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  Experts say the current law, mainly dating from colonial times, is out of date and failing to prevent conflict.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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs