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Africa Report


VOL.5 September 2013
Land Grab Woes
Securing Africa’s land for shared prosperity will require better land governance By Mercy Muthoni Njamwea
By Mercy Muthoni Njamwea

Land and related natural resources are a foundation for socio-economic development and the livelihood of millions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Access, ownership and control of land for sustenance and foreign exchange are so critical that they influence the cultural, social and political structures of many countries on the continent. Endowed as it is with arable and scenic land, minerals and wildlife, Sub-Saharan Africa is currently grappling with extreme poverty, both in its rural and urban areas. In addition, the region has to holistically address new land issues that are emerging as a result of land grabs caused by the need for investments in its resources.

Sub-Saharan Africa is now undergoing a second scramble for its resources. The first such scramble occurred under political colonialism, and ensured access and control of the region's resources by its colonizers. The legal and institutional tools introduced to facilitate access to these resources left more land issues than solutions. About 100 years after the introduction of land titling, the World Bank's book, Securing Africa's Land for Shared Prosperity, released in July 2013, notes that 90 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa's land is undocumented and informally administered. Indeed, rather than reaping the benefits of land titling and associated land administration systems, the region is suffering under poor land governance - the manner in which land rights are defined and administered. This is manifested in rampant corruption, poor land markets, low productivity caused by soil and environmental degradation, inequality in land distribution, landlessness, insecure land rights, slums in urban areas, land disputes and general poverty.

The second phase of the scramble for land in Africa is marked by the need for investment in the agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and mining sectors. Continued prospecting and discoveries of minerals and rare earth metals have further hastened the land grabs, depriving locals of the resources they have traditionally relied on to support their livelihoods and economic development. Climate change and agricultural produce markets further complicate these issues, as people have little to no control over either of these two factors. Significant efforts have already been made to develop land policies and laws, as well as reform land administration and management systems, backed by technology and using innovative approaches.

However, land issues are complex. To unlock the potential of Sub-Saharan Africa's land, will require managing land issues through three levels of policy development and implementation. The first level is the formulation and implementation of a national land policy based on principles that help countries determine land issues related to the access, ownership and control of land. The issues surrounding "who, owns, what, on which basis" should be addressed.

Secondly, there is the need to develop a land use policy to not only guide spatial planning, but also act as a tool for continued development control and the guiding of investment. The framework may provide parameters for considering land ceilings, redistribution and also address informal and slum development.

Thirdly, Sub-Saharan Africa requires a comprehensive benefit sharing policy so its expansive land resources and rich mineral deposits can finally lift the area out of poverty and propel its economic growth.

These policies are hindered by inadequate or complex legal and institutional frameworks, the lack of technical capacity, financial resources and political good will. They will need to be supported by and linked to a functional legal and institutional framework. For this reason, stakeholders will have to be involved in policy-making efforts. The ongoing efforts, supported on both the local and international levels, should continue if Africa's land resources are to be secured for the continent's future.

If implemented, the 10 steps outlined in the book, Securing Africa's Land for Shared Prosperity, will go a long way toward addressing land questions in Sub-Saharan Africa. How these steps are taken, however, should be shaped not only by best practices elsewhere, but also by the specific background, history and status of the land question.

The large economic gap between the poor and the rich means that only those in the middle class or wealthier may be able to buy land in both rural and urban areas. On the other hand, the poor are likely to sell off their lands to meet their economic needs. This may lead to inequality in land ownership, landlessness and neighborhood discontent. To prevent this, land markets will require well thought out control mechanisms that do not necessarily block access for investment purpose. While documenting land and creating institutions for its management may make it difficult for land grabs to occur without adequate compensation being paid, such steps may also lead to land grabs as they open an entry point for investors. Land governance will therefore remain key to ensuring the access and use of land for sustainable economic development and poverty eradication. CA

(Mercy Muthoni Njamwea is Assistant Commissioner of the Land Reforms and Transformation Unit at the Kenyan Ministry of Lands and Settlement)





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