In this new blog series, the National Land Coalition Facilitator in Cameroon looks back on her participation at the ALIN Conference 2021 and what securing community land rights brings to countries that practice it
Three months after my participation at the 3rd Regional Workshop of National Land Institutions on Securing Community Land Rights in Africa in Lomé, I find myself reflecting on all I heard. I attended this for a second time, as a representative of the National Engagement Strategy on land governance in Cameroon.
For the delegations of the thirteen countries represented, the main challenges lie in the protection of collective and individual customary land rights. One of the major causes identified is the fact that private land registration is still presented by the national policies of many countries as the only way to secure land. This model comes up against a reality marked by the fact that 50 years after the introduction of private property, less than 5% on average of the population of the said countries have been able to secure their land under this system, and also by the inability to guarantee the securing of collective land rights through such private property.
For the delegations of the thirteen countries represented, the main challenges lie in the protection of collective and individual customary land rights
Nevertheless, progress has been made in some countries over the last ten years:
The Republic of Congo shared that the state is facilitating the demarcation of indigenous peoples' lands on the basis of their customary land rights, with a view to guaranteeing their knowledge. Thus, in the absence of title deeds, indigenous peoples retain their pre-existing customary land rights[i].
From Liberia we learn that the Land Rights Law adopted in July 2018 establishes that there are four categories of land ownership, including ownership of customary land[ii]. Therefore, communities do not need to present a deed to prove ownership - oral testimony from neighbors is sufficient. However, in order for communities to benefit from the full range of rights conferred by private ownership, they must complete the process of formalizing customary land.
One of the major causes identified is the fact that private land registration is still presented by the national policies of many countries as the only way to secure land
On to Togo. It should be noted that effective recognition by the state and decentralized territorial authorities of legitimate local customary land rights is in effect here[iii].
With regard to Cameroon, I was pleased to share that during the parliamentary session of July 2021, the Ministry of State for Property, Surveys and Land Tenure announced the consolidation of the land rights of customary communities, in a context where the recognition of customary land rights has not yet been officially included by the government in the land reform agenda.
This model comes up against a reality marked by the fact that 50 years after the introduction of private property, less than 5% on average of the population of the said countries have been able to secure their land under this system, and also by the inability to guarantee the securing of collective land rights through such private property
There are many lessons to be learned from countries that have begun land reform processes or for those that are developing tools and means to implement land policies:
- The distinction between rural and urban land tenure must be clarified in the countries' policies, with rural land being dominated by rural-type land use and urban land being dominated by land use specific to urban activities
- Effective policies to secure customary land rights are inevitably parts of zoning policies and must be developed in a participatory manner
- Areas of authentic collective customary land rights expression must be mapped, secured and managed in their ancestral form of expression, including maintaining the non-transferable character of the land, to name but a few
- Securing collective land rights contributes effectively to the fight against climate change because comparative analyses show a decrease in deforestation in areas where land governance is dictated by collective land rights
- The public nature of land security is supported by stakeholders and would be an effective way for African countries to revolutionize their land registries in order to have more complete documentation on land use and types of land rights
- The effectiveness of land taxation is clearly improving in countries where there is an effort to recognize customary land rights and decentralize in an inclusive and transparent manner.
I took part in this workshop alongside the land administration of my country. This reflection will certainly be a tool for action in our country, where land legislation dates back to 1974, and where the reform process was initiated 10 years ago.
[i] The law n°5- of February 25, 2011 in its Art-32.
[ii] In its Art-7.
[iii] The law n°2018-005 of 14 July 2018 on the land and property code of Togo in its Art- 8. The same text in its Art-628 specifies that, when the land is held according to the rules of customary law, the holders have the faculty to have their rights established and affirmed with regard to all third parties subject to the observation of the provisions of Articles 629 to 639 of this Code and, insists on the fact that the equality between men and women in the access to the land must be respected.
Michelle Sonkoue is an agro-socio-economist specializing in rural and integrated development and a researcher on land tenure and sustainable agriculture at the Center for Environment and Development. She coordinates the National Land Coalition for Land Governance in Cameroon.
This blogpost is published as part of the ALIN Conference 2021 Blogpost Series.