We are writing to share with you a new report on the impacts of land protection efforts on communities’ interactions with potential investors and government officials seeking land and natural resources. The full report can be found here and the executive summary can be found here.
From 2009 until 2015, Namati and its partners Centro Terra Viva (CTV) in Mozambique, the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU), and the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in Liberia supported more than 100 communities to document and protect their customary land rights. In late 2017, Namati evaluated the impacts the process had on communities’ responses to outsiders seeking community lands and natural resources.
The study tested the following assumption: “Once communities know their land rights and have documented their land claims, they will act in an empowered way when approached by government officials and/or investors seeking land, and will have improved tenure security outcomes.”
Of the 61 communities assessed, 46% had been approached by outside actors seeking community lands and natural resources since completing their land protection efforts. Overall, the stories of these interactions clearly show how, on their own, community land protection initiatives - as they were implemented in Uganda, Mozambique, and Liberia - did not adequately balance the significant power asymmetries inherent in interactions between rural communities, investors, and government officials.
The stories described in this report illustrate broad-based corruption that allows land to be claimed by powerful elites and government institutions with little regard for required legal procedures. Together, the communities’ stories illustrate how government officials leverage their power and influence to override citizens’ land rights in order to:
- Claim land owned by villagers for state projects without paying compensation;
- Support bad faith land grabs/dubious “consultations” for international investors; and
- Facilitate land grabs for investments that they or their families/colleagues have a personal stake in.
Such outcomes were prevalent despite community members’ ability to clearly articulate their legal rights in such situations—and were the same independent of whether or not the community had a formal government-issued document for its land rights (Mozambique); legal private ownership under law (Uganda); or fought the land grab, seeking external support from NGOs and political representatives (Liberia).
By showcasing the rampant injustices the study communities faced, this report aims to shed light on how to more effectively address such imbalances of power and strengthen global efforts to protect community land rights. The report concludes with a series of recommendations for how we might - with incisive action and more legal support - shift the power dynamics inherent in community interactions with outside actors to ensure that communities remain on their lands, growing and prospering with or without external investment, according to their own self-defined goals and vision.
Rachael Knight (author and independent consultant) and Namati’s Community Land Protection Team