Southern African countries continue to be riddled with land-related feuds starting at community level rising to the national levels. The feuds have a history of having serious consequences to socio-economic development at individual, family, national and even regional level. The southern African regional office for the United Nations-Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA) has initiated a high level land reform policy dialogue aimed at harmonizing policies in the region to help solve challenges emanating from land issues. Our reporter JACOB NANKHONYA caught up with the UN-ECA director for the southern African regional office, SAID ADEJUMOBI. Excerpts:
. What is the land policy dialogue about?
. The land policy dialogue is meant to engage policy makers and other key stakeholders on the land reform process in the southern Africa region, and proffer viable policy options and interventions that could accelerate the process of socio-economic development of the region. The dialogue is to address how we can efficiently manage our land for inclusive economic growth, industrialisation and socio-economic transformation that will create opportunities for all citizens.
Q. Why land reform in the region?
. As you will agree, land reform is perhaps the most important contemporary issue of public policy discourse in southern Africa. It is quite emotive, controversial, divisive and tense. Given the history of settler colonialism, which the region experienced, the dispossession of land and the brutality that accompanied the process, continues to evoke pain and dire consequences for majority of the citizens in those countries. You may wish to know that approximately 60 percent of the continent’s population is rural-based and derives their livelihood and income directly from crop and livestock production and related activities. Land in Africa is not only an economic resource, but also has social, and spiritual significance.
In Southern Africa, the discourse on the skewed nature of land ownership and distribution largely along identity lines of race, ethnic, gender and generational, is viewed as being at the heart of social inequalities, poverty, and stunted economic growth. As such, land reform ‘is a moral, social and economic imperative’. Perhaps to add that it is also a democratic question; empowering and creating access to land and land rights for a large proportion of the citizens in ‘leaving no one behind’, is of utmost importance.
QCan’t the reforms bring about undesirable experiences similar to what happened in the past?
. Not at all, the pertinent questions should be; how is land reform to be undertaken and land administration and governance improved upon, without generating fears, anxieties, and what some people have termed ‘reverse discrimination’? How do we ensure the values of inclusivity, participation and collective ownership in the land reform process? How do we balance the demand for land redistribution with the imperative of increased agricultural productivity and enhanced agro-processing capacity? How do we reform the land tenure system to give better land access to women, youth and other marginalised categories?
Also, how do we ensure that facts, figures and reliable data guide our policy options and not sentiments, emotions, speculation or political exigency? How do we insulate the land reform process from “political capture” by the rich and powerful in society? These questions are no easy tasks to resolve and there can be no one size fits all in formulating policy options and strategies on land reforms.
Q. Why should there be harmonization of land reform policies in the region?
. The harmonisation of national policy, legal and regulatory framework on land, with the regional and continental aspirations and frameworks will create some coherence, convergence and standard, necessary for promoting transboundary investments in land related areas and guaranteeing access to land by majority of the citizens in our respective countries.
As we seek to reform land policy, institutional arrangements and decision-making systems governing access to land, it is obvious that we can learn from experiences elsewhere, particularly the successful ones.
Do you see governments taking the land reform policy harmonization seriously?
. Of course governments may give excuses for not implementing important policies. We will always be talking of excuses such as that we don’t have money. For me I think that it’s a matter of priorities. I Will tell you that when it’s time to fight engage in war, countries will always find money but when it’s time to invest in the people then suddenly there’s no money.
There’s need to reset the priorities. I think that also facts and figures are important in whatever we do. Land reform is an imperative necessity and has to be done. We have different experiences. I think that we need to learn from each other. Land is a very contested commodity, the colonialists used that politically and it’s not over and if you think that it’s over you are wrong. I think that we need to support our policy makers to do what they need to do.