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African Youth Engagement in Land Governance

On the sidelines of the land inequality report launch, ILC co-organised the Youth and Land Conference 2020. In this blogpost, Gerdien Archterberg, ILC Africa research intern, shares her experience of speaking to a wide range of stakeholders on youth and land issues.


Why would the African youth need to be involved in land governance?

This was the first question that popped into my mind when I first read the internship vacancy of ILC-Africa, to which I applied later in July 2020. From my very Dutch and white female youth perspective, land rights did seem to be a bit boring to be engaged in as a young person. However, after doing research for the past 3 months on ‘youth access to land in Africa and their engagement in land governance’ I started to reframe this question into ‘why is African youth not involved in land governance, as they are so heavily affected by it?’

As a Dutch student who has never been to Africa (and barred from travelling now due to COVID-19), the whole African tenure system and setting are quite new to me and even surprising.

On the one hand, this made it sometimes very hard to be ahead of all different aspects that are relevant to land related questions in the African context. On the other hand, it allowed me to ask new questions and see things from a different perspective. What was really striking to me was the importance of land for the African youth.

Here in the Netherlands, access to land and housing is of course also important, but as I learnt at the just-ended IGAD Youth and Land Conference, land seems to be even more important in the African context as it is a prerequisite for African youth to reach food security, gain economic empowerment and to create sustainable livelihoods.

The agricultural sector is still seen as a key factor for African development in which access to land plays a crucial role. Moreover, in several communities land is very much interconnected with the social norms and cultural values that are a part of peoples’ identity. For example, a case study I consulted says that a young person is only considered an adult if they have access to land so they can build a house and start a family.

But the youth are facing a lot of challenges in getting access to, control over and ownership of land. Challenges that are often mentioned are the dependency of inheritance, fragmentation of land and land governance practices that are in the hands of elderly men. Most African countries have a growing youth population which form a large part of their demographics. The 226 million that lived in Africa in 2015 are expected to double by 2055, according to the UN. In combination with higher life expectations, this results in accessing smaller plots of land at a later age for the youth. Besides accessing land through inheritance or land allocations by the traditional authorities, there are also possibilities to access land through government allocations and to rent or buy land on the land market. However, bureaucratic practices and lack of legal structures that acknowledge and secure land rights for youth make this pathway very difficult. Accessing rental and sales markets for the youth is also a big challenge, as these markets are often very insecure and expensive. Youth generally lack the financial resources to access land through this way.

One of the things that became really clear during my research is that youth are often not taken seriously in land governance spheres. One of my interviewees, who is a female youth who worked in the land sector, said: “I remember the times that I went to these meetings and you find that you are the youngest person in the room, and you feel that your voice is suppressed. You are scared because you know those are people that have been in land governance for 20 years or 15 years, and they look at you thinking, ‘what are you even doing here?’” This was confirmed in other interviews with other (female) youth in the land sector. This is a very important point as it is often acknowledged and pointed out by many actors that it is important that youth be at the table, and involved in land governance. After all, they are the ones that are going to inherit the laws and policies that are made today. However, there are many challenges that need to be overcome to make sure youth are really engaged and able to participate in land governance. Besides not being taken seriously, they also often lack information about their land rights and sometimes seem to be unaware of the need to be involved in land governance. This places them at a disadvantaged position.

The scientific literature is very much silent about youth engagement in land governance, and what their challenges and opportunities are. There are some examples of how conflict can change social settings within land governance, and there are some papers that stress the importance of good training programs and youth engagement in research about land governance. However, very little has been written about how youth can be engaged further, especially within traditional land management systems. For ILC, this might be an opportunity to investigate how their members deal with youth participation in land governance and what we can learn from each other. After all, it would be a missed opportunity for everyone if the youth have no voice in creating their own future, and the future of Africa.


References

Chigbu, U. E., Wanyonyi, A., & Antonio, D. (2020). Empowerment of youth through strengthening their land rights knowledge and research capacity: evidence from Eastern and Southern Africa. African Journal on Land Policy and Geospatial Sciences3(1), 129-142.

Diao, X., Hazell, P., & Thurlow, J. (2010). The Role of Agriculture in African Development. World Development, 38(10), 1375–1383.

IGAD youth land governance. (2020, November 24). Exhibition Day 1. Steering Committee Video [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xJl77EZKX4

Kobusingye, D. N. (2020). African youths; the forgotten category in land governance. A case study of post-conflict Acholi Region, Northern Uganda. Geoforum109, 135-142.

United Nations. (2015). Population facts: Youth population trends and sustainable development.


This blogpost is published as part of Ms. Achterberg’s intership program at ILC Africa under the supervision of Kevin Eze, Communications, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.

Find the original publication of the blog here on the ILC’s website