News / Africa

    DRC Faces Challenges in Revising Land Policy

    The fertile lands of Masisi in eastern DRC (file photo)
    The fertile lands of Masisi in eastern DRC (file photo)
    Nick Long
    Farmers organizations have been meeting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss changes to the country’s land law, which is being revised.  Experts say the current law, mainly dating from colonial times, is out of date and failing to prevent conflict.  The land problems are acute in the country's North Kivu province.

    On a roadside in Masisi territory all around are green hills, lush pastures for herds of cattle.

    The cattle are contentedly grazing on this unfenced, seemingly boundless grassland.  But some of the neighbors are not so happy with this state of affairs - like this smallholder farmer who asked for his name to be withheld.

    He says the number of cattle in the area has increased because large farmers have bought up the surrounding hills for pasture.  He went on to say that it’s difficult for local people to find anywhere to grow their crops.

    Traveling around this area one notices an odd feature of the landscape.  The plains and valleys, and where the hills rise to a plateau, all areas suitable for growing crops, have been taken for pasture.

    Most of the cultivated areas are on steep slopes.  And those slopes are eroding fast.  Farming advisers say that after a few agricultural seasons they should be left fallow for 10 years, but they aren’t.

    This territory of Masisi is where land conflict first turned into ethnic war in North and South Kivu provinces.  Nearly 20 years ago fighting broke out between the agriculturalists and the ranchers, and many of the cattle were killed.  But since then the ranchers have expanded their territory.

    Farmers’ organizations met at a forum in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma this month, to discuss land shortage and land law.

    The speaker lists the land problems in Masisi.  A major problem, he says, is the competition between agriculturalists and ranchers, and one sign of that are the herders, or cowboys, carrying guns.

    One of the small farmer representatives from Masisi was Augustin Munyanziza.

    x
    He says that there’s now a war in North Kivu caused by the M23 rebels and armed groups like the Raia Mutomboki, but the real cause is the land problem.  He says in Masisi, 70 percent of the land has already been sold as large concessions, with the result that the population lacks arable land.

    And it's an ethnic war, he says, because there’s an ethnic dimension to land use.

    Some ethnic groups till the soil while others raise cattle, says Munyanziza, and there’s conflict between the two groups which are mainly Hunde, Hutu, Tembo and other tribes on the one hand and Tutsi on the other.

    Land conflict expert Oumar Syllah, who works for United Nations agency U.N. Habitat, says it’s too simplistic to suggest the land problems come from one community taking over too much land. 

    "We need to be careful and not jump to rapid conclusions.  But we know there are a lot of Tutsi dignitaries who take control of land based on their financial power or their political power, and this a reality," said Syllah.

    An outdated legal code, Syllah says, has been part of the problem.  He says it fails to protect security of tenure and investment and is largely irrelevant to small or peasant farmers.

    Peasant famers’ rights to their land are based on custom, meaning recognition by their traditional chiefs.  They often have no written documents granting them land rights, and if they do, the documents were usually granted by the chief, and are not recognized by the law.  This can be quite convenient for the chief if he wants to sell the land to someone else.

    The land law, which was last updated in 1973, says customary rights to land will be defined by a presidential decree, but that decree has never been issued.

    Oumar Syllah is advising the government on changes to the land law.

    "We need to think about how we can have a kind of democratic system for access to land. Right now we have military involvement and influential people involved, which is not in favor of local communities," he said.

    The organizers of the three-day forum in Goma earlier this month have yet to circulate a clear statement of what was agreed as farmers’ recommendations for land law reform.  In a newspaper article they said it was agreed that the new law should recognize documents given to farmers by traditional chiefs.

    A farmers’ representative at the forum, Safari Gasimba, said that that recommendation should go further.

    He said if they are going to lobby for legal recognition for documents issued by chiefs, they should at the same time lobby for democratization at the local level, as laid down in the constitution, so that chiefs will be advised by representatives elected by the local community.

    The chiefs’ authority is increasingly being challenged in North Kivu, and especially in Masisi, where population movements have meant that many inhabitants no longer recognize the traditional chiefs as their clan leaders.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.