Public Management

"We should empower communities and acknowledge their land rights, but the land must be used for production," Alaina Yacoub Possey, Chad

Thursday, 23 November 2023 04:45
"We should empower communities and acknowledge their land rights, but the land must be used for production," Alaina Yacoub Possey, Chad

(Ecofin Agency) - The fifth edition of the Conference on Land Policies in Africa (CLPA) began on Tuesday, November 21, 2023, at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Discussions on the first day focused on various topics, including successful land reforms in Africa and their connections to intra-African trade.

On-site, Ecofin Agency interviewed one of the panelists, Alaina Yacoub Possey, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Housing, and Urban Development of Chad. He explained the complex challenges and issues surrounding land in Chad, and the government's measures to address them, and shared his perspective on the land situation in Africa as a whole. He also discussed what needs to be done to find effective solutions to sector problems, accelerating the implementation of the AfCFTA and the economic development of countries.

Ecofin Agency: You just took part in a panel that discussed successful land reforms in Africa and how they impacted intra-African trade. This topic aligns with the whole conference’s theme. Is there a link between good land governance and speeding up the implementation of the AfCFTA?

Alaina Yacoub Possey: Yes, the link does exist. Indeed, if you want to establish an economic exchange zone, these are small economic zones scattered across territories that you want to put together. This means that you need to undertake development work to connect them in terms of transportation with development infrastructure. And these infrastructures require space, a significant amount of space.

“I think land is crucial for everything. Having a regulatory framework that considers each country's situation and harmonized laws across the continent makes it easier to carry out such projects”.

In the Cemac zone, for example, you would take a part of Cameroon, and enter a bit into the Central African Republic, Congo, and Gabon. If you want to build railways in this area, for instance, they have to go through forests. Knowing that people depend on these forests for their livelihood, without good rules to make such a project work, creating the Free Trade Zone becomes a problem.

I think land is crucial for everything. Having a regulatory framework that considers each country's situation and harmonized laws across the continent makes it easier to carry out such projects.

EA: The importance of good land governance for Africa's economic development is frequently discussed. Specifically looking at Chad, what are the key challenges and issues the state is facing?

Alaina Yacoub Possey: Let's simplify the context for better understanding because it all revolves around economic development. The challenges and issues are multifaceted, and closely intertwined in Chad. Firstly, there's a geographic aspect. In Chad's context, we have a vast territory with a population concentrated in certain areas. Each part of this vast land has its potential—some are rich in agriculture, others in fisheries, etc. However, these resources and infrastructure are unevenly distributed. During the panel, I mentioned Faya-Largeau, a Chadian city where rainfall is extremely rare (the last significant rains were in 2010). In certain areas of this city, you can dig just a few meters deep and find water, potentially favorable for certain crops. However, to turn these crops into an economic development lever, connecting the city to other parts of the country is crucial. Yet, this city is nearly 1,000 km away from the capital N'Djamena, implying the need to possibly asphalt a road over such a long distance, with 70% of the route in a desert zone.

When we consider land in Chad, we've tried to implement various projects to trigger economic development processes. The country faces energy issues. We have agreements with Cameroon because Cameroon has hydroelectric capacity it can share with Chad. There's a sub-regional territorial development plan to extend the railway from Douala to Ngaoundéré to N'Djamena. This will facilitate the flow of certain products from Chad to Cameroon and vice versa.

In agriculture, for instance, we have a livestock population of over 140 million heads, and some herders need to bring their livestock to Cameroon or Nigeria. With the security, movement of people and goods issues, these trades become challenging. That's why we've tried to establish a territorial development plan to address pastoralism concerns.

“In agriculture, for instance, we have a livestock population of over 140 million heads, and some herders need to bring their livestock to Cameroon or Nigeria …”

We've also realized that as everything is linked to the land, it's crucial to ensure that in various sectors—livestock, agriculture, mining, industry—we can establish a unified legal framework, especially concerning land management. So, we formed a multi-stakeholder committee that brought together representatives from these different departments, civil society, and traditional leadership, to equip Chad with a document on national land policies. The job has been done, the document has been technically validated, and it has been submitted to the government. It's now up to the government to adopt it as law. Alongside this law, there are projects, and texts on pastoralism, property, and land codes that we had to put in place to have a comprehensive overview that incorporates all these sectors. Once we have this law, we'll review it and submit it to the competent authorities for adoption.

EA: How is the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Housing, and Urbanism in Chad handling land issues?

Alaina Yacoub Possey: Chad has undertaken several reforms. The country has established a housing bank and a real estate land promotion company to support the implementation of its housing policy. The housing bank creates a mechanism for people to apply for credit. Real estate loans have returns on investment over a long period, considering the economic situation. It's practically the same in the CEMAC zone; the minimum wage is CFA60,000, and social housing is provided for the poor. But if you ask someone earning CFA60,000 a month to pay maybe CFA20,000 every month for housing, you have to spread that over 20 years. So, the housing bank is there to create these mechanisms. For the operational aspect, the real estate land promotion company, a mixed economy company, will carry out land development and build suitable housing based on different social categories.

 “We have two land tenure systems. The legal texts say that some land belongs to the State and the same texts say that some land belongs to the communities, without any precise limits.”

However, as I mentioned earlier, we have two land tenure systems. The legal texts state that there are lands belonging to the State and others belonging to communities, without precise boundaries, which poses a real challenge for the implementation of these projects.

EA: Exactly, how does Chad address this issue? Because it is not the only country facing this kind of confusion. Other African countries face the same challenge.

AYP: When we enacted these laws, we should have specified to which lands each one applies. Today, it is possible that when you, for example, want to launch a housing construction project and have obtained the dedicated space with all possible official validations, and you start the work, there may be people, sometimes led by traditional chiefs, claiming the land on which you want to implement your project saying it is theirs.

If the government gets involved, sometimes they are forced to go to court, and the courts issue an order to cease disturbances. But the situation makes financial partners, those who want to invest in these projects, hesitant. So, that's the difficulty we face.

Even when the government plans a land division for allocating residential plots in urban areas, all these allocations are challenged by presumed customary occupants. For example, if you come during the rainy season, you will likely see a cornfield or a rice field, proving that someone occupies that space. But when you return six months later during the dry season, you will see that the land is completely bare, and you have no material evidence to say that it belongs to someone.

EA: When a population believes it has inherited the land from its ancestors and that it is their duty to protect it, can the government convince this population to give up this land? Do you think it's possible in the African context?

AYP: It is possible when you look at it solely from the perspective of economic production, meaning considering land as a means of economic production. When it is given to you, it is for you to engage in economic production. When viewed from this angle, it is very easy to find common ground.

 “When land is given to you, it is for you to engage in economic production. When viewed from this angle, it is very easy to find a common ground”.

However, in most African countries, people hold onto land as a matter of pride. It's for my grandfather, it's for this, it's for that. On the other hand, given the economic weakness of our countries, land has become a whole system, a commodity, a means of investment, a way of money laundering, and a means of speculation. When all these factors are added to the issue of economic production, debates become challenging.

To go further, some land indeed belongs to communities. Today, we cannot say that land only belongs to the State, as in our legislation, where we say that all bare, vacant, and unowned land belongs to the State. If there were bare, vacant, and unowned land, would it have been necessary to use force to occupy these territories before the introduction of these laws? It's a bit contradictory.

On the other hand, conversely, we recognize these rights to populations and communities, but they need to understand that they must use these lands for agricultural production for the collective development and general interest of the country. When we see things that way, I believe it is easier to convince them.
But when we consider the speculation aspect, meaning that their land has entered the urban perimeter, we take it away from them, giving them perhaps a modest sum, and later someone else will come and build a hotel on it and make a profit for 20-30 years, the debate becomes difficult, very difficult.

EA: What prospects do you see regarding land governance for Chad and Africa?

AYP: In Chad, I believe we are currently in a transition phase, which implies a period where decisions are made through consensus. The current government is formed based on consensus, involving civil society, NGOs, traditional leadership, and political parties. The National Transitional Council, our decision-making entity, follows a similar pattern. Therefore, the land policy document I mentioned earlier has a higher chance of success. If the configuration changes, so will debate. Additionally, being a country with low population density, resolving governance issues and ensuring fair land distribution as a resource will facilitate the implementation of projects at the national and sub-regional levels. The ongoing reform considers these factors and aligns with directives on land policy in Africa, Agenda 2063, etc.

Regarding prospects for Africa, sometimes we face significant divergences in governance. It's challenging to eliminate these differences. Beyond that, we need to ensure that, on a continental and sub-regional scale, we can finance our institutions to make them stronger. If our institutions are not strengthened through adequate funding, all our discussions will lead to nothing, and everyone will be limited to their domain, doing what they can with available resources.

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ECOFIN AGENCY offers a selection of articles translated from AGENCE ECOFIN. Founded in 2011, Agence Ecofin is a leader in Francophone Pan-African economic news, particularly in West and Central Africa. The agency publishes daily news on nine African economic sectors: Public Management, Finance, ICT, Agribusiness, Energy, Mining, Transport & Logistics, Communication, and Training.

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