African governments urged to secure land rights for all

Accra, Ghana, 17 July 2017 (ECA) - Insecure forest and land rights trigger widespread poverty, gender disparity, lack of economic growth, social unrest, conflicts and investment risks, says Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Africa Program and Gender Justice Director at the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition of organizations working to encourage forest land tenure and policy reforms.

RRI and the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), a joint programme of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), are co-hosting a three-day regional workshop for Africa’s Land Commissioners with the support of Ghana’s Lands and Natural Resources Ministry to discuss ways to secure community land rights on the continent.

Ms. Bandiaky-Badji said significant legal reforms are necessary if African governments are to meet their obligations under international laws and commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union Land Declaration and others.

“Secure community land rights will go a long way in minimizing business risks on the continent therefore there’s need to change long-standing business models that often ignore the rights of local peoples. When land is secure there will be less conflicts on the continent,” she told participants from 16 African countries.

She said cross-sectoral coordination is needed for harmonization of reform processes, in particular in land, forest and mining sectors.

On the state of community tenure rights in Africa, she said the continent has up to 1.4 billion hectares of land with at least 428 million customary land holders.

Ms. Bandiaky-Badji said most African countries are struggling to implement reforms due to a number of issues, including non-harmonization of reforms processes, individual titling which is a threat to securing community tenure rights, slow decentralization through state inaction and community unpreparedness and lack of technical skills.

She said women's land rights are fundamental to development on the continent, adding efforts to formalize and strengthen women's land tenure rights are being delayed by slow progress in statutory laws reform or status quo in customary laws.

Of countries assessed by RRI, none recognized the inheritance rights of women in consensual unions, a thing she said was a major obstacle to women’s tenure security on the continent.

“We also found that African countries afford indigenous and rural women the weakest community-level inheritance rights,” said Ms. Bandiaky-Badji.

She applauded Kenya’s Land Act of 2012 which she said is guided by the principle of “elimination of gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property in land”.

Ms. Bandiaky-Badji said all was not doom and gloom as there are many opportunities for reforms to secure and formalize community rights through land charters and local land certificates, for example.

Southern and Eastern Africa were singled out for being advanced in land reforms with Central and West Africa being urged to learn from their reform processes.

Ms. Bandiaky-Badji emphasized the role of regional and sub-regional institutions and organisations such as the Economic Commission for Africa in helping member States come up with national policies and regional frameworks to support their reforms.

She said at the end of the workshop, organizers expect to have a critical mass of land commissions capacitated to lead land reforms in Africa; articulate and agree on key challenges, opportunities and a regional agenda for securing local communities’, women’s, and Indigenous Peoples’ land rights; champion statutory recognition of customary land tenure and its subsequent operationalization at the national and regional levels.

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Economic Commission for Africa
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