Yesterday, the Vice Versa special issue on land rights was officially handed over to Minister Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. The special issue features stories from journalists giving perspectives on land rights from different angles, and was produced in cooperation with LANDac.
Written by Selma Zijlstra, Vice Versa.
The special was presented during the ‘LANDdialogue’, where representatives of NGOs, academia, business and government came together to discuss achievements in the sector in the past year and to design steps for the future of land governance.
Special reference was made to the Minister on a story from Iraq, where a local civil servant managed to grab the local cadastre records just before ISIS arrived to take Sinjar. Now that the peace has returned and refugees slowly return home, the two big green books have become an important source for preventing conflict. This is symbolic of the importance of land rights and good governance in building peaceful and resilient communities.
Land rights are equally important in the post-conflict setting of Colombia, where many internally displaced people will return to their homes now the peace agreement between FARC and the government of Colombia is in place. According to locals, formal land registration will take ‘two centuries’ to complete. As long as these remain unregistered, new conflict is looming. A participatory method hopes to bring a solution.
The importance of good relations with the community was also highlighted for the Minister. In one of the stories on Mozambique, it is described how frustrated young employees of a company put up a road blockage out of frustration with delayed payment of their salary. As we have seen in Ethiopia as well: without good relations with the community, companies cannot move forward – both literally and figuratively.
In the special issue, reports from Indonesia, Uganda and Mozambique tell about the complexities of large scale land acquisitions. Sometimes they deserve the label ‘land grab’, yet sometimes they are a promise for prosperity in the eyes of many — provided that conditions and rules are in place. The important role of the state and having adequate rules in place is emphasized throughout the special issue, for example by quoting the economist Karl Polyani who already in the 1940s understood that, while self-regulating markets may work for commodities, they create problems when labour and nature – which includes land – are brought under the same market discipline.
In the magazine, we see critical reflections vis-à-vis policy coherence on aid and trade, while initiatives of the Netherlands on land governance are highlighted as well – such as the support of the Dutch government for Mozambique’s Terra Segura program which aims to provide 5 million small-farmers with individual land titles. Different researchers contributed to the issue, including Femke van Noorloos from Utrecht University. She tells us about her research on “new cities” in the making, in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya, amongst others. Models from Dubai are being enthusiastically copied in African settings, she says, but the complexities of local land rights are not always understood and accounted for in the designs.
The city is the main character as well in a story on Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city, a story which was made with the cooperation of Utrecht University and LANDac researcher Murtah Read. The inhabitants of Beira see their houses flooded time and time again, and it is mainly the poor that are suffering. Dutch companies designed an ambitious ‘Masterplan’, yet Beira proves that city development also involves extensive resettlement which is not always desirable. “Does the city of the future take the poorest of the poor into account?”, is the central question in this report.
Last but not least, Annelies Zoomers, Professor of International Development Studies and Chair of LANDac, advocates for Sustainable Development Goal number 1 and the commitment to leave no one behind. To realize that goal, people should not be moved aside for investments. Because there is also a right to stay, according to Zoomers – to stay on the land of your ancestors, where even the rivers and stones might have spiritual and symbolic meaning.
Vice Versa is a Dutch journalistic platform about global cooperation. Visit www.viceversaonline.nl for more information.
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