Many thanks to Alex de Waal for posting my briefing on land issues in Sudan on his blog last month and for stimulating so many interesting contributions on such a critical topic. I have just returned from Juba where I have been carrying out research on the reintegration of IDPs and refugees returning to the South. The magnitude and the urgency of the land crisis in Juba are a further testimony to the centrality of the land question for the stability of Sudan.
The briefing I prepared for SSRC was commissioned as a short, non-academic piece for policy makers, and it therefore does not explore the multiplicity of land issues in their full complexity. The paper only aims to highlight key issues and dynamics, outline possible scenarios and offer broad recommendations. I am glad that it has generated so many in-depth and insightful responses on this blog, though I cannot fail to note that the majority of contributions have been focused on Darfur. The resolution of the land question is critical throughout the country and it is taking an increasingly urgent dimension in the South as a result of the arrival of such large numbers of returnees.
Of the various contributions, that of Michael Kevane has specifically called into question a number of issues discussed in the briefing and I would therefore like to offer a few thoughts on some of the points raised in his post.
1) It was not my suggestion that regional UN/NGO efforts should be discouraged in favour of national level leadership. What I am advocating for is greater coordination and harmonisation of approaches and objectives between different international actors and in support of national structures. The array of uncoordinated initiatives currently underway in Sudan has ended up compounding problems related to land in several instances, particularly in the transitional areas.
2) I maintain my judgment that registration of rural land is of paramount importance and, unlike what Kevane suggests, it does not require an army of surveyors. Simplified systems for legally entrenching customary rights without the need of formally surveying, demarcating and mapping parcels for registration are increasingly being experimented with in a number of African countries, e.g. Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique. In Sudan itself, innovative initiatives focused on the adoption of simpler descriptive boundary recording linked to modernised community based systems of control and administration are being tested in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, albeit that this is a challenging area and experiments so far have met with mixed results. I believe that it is essential to continue to test and refine methods of recognising customary rights, including communally held land, to prevent further abuse and dispossession of the rural poor by the state and other powerful actors;
3) Cadastral records are critical in urban areas, where the absence of reliable records and data has generated a high volume of competing claims and allowed disturbing levels of misappropriation of property by land grabbers. Juba, where the land crisis is paralysing the administration of the town and the development of services and infrastructure, is a case in point.
4) I agree with Kevane that the National Land Commission may not be the most useful instrument to promote land reform, especially given the weak and unclear mandate it has been given in the CPA. However, this is the institution mandated by the agreement to arbitrate on land claims, enforce law and advice the Government of National Unity on land reform policies and its establishment is currently a precondition to making any progress on discussing and addressing land issues.
5) Last, public awareness campaigns are very important to educate people on how to protect their rights to land and can be promoted cheaply on the back of ongoing assistance programmes. People in Sudan may be aware that they should prevent ‘rich people from stealing their land’ but need to be supported to learn how they can enforce protection of their rights.