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Computerization of Land Tenure, Possible Solution to Conflicts in Africa

25.01.2019
Article from AFRIC editorial
For many years now, land tenure has been a major source of conflict in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. These conflicts range from family quarrels over the distribution of land for cultivation, boundary disputes between neighbours to arguments over the most fertile land by farmers and herders.

At the international level, countries fight over the control of territories that are rich in natural resources, or are strategic for the establishment of businesses or naval bases.  An example is the conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon over the control of the Bakassi Peninsula or better still the conflict over the natural resources in DR Congo.

70% of Africans rely on land for survival through some form of agriculture or other forms of exploitation. Unfortunately, many Africans do not have access to land, be it for housing or farming due to inappropriate ownership or expropriation.

Causes of land related conflict

Dispute over inherited land

This is the most common form of land dispute in Africa, especially among family members. In the African traditional context, when a man dies, one of his sons inherits his property including land.

Disputes usually come up after such events especially when other family members are not satisfied with the distribution of the property. As a result the angry party tries to sell the family property against the wish of the family heir. This is the reason why it is very common to see placards bearing “family property not for sale” on many properties in African communities.

Boundary problems also arise when the initial owner of a land dies. Since there are usually no official documents delimiting boundaries between neighbours, especially in rural areas, new owners who are usually unaware of agreements and original boundaries (usually demarcated by trees and rivers) begin to encroach on their neighbour’s land for settlement or agriculture.

Dispute over land for farming or grazing

This so far is the main cause of dispute among Africans who depend mostly on agriculture as a means of livelihood. Farmers-herders disputes usually escalate to deadly conflicts which last for years and claim millions of live.

The most recent of such conflict is the farmers and herders conflict over land in the Nigerian middle belt, especially in the Benue and Plateau States. The conflict which was initially over grazing and farming land escalated to a full blown conflict between Christians and Moslems and has claimed over 1,300 lives.

Dispute over borders

Most conflicts between African countries today are related to borders. This affects a good number of villages and communities that are spread across both sides of disputed territories. Those who partitioned Africa during the Berlin Conference did not take note of the fact that the arbitrary lines drawn over maps could pass across communities, separating those who have lived together for years and the eventual conflicts that such separations could cost.

Some countries that have been through border related conflicts include; Sudan and Kenya over the Ilemi triangle, Kenya and South Sudan over Nadapal, Cameroon and Nigeria over Bakassi just to name a few.

 

Can a computerised system resolve some of these conflicts?

Most land related conflicts, especially those in rural communities (between family members and neighbours) are as a result of non-availability of documents to prove ownership. Sometimes two people have claims of ownership over the same piece of land. One begins to wonder how the same land can have two documents that look authentic.

If the documentation is computerized, the issue of dual ownership will reduce. The corrupt nature of many African systems has made it possible for many people to acquire fake documents including land certificate.

 

Also, with a computerized system, boundaries and borders will be well demarcated, and if respected by the parties concerned, land conflicts related to boundaries will reduce.

The institutions that determine who can own land, for how long and the conditions under which to use the land need to have a database with a computerized registry of ownership. This makes for easy referencing in case of disagreement.

Article from AFRIC editorial.

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