Experts, policymakers emphasize COVID-19 crisis intensifies illegal land grabs across Africa

ADDIS ABABA, June 1 (EI) — African experts and policymakers on Friday emphasized that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has added impetus to the need for African countries to create comprehensive and up to date land registries to safeguard ordinary people’s land rights, with particular importance to rural communities across Africa.

The experts and policymakers made the call during a webinar organized by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) to discuss African land rights in the time of the coronavirus, Kagwanja said COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of millions of rural people across the continent raising the need for more transparency and accountability in land governance across the board.

“This is an opportunity for us to do what we should have done a long time ago. We need to now put in place technologies to be able to deliver land rights to the vulnerable in particular. Now is the time,” said Joan Kagwanja, Chief of the African Land Policy Centre (ALPC) – a joint initiative of the African Union (AU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) is a special node of the Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA), which is a partnership of more than 50 leading African universities and research institutions, which envisaged strengthening the training and curriculum development on land governance in Africa.

According to Kagwanja, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis “creates more transparency and help root out corruption in land governance systems,”

“What we have noted is that the land rights delivery is not benefiting at the moment because our institutions are not functioning. Land governance has been affected especially for our vulnerable people across the populations,” the ALPC chief told the webinar.

As of Friday afternoon, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent surpassed 129,565 as of Friday afternoon, as the death toll from the ongoing pandemic surged to 3,790, according to the latest figures from the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Figures from the Africa CDC also showed that some 53,414 people who have been infected with the COVID-19 have recovered across the continent.

The experts and policymakers also told the high-level continental virtual meeting that land rights are increasingly becoming “more precarious as more and more people move into the rural areas as the ongoing health crisis continues to bite, affecting economies across the continent.”

They also agreed that women across the continent were bearing the brunt of COVID-19 as they have been pushed out of agricultural value chains resulting in drastically reduced incomes and domestic violence in the home.

Among the panelists include Fatmata Fouard-Kanu of Sierra Leone’s Land Rights Organisation, Stephen Drani from the Forum for African Traditional Authority, as well as and Bernadus Swartbooi, Namibian lawmaker and leader of the Landless People’s Movement.

The virtual meeting also emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis “needs to be better understood if great responses are to be developed to secure people’s access and rights to land now and beyond the pandemic.”

Bernadette Muyomi, Kenyan land policy expert and founder of African Grassroots Development Organization (AGDO), also stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified illegal land seizure across the African continent.

“In Kenya for example, the pandemic has exposed gender inequalities as women have been pushed out of spaces they normally use to earn a living. Women have completely been locked out of agricultural value chains and men have been left in control,” Muyomi said.

Noting that the COVID-19 outbreak “has seen more land grabs taking place in rural Kenya,” Muyomi also stressed that “this has been happening with the support of the State. With COVID-19, the rich are likely to grab more land as the poor abandon it.”

Swartbooi also stressed that “now is the time for African governments to address all ills affecting land governance on the continent and move to strengthen small holder farmers to ensure they can lift the continent’s economies by producing enough food for Africa.”

According to the African Land Policy Centre (ALPC), among the evident COVID-19 adverse impacts in Africa are the halting of programs to secure tenure, institutional support for land rights and conflict management, and the diversion of State and donor resources towards emergency responses.

The experts and policymakers attending the virtual meeting also underscored the importance of resilience and accountability among local state and traditional institutions in land governance.

They also emphasized that digitizing land registries would reduce the expropriation risk for most rural dwellers. They also agreed that African governments should speedily move to regularize customary land tenure to secure and protect the land rights of the rural people.

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