A Right to Land, a Right to Peace in the West African Great Lakes Region
In the African Great Lakes region, 80% of the population’s survival depends on agriculture; in this region, land tenure has progressively become a key to understanding conflicts. In Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, insecurity—especially land tenure insecurity—is one of the main causes of the under-exploitation of agricultural potential and the undernutrition of 40%–70% of the population. On the release of the study Afrique des grands lacs : droit à la terre, droit à la paix, conducted by GRET, here is an update on a subject central to security in the region.
Four Determining Factors in Tenure Insecurity
In the African Great Lakes region, land tenure insecurity has progressively been built and accentuated with conflicts, economic changes, political crises, population movements, and population growth. Land tenure insecurity in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC arises from four major factors:
- The questioning of tenure rights and land uses under the effects of public policies that mandated land use changes and farming practices in the name of economic development. In the past, agrarian systems in the African Great Lakes region had proven that they were able to adapt to changes and increase production levels. However, since the colonial period, peasant systems have suffered from a negative image in the eyes of policy makers. Public interventions have historically consisted of transforming the agricultural sector by modifying peasants’ previous land use.
- Estate division and weakening tenure under the effects of population growth, sources of private and “intra-family” conflicts. The former systems of access to land evolved in response to growing demographic pressure and the needs of constant land use. Land appropriation is becoming increasingly individual and land rights are being defined in an increasingly exclusive manner, to the detriment of the most vulnerable populations. Exclusion processes go hand in hand with distress sales, and generate an atmosphere of tension, hostility and fear. Conflicts within families and between families over access to land are increasing in magnitude.
- Political conflicts and population displacements following the numerous violent armed conflicts that have demolished social ties and agrarian memory. The region’s history is marked by a succession of violent crises resulting largely from politicians’ exploitation of identity- and land-related issues against a backdrop of extreme poverty. After the 1990 crisis in Rwanda, there were more than 2 million refugees, approximately 1.2 million of which in DRC and 270,000 in Burundi. The traumas of war and the financial problems involved in the return of refugees made it difficult to find a solution. The responses of the three States have been diverse (villagization, legal reforms, land distribution) but not always appropriate.
- The gaps and competition among the various institutions and administrations (chieftaincies, formal or transitional jurisdictions, conciliation bodies). The customary authorities and actors in land tenure management have lost some of their legitimacy through their practices (the sale of land in Kivu, for example) and the functions that they have obtained over the course of history in the partisan government system. Land administrations and public authorities are generally not very legitimate, notably because they have imposed management rules without any negotiation. Currently, neither of the two management systems are entirely legitimate and therefore do not ensure the tenure security of the poorest populations.
All of these factors make land tenure a central issue in keeping peace in the region and ensuring its economic development. Faced with the failings of public interventions in the field of land tenure security, civil society actors have for several years been entering this area of intervention strongly: first, in the framework of emergency actions following the conflicts in the 1990s, to repatriate refugees and displaced populations, and then in the framework of development projects.
From the Role of Civil Society Actors to a Shared Analytical Frame of Referenc
Several civil society responses have had significant results in the field, in particular:
- Developing and testing new spaces and conflict management tools (social contracts, peace committees, sociotherapy, reflection groups, mediation and training) that make it possible to “occupy vacancies” in the landscape of peace building and the resolution of local conflicts over access to land.
- Restoring trust and legitimacy in land management practices (good conduct code for customary chiefs).
- Setting up training systems covering land rights and local arrangements (model land contracts, land certificates) in partnership with the local (administrative and customary) authorities that respond directly to tenure security needs.
- Participating in public debates on tenure (advocacy, alliances, consultation) for better consideration of local realities and needs.
However, civil society organizations cannot act effectively without the political will to undertake multi-actor dialogue, analyze and document accumulated experience to more effectively fuel discussions and improve the actions triggered locally, contribute to a single voice in the debate and build a shared framework for analysis and actions based on which they can conduct their activities and advocacy. While there is no one single solution to land tenure security issues, it is possible to provide references and keys to action to sustainably meet populations’ tenure security needs and effectively support the reforms underway. In the study Afrique des grands lacs : droit à la terre, droit à la paix, GRET and CCFD – Terre Solidaire propose a grid to elaborate a shared program of action with developing country partners with the dual aim of equitable economic growth and building peace.