Insecure land tenure holds back post-conflict African societies, say experts

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 01:10 GMT

An African peacekeeper from Rwanda stands guard near people gathered by the Oubangui River in Bangui at the border of Central Africa Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. Feb. 17, 2014. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

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A lack of clear-cut and secure land rights means people from post-conflict African countries are prevented from getting the most out of land they rely upon for survival, experts say.

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A lack of clear-cut and secure land rights means people from post-conflict African countries are prevented from getting the most out of the land they rely upon for their survival.

Experts at the World Bank conference on Land and Poverty said on Wednesday that overlapping formal and informal laws and differing views about the value of land hamper their efforts at improving the situation.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for instance, less than 5 percent of the land is registered because the land registration system is so intricate. 

“We have to change the way people perceive the land if we are going to develop our economies in Africa,” said Francesca Marzatico, a European Union land governance expert in South Sudan. “It is difficult to have land reform if you understand the perception of land as a social, rather than economic good.”

The Minister of Land of the DRC, Robert Mbwinga Bila, said that post-conflict countries such his own have had to deal on the one hand with people from villages whose relationship with the land is guided by long-established communal laws and on the other hand with government and development officials who want to install more modern land tenure systems.

The government of the DRC recently introduced a land reform process to secure investment and improve land across the country, but Mbwinga Bila said this has run into resistance from people who could not understand why they need to secure title for communal land. He also said his government was determined to implement the new land registration policy.

“We can’t do things differently because there is resistance from local communities,” he said. “The reforms that we are rightly undertaking will ensure that the interests of everyone are protected in the same way. There are no separate laws for the towns and for the villages. The law is for everyone,” he said in an interview.

Speakers at the session on land tenure in post-conflict situations agreed on the need for such societies to have a recognisable system of land tenure laws. But there is not always agreement on land policies between donor countries and governments. If the donors push too hard, it can be difficult to persuade governments to take ownership, they said.

Ferrari Florence, an official at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, said donors and governments should collaborate to design programmes that benefit everyone, especially women.

“Development agencies provide legal and technical support in the drafting of laws to ensure they respect the rule of law and other human rights norms and are in accordance with international standards,” she said.

However, imposing a one-size-fits-all system, especially in societies that are yet to stabilise, can also have its dangers.

In newly created South Sudan, for instance, a fresh outbreak of violence last year between followers of President Salva Kiir and those of his then-deputy Riek Machar has created additional problems for people working on a land registry for the country.

 “Land is a factor for peace and development,” said Marzatico. “Land is also a trigger for conflicts. So if we don’t build structures now despite the crisis, we will move back to square one when this ongoing violence is resolved.”

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