Pan-African Conference on Community Land Rights identifies urgent collective land rights reforms and women’s rights as critical for securing social peace in Africa

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Delegates from 12 countries united in Lomé, Togo for the 3rd Conference by the African Land Institutions Network for Community Rights (ALIN); They highlighted successes and challenges from ongoing community land rights reforms in their countries, and charted a roadmap for the future; The conference, hosted by the Government of Togo, was initiated by the Rights and Resources Initiative (www.RightsandResources.org) and co-organized by International Land Coalition, Africa.

From October 12-14, 36 ministers, senior government officials, and civil society representatives from 12 African countries gathered in Lomé, Togo to exchange lessons and new ideas on implementing legal reforms to enforce Indigenous and community land rights across the region. The delegates agreed these reforms to be the most urgent solution to ongoing land conflicts between foreign investors, local authorities, and communities in the region.

The occasion was the 3rd Regional Conference of National Land Institutions on Securing Community Land Rights in Africa, which capitalized on growing political momentum ahead of the upcoming Conference on Land Policy in Africa (CLPA-2021) (https://bit.ly/2Xdqm9l), the biodiversity and climate CoPs, and recent legislative gains in collective land rights across the African continent.

The conference, held both in-person and virtually, was spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) (www.RightsandResources.org), a global coalition of Indigenous and community rightsholder organizations. It was supported by the International Land Coalition (ILC) Africa (https://bit.ly/3j6Fdu1), and co-hosted by the Togolese Ministry of Urban Settlements, Housing and Land Reform (MUHRF) and the Auto promotion rural pour un développement humain durable (ADHD).

The writer Mike Hallan cries, Ma terre ma vie, ma vie en devenir (My land, my life in becoming) because land is at the center of everything we can ever do to shape our lives,” said Mr. Tsolegnanou Koffi, Togo’s Minister of Urban Settlements, Housing and Land Reform in his opening statement. “That is why the African Union’s Agenda 2063 declares that land governance should constitute the driving force for the continent’s development.”

Minister Koffi added that protecting Indigenous and community land rights is first and foremost a matter of security and peacebuilding for Africa. “If we secure community land rights, we secure social peace,” he said in an interview.

Research (https://bit.ly/3BO9KUL) shows that when land rights are secure, communities and natural resources both benefit from improved conservation, livelihoods, and economic progress. However, while several African states have passed important laws recognizing community land rights – such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Liberia, and Madagascar – implementation remains a challenge. The Government of Togo has made recent commendable gains in this area, and the organizers applauded its success.

“It is not by chance that Togo was chosen to host this conference. Its 2018 Land Code recognizes land and customary rights that are not evident in many countries through an inclusive and participatory approach that also recognizes women’s land rights,” said Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji, RRI’s Coordinator. “This conference is just the beginning of the partnership between RRI and Togo, including a new project to help secure the Bato Community’s rights to its traditional lands.”

Delegates from the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility also pledged to work alongside the Government of Togo to implement its 2018 Land Code. Launched in 2012 by RRI, the Tenure Facility (https://thetenurefacility.org) is the only international financial mechanism to foster coordination between civil society and governments to implement land rights reforms for Indigenous and local communities.

Audace Kubwimana, Regional Coordinator for Africa at ILC Africa said, “Over the course of three days, we have learned about the progress made and challenges encountered in securing collective land rights since 2019. We hope that the national action plans developed this week by the various country delegations will lead to further progress toward sustainable, equitable, resilient, and secure community lands between now and 2030.”

Delegates from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, and Madagascar shared recently passed or ongoing land reform legislation in their respective countries, emphasizing the importance of tackling the lack of public awareness of these reforms and other obstacles to ensure that local communities can more fully become a part of these processes.

Ellen Pratt, Commissioner of Land Use and Management with the Liberian Land Authority, shared that knowledge sharing and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders are vital to land reforms, particularly when it comes to women’s land rights. “Liberia has a law that provides protection and strengthens women’s land rights, but we’ve seen a disconnect between policy and implementation,” she said. “Women need dedicated advocacy, awareness, and capacity building to help them not just gain a seat at the table, but to actively advocate for their rights.”

Pratt added that the Liberian Land Authority is the first and only government agency in Liberia to have implemented a gender integration strategy across all its programs. It now plans to carry out awareness campaigns targeted at women to inform them of their land rights as enshrined in the constitution.

The conference participants charted a path to achieve collective land rights reforms in view of improving the lives of millions of Indigenous and local communities, particularly the women among them. They identified and agreed upon 10 recommendations for overcoming common obstacles for implementing laws and policies securing these rights. These recommendations can be seen here (https://bit.ly/3FOhCrP). RRI and its coalition of rightsholders will use these recommendations to inform the future ALIN strategy.

Patrick Kipalu, RRI’s Africa Program Director, noted that going forward, confidence, trust, and capacity to achieve effective reforms can only be built through credible data, pilot programs, full transparency, and sustained dialogue among key actors, particularly between civil society and governments.

He concluded with a sobering reminder of the urgency of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ land rights in the context of global climate and conservation crises.

“Over half of all of the world’s land is either owned or customarily used by Indigenous Peoples and local communities…yet just 10% of this land is formally owned by these groups,” said Kipalu. “This huge gap in recognition of their rights to own, conserve, and benefit from their lands threatens not just the survival of millions of people, but the security of our planet and future.”

Source: APO  and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

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