Julie Gichuru: Land ownership rights for poor not negotiable

THE IMPORTANCE OF LAND and property rights for all can no longer be ignored, particularly in Africa.

This is highlighted by the land crises resulting in political and social turmoil in both Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Without access to secure land tenure for all, the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be achieved.

The preamble states that “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Yet too many people are simply locked out of the opportunities to own their own homes and to earn a livelihood off the land.

Land ownership represents much more than security and status. It is a source of livelihood, in particular for poor communities.

UN-Habitat executive director, Anna Tibaijuka emphasises the point: “Secure land and property rights for all are essential to reducing poverty, because they underpin economic development and social inclusion.”

Failure to ensure all have access to land with some kind of tenure keeps countries and communities locked into cycles of poverty and marginalisation, feeding discontent, fuelling discord, and highlighting divisions in society.

Current estimates show that five million people across the globe suffer the indignity of forced evictions every year.

This leads to the establishment of new informal settlements dependent on government, charity and donor support.

Often, the socio-economic and political impacts of these evictions reverberate for generations, and the costs are enormous.

Insecurity, unplanned developments, hazardous and unsanitary conditions that impact on the health of communities, are just some of the direct costs of forced evictions.

Each individual has the right to land tenure security, the right to enjoy ownership over land and the economic benefits that flow from it, and certainty that their rights will be recognised by others and protected.

While the argument that not everyone needs to own land today does hold water, it is important for those supporting this position to recognise that the importance of land tenure is more pronounced for poor communities.

Agriculture is recognised the world over as the strongest source of livelihood, and indeed, as the global food shortage continues to bite, the ability of smallscale farmers to produce their own food, as well as food for consumption by others, will be vital in the efforts to alleviate food shortages in developing nations.

In these countries, the provision of secure land rights for the poor is a critical component for driving food security, as well as economic development and prosperity.

FAILURE OF GOVERNMENTS TO recognise this and to emphasise equitable distribution of resources has been a huge contributor to socio-political upheaval in a number of states.

A study conducted by UN-Habitat in 2006, found that close to one billion people lived without any security of tenure in informal settlements in developing countries.

Out of a total global population of six billion people, developing countries alone have contributed to one-sixth of the world’s population without rights to housing and to property.

Developing nations must come to grips with urban poverty and rural development.

Investments must be pumped into rural infrastructure — roads, efficient and affordable energy and communications to enable effective production in rural areas.

Meanwhile, efforts must be redoubled to ensure unplanned and informal urban settlements are addressed.

Lack of planning, bad governance, lack of political will and corruption have resulted in massive slums.

One of the largest in the world is Kibera, with an estimated population of over one million.

Kenya’s Ministry of Housing, in partnership with UN-Habitat, has embarked on an upgrading project — the development of apartments, with financial instruments provided for residents of Kibera to access loans for purchase of their properties.

The project is in its early stages, but if successful, it could be used as a blueprint for future urban upgrading projects.

Building upwards means better utilisation of space and the provision of legal ownership documents ensures housing security for the urban poor.

A unique approach is that each unit has an extra room that can be leased to ensure there is income to cover monthly repayments.

A change of approach in land tenure and land management is vital for Africa. While it is the least urbanised continent, by 2030, it is estimated that Africa’s urban population will exceed the total population of Europe.

While most developed nations have land records that cover most of their territory, only a small number of developing countries have land records covering 30 per cent of their territory.

Corruption is a big factor. The lack of equity and integrity in land allocations and ownership has also been a driving force for conflicts on the continent.

Without a doubt, just and sound land policies are required for peace-building.

Ms Gichuru, an NTV presenter, filed this copy from the UN headquarters in New York.

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One Response to Julie Gichuru: Land ownership rights for poor not negotiable

Dgi said...


Very insightful. I do agree that the poor need land. I'd further argue that the poor are poor because they don't have land. Clarity on this may be sought at nisambaze@gmail.com