Land conflicts highlight a critical role for universities

African universities have a key role to play in developing technical and human capacities to support land policy development and implementation, according to experts attending a two-day meeting to validate a study on ‘Land, Ethnicity and Conflict in Africa’, held last month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Organised by the Land Policy Initiative, or LPI, the secretariat of the tripartite consortium of the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank which facilitates the implementation of the AU Declaration on Land in Africa, the experts were drawn from academia, the private sector and governments.

They agreed that increased conflict relating to land and ethnicity in Africa could be sustainably addressed through policy that guides land governance.

Land – At the heart of development

“Land is at the heart of the political, social and economic development of most African states where the majority of our people rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods,” said LPI Coordinator Joan Kagwanja.

In an exclusive interview with University World News, Kagwanja said conflicts relating to land in Africa were likely to worsen due to climate change, environment and natural resource degradation, and population pressure. In many cases, the conflicts had an ethnic dimension because of settlement patterns, she said.

“In many countries, there are no comprehensive land policies that would protect community rights to land and systematically guide in-migration, investments and economic development,” said Kagwanja, adding that as a result, communities find themselves in conflict with other communities, investors and governments.

Discussion at the meeting highlighted the role of universities in finding solutions to land conflicts and ethnicity among the multitude of actors with various objectives and roles in the management and administration of land in Africa.

Universities as ‘vital’ partners

Kagwanja said the AU Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa adopted in 2009 calls upon member states to build adequate human, financial and technical capacity to support land policy development and implementation. In developing such capacity, universities and academia in general are vital partners, she said.

“Training, knowledge generation, knowledge dissemination and technical assistance form the main pillars through which universities can address land-related challenges,” said Kagwanja.

According to Kagwanja, the LPI has developed guidelines for the development of curricula in land governance in Africa in response to a gap in current training programmes. In particular, the guidelines will improve training to ensure land professionals are better equipped to address African land governance issues.

Universities in Africa are also expected to conduct applied research on land-related issues pertinent to Africa’s agenda.

The need for research

“Universities and research institutions are expected to ensure that the research addresses the key questions emanating from land policy and governance programmes across Africa, to build much needed evidence and provide lessons and best practices for refinement and development of more responsive land governance initiatives,” said Kagwanja.

Additionally, African universities are expected to lead in knowledge management, data and monitoring of land and conflicts in the continent. Through training and research, experts argued, universities gain knowledge on land-related issues. They noted that these universities have an institutional responsibility to ensure that this knowledge is well managed and disseminated in order to inform reviews and initiation of land programmes in Africa.

It was argued that the data and information generated could promote the design of appropriate monitoring and evaluation systems to facilitate tracking of land related initiatives, programmes and projects.

Land governance

According to Kagwanja, a programme known as 'Strengthening Capacities for Land Governance in Africa' is currently being implemented by the LPI in partnership with the German Corporation for International Cooperation and the World Bank to enhance capacity in training, research, monitoring and evaluation, as well as provide technical assistance to universities and centres of higher learning and research in Africa.

Through this programme, African universities are being strengthened to improve their curricula and training programmes.

It was also announced at the meeting that 100 scholarships for students at MSc and PhD levels, administered through the German Academic Exchange Programme, are to be provided.

The programme will also continue supporting the establishment of the Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa, a partnership of African universities and higher education and research institutions which have proven track records in academic education, training and research in one or more aspects of land governance.

Concrete solutions

Janet Edeme, director of the African Union Commission’s Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, said the big turnout of participants at the experts’ meeting shows how important the implementation of the AU declaration on land is for the continent.

She said the study was part of the LPI’s efforts to generate knowledge that will help governments understand land-related ethnic conflicts and how to address them in a way that will promote economic growth.

“When land-related conflicts occur, lives are lost, property is destroyed, people are displaced. Women and children suffer immensely on many levels. It is important that we understand why these conflicts occur so that we can come up with concrete solutions,” said Edeme.