Africa hasn’t resolved the communal-private land issue, and it won’t happen in Darfur anytime soon
Posted on behalf of Michael Kevane
Sudan’s land issues are big and dangerous. Let’s gingerly walk around this growling cur with a big stick and not be too optimistic about what land tenure interventions can do to promote peace and stability.
Sara Pantuliano’s paper seems targeted at the UN administrator who needs a set of talking points when meeting with counterparts. You could hear Obama or Clinton repeating these phrases if they arose in a debate about Sudan: “The reform of land tenure legislation, administration and management is a complex, long-term process, which needs to be addressed as an immediate priority by all relevant national actors, both at the local and central government levels, with appropriate and sustained technical support and expertise from international actors.”
Sara’s short paper is an odd read. Here is this ambitiously general call for doing many things better (reform land laws that discriminate against women; resolve the Abyei boundary), in a context where the parties that have the power to make such determinations have not even been able to agree to establish the National Land Commission!
On to specifics. The report makes four broad recommendations:
1) At present regional NGO/UN efforts should be discouraged in favor of national-level leadership. I see no compelling reason for taking this point of view. Maybe expending more effort at the national level is important. But maybe not. What basis would we have for agreeing on this determination? if we have no convincing arguments, as “experts”, then probably it is better to simply note that there is a tension here and each agency might spent some time and marginal effort experimenting with being more national (if they are regional) or more regional (if they are national).
2) Registration of rural land is of paramount importance. I think not. Sudan, like most African countries, is extremely ill-equipped to embark on some kind of comprehensive land process involving registration (if the word registration is to mean anything). Ask yourself whether you would prefer to have an army of surveyors blanketing the country and issuing pieces of paper right and left, or to have functioning and decently paid land adjudicators who are empowered to hear and adjudicate land disputes. I think I’d prefer the adjudicators to the registrars.
3) Urgent establishment of the National Land Commission. Maybe that was always a bad idea. Maybe there is no need for a National Land Commission. Maybe legislatures should make land laws at the state level. Maybe muddling through without a National Land Commission is just fine. I don’t see a GNU that cannot agree on the Abyei boundary letting an NLC be an “expert-led” body in any case. Maybe better to avoid setting up struggles over final determination issues until after 2011.
4) Halt current abuses and prevent increased tension linked to land issues. This is a grab-bag of reasonable sounding vague proposals with little sense of the scope/size of the recommendations. Resolving Abyei, for example, might involve GNU extracting millions of dollars from donors to “prevent conflict” when a border is finally announced. A “public awareness campaign” might involve more millions from donors to disseminate slogans that everyone in Sudan already is aware of (“Don’t let rich people steal your land”). “Urgent reorganization of cadastre records” seems like a strange one here– why would this be a priority? If land-conflicts are the flashpoint for more war, surely these are not going to be resolved by having paltry records preserved a little better. Does anyone think that a few more District Commissioner reports from 1910 would have resolved the Abyei issue? I’m not against preserving records–that’s a fundamental job of any government, after all. But 90% of cadastre records are going to be for the Central Nile Basin. Is this the region of the country that needs to be focused on in this context?
Land issues are not prior to general justice for Sudan—they must come after.