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Towards Improving Land Governance in Sierra Leone: Issues for Political Parties for the March 2018 Elections

By John Adune

The aim of this paper is to encourage the involvement of political parties and their flag bearers to take a position on land issues in the interest of land owners and land users in order to earn their votes. They have remained too silent on such hot and topical issue. Political parties cannot remain neutral of such a critical issue as land.

If you want our votes “Have a say in our own interest -LAND”. Simply speaking talk and focus your political campaigns on MY LAND –MY VOTE”.  Land is arguably critical, becoming increasingly recognized as an important governance issue. It is the single greatest asset in Sierra Leone. Many people excluding the bulk of the rural farmers require land and related resources such as forests and water for the production of food and to sustain basic livelihoods.  Clearly, land provides a place for housing, towns and villages and expansion of cities, and is a basic factor in economic production as well as a basis for social, cultural and religious values and practices.

Access to land and other natural resources and associated security of tenure have significant implication for development. The land rights of the poor and vulnerable are increasingly affected by climate change and land use that is largely uncontrolled with farmers doing as they like.

A number of long standing challenges remain in so far as improving secure access to land other natural resources for the rural and urban poor are concerned. Although ancestral rights to land and other natural resources are a cornerstone of the livelihoods of indigenous people, the legal recognition and safeguarding of such rights has been uneven.

Despite women being the principal farmers or producers in Sierra Leone, significant gender inequities continue to exist with regard to use of land and control over land and other natural resources. Among the land literature examined for this essay are those produced by Green Scenery, a Sierra Leonean NGO that focuses exclusively on land governance demonstrated in the area of research, publications, community awareness raising, training and advocacy on land related issues and developing strategic working relationship with Government, Foreign Direct Investors, community based organizations, interested organizations in land and other partners.

Sierra Leone today, like many other African countries, faces complex challenges including climate change, rapid urbanization, and increased demand for natural resources, food, water and energy insecurity, natural disasters, and violent conflict. Many of these challenges have a clear land dimension, unequal access to land, insecurity of tenure, unsustainable land use and land grabbing, weak institutions for dispute and conflict resolution.

Political parties must have a vision to shape the political will of the people. The 1991 Constitution states in Chapter 1V Section 35 (1) “subject to the provisions of this section, political parties may be established to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, and social and economic programmes of a national character ….”. reform is so essential to embark upon by political parties because the process of reform is as important as the content of reform. Many excellent land policies, laws and technical reforms have been developed yet, in many cases, implementation has slipped, stalled or even been reversed.

I wish to argue that an understanding of land issues and reform process from a governance and political economy perspective offers insights that can not only improve the design of reforms, but can also offer to support implementation. Our political parties should recognize that the quality of land governance is an important determinant of the number and scale of tenure related problems; the quality of land governance moreover will also affect the outcome of reforms designed to address these same problems.

Let us at the outset also note that weak governance has adverse consequences for society. It is found in formal statutory land administration as well as in informal and customary tenure arrangements. The poor are particularly vulnerable to the effects of weak governance as they lack the ability to protect their rights to land and other natural resources. Relocation and forced evictions are now emerging issues. Take the case of Crab Town and other sites of developing roads call them development based evictions, where residents have been forcefully evicted.

In many parts of our country weak governance promotes gender inequality as poor women are less able to secure their rights. It fosters social inequality with potentially destabilizing consequences as the rich are able to benefit from opportunities to acquire land and the poor lose their rights to land and other common property resources such as grazing lands and forests. In addition, weak governance leads to environmental degradation as corrupt public officials and private interests collude to ignore controls on land use, the extraction of water and minerals and the clearing of forests.

Good governance of tenure can ensure that rights in land and natural resource are recognized and protected. By doing so, it helps to reduce hunger and poverty, promotes social and economic development and contributes to ore sustainable urbanization. Good governance can contribute to the achievement of a variety of development objectives, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS);

Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG1). Secure access to land and other natural resources is a direct factor in the alleviation of hunger and poverty. We have to reckon that rural landlessness is often the best predictor of hunger and poverty; the poorest are usually landless or land poor. Improved access to land may allow a family to produce food for household consumption, and increase household income by producing commodities for sale and market. Secure access to land provides a valuable safety net asa source of shelter, food and income in times of hardship.

Promote gender equality and empower women (MDG 3).

Women often have fewer and weaker rights to lead for a variety of reasons including biases in formal law, in customs, and in the division of labour in society; as well as due to HIV/AIDS pandemic and the increase in violent conflict and natural disasters that can increase the risk of disinheritance. Land tenure initiatives that promote gender equity can serve to increase women’s power in agricultural production and help secure their inheritance rights. Right to land are also linked to other access and resource rights, including water, pasture and to timber forest products. Secure rights in land we should not ignore can also enhance political voice and participation in decision making processes.

Certainly achieving good governance in land is not easy. Policy reforms to strengthen governance require the political will to overcome opposition from those who benefit from non transparent decision making and corruption. Improving governance demands the strong commitment of the people involved, and the development of capacity.

The call by Green Scenery drawing the attention of political parties to land issues should serve as an invitation to contribute directly to access, sustainability and livelihood to the poor and vulnerable whether in urban or rural areas. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) seeks to improve governance of tenure of land, forests and fisheries. The VGGT promotes the participation of women on legal reforms on tenure rights. It provides relevant policies, laws and procedures which should be developed through participatory processes with all affected parties, ensuring that both men and women are involved from the outset.

The VGGT are for everybody-policies, laws and regulations should incorporate gender sensitive approaches; take into account the capacity to implement; be clearly expressed in local languages and widely disseminated.

The contents of the campaign can be garnered as at now from the New land Policy and the VGGT. This campaign recognizes and complements my vote my life campaign.

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