With inclusion as a core objective, the Cameroon Land Tenure Week fosters dialogue and put the land question on top of the national debate agenda.
Debates around the land reform process in Cameroon have been going on for over 7 years but are yet to include all voices.
“Cameroon is known for developing very good laws. The problem is implementation and following up,” laments his Majesty Toto Bekombo, paramount traditional ruler of Dibombari, in the Littoral Region of Cameroon.
On November 20 2014, le Réseau des chefs traditionnels pour la gestion durable des écosystèmes en Afrique centrale (RECTRAD, Network of Traditional Leaders for the Sustainable Management of Ecosystems in Central Africa) led a delegation of traditional rulers and leaders of indigenous Communities who tabled a proposal to lawmakers for land reform to address inequalities in the country.
Five years on, Chief Tanyi Robinson, National Coordinator of RECTRAD and member of the National Council for Traditional Chiefs in Cameroon (CNCTC) who was part of the 2014 delegation is unhappy about the progress. “This process is taking too long to materialise,” he said. That is why he and other 26 chiefs from the CNCTC joined the Land Tenure Week, to continue discussions around their proposals, he added.
Convinced including new voices would benefit the land reform process, LandCam organised the Land Tenure Week to promote dialogue between different stakeholders on land. The Land Tenure Week is a dialogue initiative of LandCam, a European Union supported project working to securing land and resource rights and improving governance in Cameroon, implemented by the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), two International Land Coalition (ILC) members in collaboration with le Réseau de Lutte contre la Faim (RELUFA), a local NGO.
On January 21-25 2019, LandCam organised the Land Tenure Week, a framework for outreach, debates and conversations on local land management. Participants included women leaders, youth, traditional authorities, lawmakers, government operatives and international experts.
Capacity building for journalists
Land is not always on the news in Cameroon. To change that, on Tuesday, 22 January 2018, the National Engagement Strategy (NES) platform in Cameroon organised at the side-lines of the Land Tenure Week, a capacity building forum for journalists to discuss local land governance. NES Cameroon is a multi-stakeholder process set in motion by ILC to promote people-centred land governance, which works to influence the formulation and implementation of land policies and programmes.
12 invited media persons exchanged with NES Cameroon platform members on several topics, including on land grabbing, indigenous people’s rights and rangelands. Musa Ndamba, Vice President of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), Christian Njitar Taku, Coordinator of the Community Assistance in Development (COMAID), Chief Tanyi Robinson, CNCTC, Prince Ngangi Billy Arthur, Technical Assistant, RECTRAD, Fon Nsoh, Coordinator of the Community Initiative for Sustainable Development (COMINSUD), Samuel Nguiffo, Secretary General of the CED and Iris Flore Ngo Nken, Programme Coordinator of Cameroon Ecology represented NES Cameroon at the exchange. Israel Bionyi, Communications Coordinator for ILC Africa, shared the Prindex data on tenure security in Cameroon. Prindex collects data on perceptions of property rights. Its data is being integrated in ILC’s land comprehensive monitoring tool, the Landex.
The discussions helped journalists to produced informed reports about the land debate in Cameroon. For example, Emmanuel Jules Ntap, reporting for Voice of America, produced a multimedia report, which discussed how local land conflicts impede development and destroy livelihoods. In his report, he used studies presented in the exchange and drew quotes from participants to balance his analysis.
Celebrating land defenders
In 2018, the Correctional Chamber of Cameroon’s Court of Appeal acquitted land defender, Fa'a Embolo Joseph, who was sentenced in 2012 for resisting land grabbing. Fa’a rebelled against Chinese investor, Iko Agriculture Co Ltd who attempted to grab around 100 000ha of land in Akak, located 15 km from Nanga-Eboko, Department of Upper Sanaga in Cameroon to add on government allocated land for agricultural development in the locality.
“We find strength in working together,” Fa'a told audiences at the Land Tenure Week. In a breakout session documenting local land governance experiences on January 24 2018, Fa’a shared winning tricks with land defenders. “I want land defenders to know they should always begin with dialogue and documentation,” he said. “Documentation is vital to get facts and dialogue is important to find solutions.”
Women discuss customary tenure
In Cameroon, women and local chiefs never sit on the same table to discuss, but the Land Tenure Week broke that tradition. “Traditional rulers pledged to include women and family heads in local land governance,” said Augustina Taka, woman leader and Cameroon representative of the Kilimanjaro Initiative, an ILC supported platform in Africa.
For two days, over 20 women leaders discussed customary tenure with 27 local chiefs at the Land Tenure Week. A new drafted joint proposal for the review of the land code in Cameroon is the outcome of their discussion.
Young people were also part of the discussions. Jaff Lionel Leinyuy, student researcher at the University of Yaoundé 1 joint the Land Tenure Week to deepen his knowledge on large-scale acquisition by local elites in Cameroon. “ I think I have learned a lot. I have information and contacts of activists who work on the ground that can help me to facilitate my research, ” said Lionel Leinyuy.
Land observatory launched
In a press conference on January 25 2019, NES members launched the National Land Observatory. Supported by ILC and Land Matrix, the land observatory hopes to provide greater and deeper insights on land deals in the country.
Nearly 400 people joint the launch of the observatory, including several media organs. The launch gave journalists an opportunity to push the frontiers of debate on national media.
For example, Nadège Christelle Bowa a journalist from the daily, Le Messager presented the land observatory as a tool to ensure transparency in large-scale land transactions.
In a TV interview on Equinoxe television, Michelle Sonkoue, Facilitator of the NES and Samuel Nguiffo presented the tool to Cameroonian audiences.
They cited the peaking of large-scale land acquisitions, lack of coordination between land use actors and illegal transfers of land as ills the land monitoring tool would try to solve.