News / Africa

Lack of Land Rights Could Lead to Land Rush

Community leaders in Nimba Point in Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, take Alfred Brownell (center) of Green Advocates, a member of the Rights and Resources Initiative, on a tour of land that had been cleared by Sime Darby, a Malaysia-based company.
Community leaders in Nimba Point in Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, take Alfred Brownell (center) of Green Advocates, a member of the Rights and Resources Initiative, on a tour of land that had been cleared by Sime Darby, a Malaysia-based company.
Joe DeCapua

New studies suggest that weak land rights are fueling a land rush in Africa and elsewhere. The findings say the sell-off of forests and other prime lands to developers could trigger widespread civil unrest.

The Rights and Resources Initiative says national leaders and investors must recognize the customary rights of poor people, who have lived or worked on these lands for centuries.

“The amount of land that is owned by customary communities around the world is about 3 billion hectares of land. And just to give you a sense, in sub-Saharan Africa, about 1.4 billion hectares of the land is not legally recognized to be owned by customary communities and under customary tenure rights systems,” said Jeffrey Hatcher, director of the initiative’s global programs.

Customary law

Customary law, he said, has long been a part of local communities, even if it’s not contained in law books.

“These are just the traditional rules and obligations that regulate ownership of land in a lot of the developing world. It’s basically a system of rules and laws that are known as customary laws because they’re not written down in code and they’re not in statutes, basically. Customary law in the U.K. or in the United States is basically the basis of our legal system. And in Africa, the law of communities has as much weight to them as our customary law has to us,” he said.

Hatcher said the land desired by developers is where indigenous people live, farm, make their living, find material to build houses or where water resources are located. He said that “controversial land acquisitions have been a key factor in triggering civil wars.”

Conflict

“One good example,” he said, “is in Sudan, where in the 80s and the 90s large-scale land acquisitions for plantations were purchased by individual investors from Khartoum and were part of the main grievances that the south had against the north in Sudan. Part of this, I guess, the trigger for civil war in that case. But you see in other places, like in Liberia, companies coming in to an area to grow oil palm plantations and the communities have really no understanding that their rights to land had been given away to a company.”

That can result in conflict between companies and communities and between communities and governments.

“Some investors are caught off guard by this because they think they’ve actually purchased the rights by dealing directly with the government. And they haven’t realized that the government hasn’t sorted out land rights in the area where they’re going,” he said.

Hatcher said it’s true that in many places communities do not legally own the land. He describes that as a relic of colonial legislation that gave customary rights the lower status of tenancy or occupancy. He also says the promise of jobs by developers is often not realized.

“Large-scale timber companies move into Central Africa and sign commitments to build schools and produce jobs. And really the fact of the matter is they don’t do much in that regard. They might produce some jobs at low paying wages for people,” he said.

The Rights and Resources Initiative says international aid can be used as leverage to ensure the land rights of local communities. It says developers will make better returns on their investment if they consult with local communities about the projects, instead of being delayed  by protests or conflict. It says international guidelines, like the Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds, can be used to ensure business is done in accord with customary land laws.

The initiative is a coalition of international, regional and community organizations working in development, research and conservation. It's stated mission is to "advance forest tenure, policy and market reforms globally" to support local communities.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs