Second national land conference: Some issues and challenges

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Uzochukwu Okafor

Land reform is a very complex and emotion-laden phenomenon with multiple dimensions, which include moral, historical, social, economic, environmental and technical aspects. In Namibia, it is also a race/ethnic question, and so equity is an important element of the land reform programme.

The current heat being generated as we approach the second national land conference is a testimony to the delicate and emotive nature of land reform in Namibia. The political and ethnic tensions that preceded the first land conference are manifesting once again. The wisdom and maturity employed to successfully navigate the situation at that time is again required as we approach the second national land conference.

The postponement of the convening of the conference from last year to October 2018, one hopes, has provided a cooling off period for sober and mature minds to prevail. It is important for all stakeholders to realise that the peace we are all enjoying today in Namibia is as a result of spirit of give and take hinged on over all interest of Namibia’s development. To help this process, we shall be highlighting some of the issues that need to be addressed at the conference.

The current public discourse has thrown up certain issues as very important to achieving a successful and acceptable land reform. Some of these issues are, in no order of importance, mode of land acquisition, value of agricultural land and criteria for beneficiary selection.

Mode of land acquisition
The two models of land acquisition employed are market-based approach willing seller willing buyer, WSWB principles and expropriation. Namibia has mainly focused on the willing seller, willing buyer approach for resettlement and Affirmative Action Loan Scheme beneficiaries. The attempt to use expropriation met significant challenges leading government to re-strategize. There is increasing frustration with the rate of resettlement using market-based approach leading to calls to employ expropriation. The perception that the market-led approach has failed is not backed by official statistics available in the public domain. The proponents of this view have largely ignored that this approach also serves the AALS beneficiaries.

As far back as 2004, Sherbourne indicated through his analysis that AALS is resulting in more than three-and-a-half times more land being transferred than the National Resettlement Programme, NRP. Although this gap has started to diminish, it is still the case that more land is acquired privately by previously disadvantaged Namibians either through AALS or other arrangements. As at 2014, according to the Ministry of Land Reform report, 5 612 431 ha were acquired by Previously Disadvantaged Namibians, PDN, as against 2 264 462 ha acquired through NRP. The same report indicated that out of 260 farms offered to MLR, 249 (96%) were waived, either in favour of PDNs or for non-suitability. It is important to note that some suitable farms were waived for lack of funds. There is also the argument that good quality farms are not readily available. While this may be true, it is equally true that most of them that become available in Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, and Kunene regions are waived in favour of PDNs.

Expropriation, however, could speed up the land acquisition process if transparent criteria are followed. The recent gazetting of the expropriation criteria is a very welcome development. Expropriation could make it possible to buy up blocks of farms in desirable locations thereby lowering the cost of support and improving the productivity of beneficiaries. More often than not, land left over from the willing buyer willing seller approach after waiving in favour of AALS are marginal lands that the poor targeted by the NRP cannot survive on, talk less of being self-sufficient. Considering the statistics indicated above, we wish to argue that the WSWB principle be continued as the primary means of land acquisition under NRP, but be augmented with expropriation for land targeted for special national interest and for some social restructuring like the expansion of communal land and resettlement of special groups. It needs to be noted, however, that expropriation might not reduce the cost of purchase. In some cases, it might even cost more. While the constitution contains no specific elements for land reform, the provision for just compensation has far-reaching implications for expropriation and forecloses forceful seizure of land without compensation. Expropriation is therefore not likely to reduce the cost of purchase compared to land available through the willing seller willing buyer principle. This raises another concern, the escalating cost of agricultural land, which I will unpack in the second part of this piece. (to be continued)

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