food security and protecting the sources of livelihoods for the majority of the region’s population’ Larbi adds.
The role of the state as regulator and manager of land issues is a key factor in land security. Good governance of land, including accountability and transparency is a key issue affecting land tenure security.
This is exemplified in the Kenyan experience, where tenure insecurity problems relate strongly to weak governance in land allocation and failures in land administration capacity.
In Kenya, the individualization of title to land has contributed to tenure insecurity for diverse groups such as local communities and women. This insecurity has also been fuelled by the government’s non-transparent allocation of public land to politically-connected individuals.
The local authorities who hold most of the land as trust land have also irregularly allocated it to individuals in total disregard of the rights of the community on whose behalf they hold the land. This has led to increasing pressure to convert trust land to individual ownership as people perceive private/individual tenure to be more secure.
Mention should also be made of tenure insecurity facing communities whose land has potential mineral and oil findings; communities bordering reserve lands; and land earmarked for infrastructure such as roads, dams and urban development.
According to a 2010 report by LPI, many people have been evicted in Tanzania and Uganda without adequate compensation and with no resettlement arrangements. Virtually all the countries in the region have no involuntary resettlement policies in place. Use of powers of eminent domain by governments and changes from one land use category to the other are a major sources of insecurity and this has led to confrontation between the people who reside on the land and public institutions.
There is also widespread insecurity of tenure arising from conflict of interest among and between users of the land and the state; the interaction of received and indigenous forms of tenure; weak land administration institutions; and ineffective conflict resolution mechanisms. Insecurity adversely affects productivity and ultimately compromises the well-being of the state and her citizens, the report adds.
The arguments in favour of formalization of customary land rights in form of title as the means to secure tenure ignore the fact that formal title could also generate insecurity, as happened in Kenya. Claims about the inherent insecurity of customary tenure have been challenged by research that has demonstrated the resilience of these systems and their capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Research has shown that customary/traditional land systems can provide adequate tenure security and related investment incentives, the report adds.
Dr. Larbi adds that, lack of security of tenure, especially for the vulnerable groups like the poor and women, is often a major obstacle to economic development and poverty reduction; it is often a major cause of social instability and often undermines good land use and land management.
The LPI report concludes that future policy direction in the matter of land tenure security should concentrate on the following issues:
• Policy development should seek to strengthen land tenure security so as to ensure a favorable climate for investors (both local and foreign). This will, in turn, result in high levels of economic growth and poverty reduction. Land policies and reforms can facilitate these changes by providing more secure land access both for small-scale farmers and for Africa’s emerging corporate enter- prise. As rural economies develop and diversify, employment opportunities in agriculture, agro-processing and service sectors will expand and fewer people will need to farm and own their own land.
• The challenge for NLPs is to guarantee security of access for the poor as a basis for improved food security and secure livelihoods.
• A judgment must be made about comparative cost and effectiveness, and the legitimacy of different ways of providing security of tenure for customary land rights holders. Introducing collective tenure is one approach to registering customary land rights holders. Introducing collective tenure is one approach to registering customary land rights and giving legal force to customary tenure systems. It serves to vest formal tenure rights in a community and avoid the need to register numerous sets of household, individual and subsidiary rights and defends community rights against out- side or individualistic local interests.
• Converting customary land rights into freehold may result in the expropriation of land rights of vulnerable groups such as women and pastoralists. These policies may also increase the number of land disputes and conflicts, and ultimately foster tenure insecurity.
• Legislation should give land users a menu of tenure options, including recognition of customary land rights. The legislation also may be flexible in defining and regulating the institutions empowered to hold and manage land, so as to allow communities to de- vise their own arrangements on the basis of their specific needs and to retain the elements of customary systems they find useful.