In Many instances, Land ownership is a contested issue. In Africa, with limited but highly claimed understanding of traditional values and practices, we tend to question the land ownership system so much. And with our own biases, we sometimes tend to conclude in a way to make things interesting for future generations. I must admit, while discussing the 2018 Liberia’s Land Rights Law, I was made to understand certain things I would not have known judging from the outside. A key lesson I learned was to try as much as possible to listen to many voices even those I consider as my opponents in discussing reforms.
Let us remember that many traditional practices have not explained to us while certain practices were accepted- and this does not in any sense make them invalid for our learning. Though it makes it look like there is no reason while certain traditional practices should be accepted, it is more the reason to search beyond the ordinary conclusions. In the minds of those who carve these traditions, there was a reason, a rationale and a futuristic benefit.
The question of land ownership is clearly a question of practices and held anticipations about the future. During land reforms, the decision to collectively or individually own land must start with us deepening our understanding of the benefits collective or individual land ownership could yield.
Let us first accept that in a situation of communal life, Things will be jointly owned. However, where a group could be segregated, it is prudent enough to have rules, guidelines, laws and policies that clearly define and enforce the rights of individuals for whatever form and style of ownership that is adopted.
We must also clearly lay the foundation for lawyers, activist and land rights practitioners to consider rules of engagement when working on land issues. They must begin land reforms with the question following question: ‘’What was the practice then and how can we keep such a practice but with clear safeguards that protect and enforce the rights of individuals in an ideal form of land ownership?
In 2018, while finalizing the Liberia Land rights law 2018, this was the reason while the law accepted and included the collective rights of land ownership for communities and an individual land ownership for urban settlements with clear safeguards for women, youth and those who could move to a new community through marriage or otherwise (Liberia Land Rights Act 2018).
I cannot imagine more what to say if we want to measure individual land ownership against collective land ownership. The reason why this cannot be compared is that they could have very varying context.
For instance, communities have made laws which addressed the question of conservation and protection of land – a practice that was only done collectively. In many African cultures, anything done collectively must be owned collectively. For our generation, we need to exercise patient in understanding practices but more so, in learning while people do things that they do- not only about land but so many other things.
Exemplifying this further, let us look at a city settlement where life is about the individual, I can imagine that it is only prudent to have clearly defined positions for individuals to strive – this means, ownership could be individualized and such has its bearing in a more positive sense. However, in a village, where a family is defined as a group beyond a mother, father and children, there is enough evidence to say the least that life is collective. This will suggest to us that land ownership by a group is more a peace-making endeavour than a cultural practice.
Let us further imagine of a country that is developing fast where villages are joining the city. In such a case, we know that there is need for planning, and sharing of benefits that come with such development. In that case, individualizing land will make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, if a village owns a forest land, individual ownership is harder and any such reform that encourages individual ownership could be separating and dividing the population- dismantling the fabrics of communal life. This has the potential to create boundaries – for the case of Africa, we know what boundaries have done to the entire continent.
This is while it is very important to think beyond the problem now and look at the future. During the negotiations between government, civil society and the general public on land reforms, land ownership must be considered as an ownership based on present practices. The law should only create a reform to address the problem of fairness, equity and rights not on immediate needs alone- but foreseeing the future.
Conclusively, individual and collective Land rights whether for women or youth (or any other subgroups considered marginalized) should not substitute each other. They are practices that must supplement each other contextually applied with safeguards.