The Christian Monitor has a very insight full article about land reform on the African continent. The increase of property rights and land reform, plot by plot, may be the foundation for solving so much else – from famine to poverty to genocide.
The specialists know the warning signs. Analysts and scientists and field officers and academics spend years writing white papers, issuing reports and holding conferences, trying to provoke interest in issues that often seem arcane. Please, they have urged governments and the United Nations and activists, think about something that sounds boring – land disputes – before it turns into something that is not – war.
The lack of a proper legal system and legal organization in Africa especially on property and land rights has set back its development and growth on a continental scale. This should not be a surprise throughout history property rights have always been directly connected to personal and individual rights, economic freedom, and political liberty.
By not having a simple system for determining who owns what, the slide into an atmosphere of political interference and corruption, bribes, economic stagnation, and political instability are just a few steps away. The scary thing is that when you put this on a continental level, we then end up with countries that are just a step away from conflicts that usually run out of control and end up in either a civil war or worse.
Land, at the very heart of security and survival, looms behind most of the African conflicts we’ve all heard of and dozens of others we have not. The Rwandan genocide, some argue, was as much about the dwindling land availability in Africa’s most densely populated country as it was about enmity between ethnic groups. The wars recounted in the movie “Blood Diamond” in Sierra Leone and Liberia saw land grabs by warlords eager to exploit commodities like diamonds and timber. The violence following Kenya’s 2007 election reflected generations of dissatisfaction with land policy that favored different ethnic groups over time. Beneath the genocide in Darfur is a broken land tenure system, full of fights over soil that climate change is making increasingly unproductive. Somalia’s infamous pirates gain cover for plundering from political chaos in the country, whose warring clans fight not only for power but primacy on disputed lands, full of resources to fuel ongoing violence. And beneath last week’s Muslim-Christian riots, which killed at least 260 people in Jos, Nigeria, are decades-old grievances about political rights and the land they are tied to.
Africa’s most famous disasters, many argue, could have been prevented with changes in national land laws or better local conflict resolution but for one problem: Prevention doesn’t sell.
Is there any hope in the future ….yes. Some African countries recognize this problem, and are taking the necessary steps to correct it. Unfortunately they are in a minority, and the conflicts and wars that land disputes bring about will probably be an African fact of life for a very long time.