Windhoek-The Namibian Resettlement Programme has widely been criticised for only benefitting a few close to members of the various land boards or to those working in the Ministry of Land Reform.
By definition resettlement is a process of land allocation, which aims to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of agricultural (commercial) land to previously disadvantaged landless Namibian citizens, who do not own or otherwise have the use of agricultural land or adequate agricultural land for the betterment of their livelihoods. Last year, the Land Reform Ministry spokesperson, Chrispin Matongela, revealed a list of resettlement beneficiaries for 2016 in a bid to dispel perceptions of bias and corruption in the resettlement processes. The resettlement beneficiary list has become a bone of contention and controversy between the government and land activists and public calls for its release have been met with resistance from the ministry.
Accusations and suspicions have been voiced that since the beginning of the resettlement programme, certain ethnic groups have been disproportionately favoured for resettlement across the country, at the expense of locals who remained landless. This compelled the ministry to release the 2016 list, showing that 47 individuals were resettled in a five-month period, indicating only 12 beneficiaries from the northern regions, specifically from Zambezi, Kavango East and West, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto. Further, the list shows that the majority of those resettled in that period were from central and southern regions, including Kunene, Erongo, Otjozondjupa, Omaheke and //Karas regions. There can be no doubt that a significant number of well-connected Namibians with tenured employment have benefited from land redistribution. This is borne out by irregular announcements of successful beneficiaries by the Ministry of Land Reform in a daily newspaper. However, the overall extent of this is not known, as aggregate figures are hard to come by.
The Resettlement Audit carried out at great expense in 2008-2009 across all regions, as well as the ‘Inventory of surveyed farms distributed and used for resettlement purposes in Namibia’ submitted in 2008 have never been released to the public for scrutiny. Associate professor Land and Property Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Wolfgang Werner, is of the opinion that an informed discussion of who the beneficiaries are, is therefore severely hampered by a lack of up-to-date data. Therefore, he says a new land and resettlement audit is highly recommended as an input to the impending Second National Land Conference to facilitate informed discussion. “It is also clear that well connected people and some in high political office, used their influence to change the draft resettlement criteria of 2008 in favour of the elite,” Werner notes.
The proposal to exclude all those from being considered for resettlement with a combined gross income of N$ 135,000 per annum be excluded was omitted in the final criteria after regional governors expressed their opposition. According to him, income is not considered relevant in considering and application. He maintains this phenomenon of elite capture of land redistribution benefits, raises several important issues that need to be discussed at the land conference on the basis of empirical evidence. The Second National Land Conference was first scheduled to take place last September but was postponed by president Hage Geingob, following calls for postponement by civil society, political parties and the public. The conference is scheduled to take place this year, although no date has yet been set.
“Who should the beneficiaries of land redistribution be? Should part-time and /or salaried people be excluded from the process, given that they may have access to capital to invest in farming and manage risks associated with farming better? Whether this is indeed taking place or remains an unfulfilled assumption also needs to be investigated. The same applies to AALS [Affirmative Action Loan Scheme],” Werner suggests. Whichever way the decision on beneficiaries goes, he says Namibia still sit with a tremendous challenge to support small-scale farmers that have benefited from land redistribution. He states that small-scale farmers across the country – in communal areas and the resettlement sector – are struggling to make a success of their land-based activities. According to Werner, a judgement on whether the resettlement programme has failed or not, depends on one’s vantage point. The professor says what appears certain, however, is that Namibia has not achieved the socio-economic targets it set for itself, and resettlement land is sub-optimally used.
He maintains that the absence of either registered land rights and lack of capital, for example, continues to bedevil this sector. Apart from improved cash flows and access to capital, he indicates that small-scale farmers also require improved extension services and infrastructure to make a success of farming. Currently, support to small-scale farmers is implemented as a project managed by Agribank; but it has not yet become part and parcel of the responsibility of the relevant line ministries. Therefore, Werner feels that developing the small-scale farming sector is the responsibility of the state, not a project. Further, he adds that anecdotal evidence also suggest that governance of the entire resettlement process is weak. This, he says, includes the acquisition of freehold agricultural land – see the recent purchase of large tracts of land by a foreign billionaire east of Windhoek. “The selection of beneficiaries has been decentralised, but there are regular complaints that recommendations from the regions are changed in Windhoek without explanation. While the Land Reform Advisory Commission potentially serves the purpose of improving governance, it is sworn to secrecy about its deliberations. This should change. Bottomline is; weak governance structures open the way to abuse and elite capture,” Werner remarks.
Equally, he says little information about the governance system of land reform is in the public domain. Therefore, suggests that it should be a topic for review and discussion at the land conference, to promote more equity and accountability. Werner says distributing access to resettlement land has been a tool for political patronage for too long, and has come at the expense of those small-scale farmers that need land and have no other income streams. The minister of Land Reform, Utoni Nujoma, says the Land Reform Programme, especially the acquisition and redistribution of land is part of their core mandate. Therefore, during the current financial year despite financial constraints, ten farms measuring 42.893.6149 hectares were acquired. These farms were acquired at a total cost of N$108,155,066.19. Another two farms with a combined extent of 6,250.6810 are pending purchase at a cost of N$14,926,275.56.
Under the resettlement programme, Nujoma says the ministry resettled 26 farmers, 14 males and 12 females. He, however, admits that these numbers fall short of the demand for land, which is still significantly high and keeps escalating. Investment in infrastructural is crucial to development, especially in the communal areas where the majority of the population resides.
Nujoma says the impact of the current collaborative efforts to enhance livelihoods for a better future under the Programme for Communal Land Development (PCLD) are bearing fruits explaining that under this programme, that is jointly supported through technical and financial support from the European Union (EU), the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Namibia, substantial socio-economic investments are being provided to farmers in communal areas. This is through the development of core infrastructures that are geared towards capacity building and the commercialisation of the farmers’ activities.
In this respect, Nujoma reveals that 286,000 hectares of land has been developed with 857 km of fencing, 20 multi-purpose kraals constructed, 30 new boreholes drilled, 35 boreholes rehabilitated, and 98 kilometers of water pipelines installed in the regions of Kavango East, Kavango West, Ohangwena, Omusati and Zambezi. This infrastructural development, he says, will benefit 7,800 farming households, thus bringing communities in touch with real benefits. Infrastructure development in other regions such as Otjozondjupa and Omaheke is expected to commence in the next financial year.
Nujoma maintains that tenure reform to enhance security in communal areas through the registration of land rights is on-going. In this respect 177,593 communal land rights were mapped and digitized, representing 90 percent out of the 196,000 communal land rights nationally that can be registered. A total of 116,220 customary land rights have been registered, presenting 65 percent of the communal land rights currently digitized and 101,432 certificates were issued countrywide. Upon completion, Nujoma says this programme will improve the livelihoods of over 500,000 Namibian citizens.