Irrespective of where you live in Africa, governments try to inspire and embrace new national resolutions and visions every new year.
In countries where an election is on the agenda in 2024, a lot will be said about land.
For those who live off the land, I urge you to improve your land rights literacy.
Land rights literacy means having the appropriate knowledge about land, including its use, rights, ownership and socioeconomic and environmental values for human development.
It is not only about studying for university diplomas or degrees.
It means knowing your fundamental human rights and how to exercise them responsibly in landholding and ownership.
It is about having the essential awareness and capacity to survive in an environment (such as in Africa) where land is considered everything.
Human rights are universal rights inherent to everyone irrespective of sex, wealth, religion, gender, race, poverty and any inherited or assigned status.
Land rights are the social and legal entitlements individuals or groups can enjoy on a piece of land.
These may be the right to own, use, dispose of, transfer, occupy, inherit, develop, or live on a piece of land.
Land rights, usually constructed in law and economics as property rights (including land and housing use, possession and ownership), are human rights. This is recognised in article 17 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.
The African Union’s Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognises that land/property rights must be guaranteed and can only be limited by public interests. All constitutions in Africa support land rights.
However, amid all the excitement about land ownership in many African countries, ignorance persists, and many challenges arise from the exercise, administration and management of land rights.
When people suffer from vested interests (e.g. governments, influential individuals, and corporate entities) infringing on their land/property rights, it is often because of a lack of basic knowledge of land rights.
Being aware of land rights knowledge can prevent those in power from oppressing the less privileged and protect vulnerable groups from marginalisation in land sector initiatives.
It enables people to express and exercise their rights responsibly.
This allows them to get fairer treatment in land reform, acquisition and delivery processes.
The goal of land rights literacy is individual and household well-being. Land rights empowers people to stand up against land sector corruption.
People with in-depth knowledge of land rights are more likely not to be intimidated by vested interests in land conflicts or corporate and state land grabbing.
They are also more likely to know proper land acquisition and housing delivery procedures, which will enable them to avoid becoming victims to the activities of dubious actors.
They also develop appropriate knowledge on land/property investments.
The more people understand their land rights, the more they can navigate the confusing terrain of property use, possession, market-based household inheritance, and ownership.
Becoming literate on land rights includes engaging in dialogue with those with advanced land rights knowledge.
Although it is commonly said land is a highly emotional issue, people should not shy away from discussing it.
The more people engage in discourse, the more they know. What matters is having such discussions responsibly. People should try to read newspaper articles, listen to radio and watch TV programmes on land issues.
This allows them to keep abreast of current affairs on land and learn from the opinions of informed actors in the sector.
Reading books (including on national and international developments on land) can help develop in-depth knowledge on the application of land rights in different areas of their personal and community lives.
Seeking free and paid legal advice and information from lawyers can help people understand their rights on land (including when and how to exercise them). Taking courses on land-related subjects through social media (e.g. YouTube and webinars) is another option.
People must also consult specialised agencies in land matters (private companies, land commissions and ministries) to get clarity and directives on land matters.
Such government and private land agencies can provide direct information on processes and procedures in the land sector.
It is critical that people aspire to know the laws that apply to land use, planning, forestry, environment, land development, inheritance and other relevant legislation or policies that affect their right to land.
Of course, studying land-related courses (such as law planning, land administration and property studies in higher education institutions) could empower participants with advanced land rights education.
– Uchendu Eugene Chigbu, associate professor (land administration) at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust), and coordinator of Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (Nelga). Views expressed in this article are entirely his, and not those of Nust and Nelga.
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