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 Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs