‘Land Reform Needs Public Dialogue’

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK As land redistribution remains one of the pressing issues the Namibian government has to tackle, a regional conference on land redistribution held recently has identified lack of public dialogue in the country as the main contributor to the slow process of land redistribution. This conclusion was drawn at a land conference that brought together participants from Namibia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa in Pretoria last week. According to the president of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) Raimar von Hase who led a four-member delegation from Namibia, participants called for a need for countries to form platforms where information relating to land matters can be shared with the public. In light of that, NAU suggests that a land mediation forum be formed in Namibia. “There is need for discussions at national level; dialogue needs to be promoted and regional networks can be employed to instil a sense of peer review and accountability,” stated NAU Manager of Research and Development Claus Hager, who was also part of the delegation to Pretoria. The forum therefore would deal with issues that were identified as major lessons learnt for the country. These include, despite land reform being a worldwide phenomenon, civil societies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in countries represented seem to be divided about how the problem should be solved. Therefore, stakeholders even those that traditionally have not spoken with a common voice need to advocate for a faster pace of land redistribution, ensuring that the process is implemented properly. The pace of land reform still remains a cause for concern nationally and internationally. Active dialogue with strategic partners and the government needs to be stepped up to ensure a socially, economically and environmentally sound redistribution of land, he added. The talks also revealed that the state is not particularly keen to spend money on land reform in most countries and the NGO community rarely forms part of the solid political pressure, yet are very opinionated. Participants at the conference further acknowledged that vast historical and environmental differences impact the design and the likely success of land reform programmes. These differences would be the way that people were dispossessed and impoverished either through slavery and feudal systems or apartheid and colonialism with legal forms of discrimination. Based on that, the forum would also ensure that government allows different processes to take place in land reform since poor and non-poor beneficiaries are involved. Statistics regarding land being put forward versus land being purchased should be disseminated, and the ideal is sharing of the growth of the economic pie rather than sharing of the pie per se. The model of service delivery is important and thus the whole land reform programme should be channelled through one agency and not many different institutions to ensure timely delivery of funding. In its efforts to give land to those who are landless, the Namibian government has implemented the willing-buyer, willing-seller mechanism, expropriation as well as land tax. Empirical evidence according to what was discussed shows that expropriation does not speed up land reform and that it considerably increases the costs due to the legal implications involved. The main objective of the conference was to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between practitioners of land reform, after which the participants were able to identify benefits, weaknesses and complementarities of different land redistribution mechanisms and identify the different stakeholders involved in land reform, and their respective visions and roles. It also aimed at giving the participants a better understanding of past successes and failures of land reform; and also identifying concrete suggestions for improving the implementation of land reform in their own countries. Hager indicated that a report on the outcome of the conference would be prepared and forwarded to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Land and Resettlement for reference.