UK: A new study into current land lease and sale contracts in Africa revealed how local land users are mostly not even consulted in the process. When consulted, they are often tricked. The entire International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) report – titled “Land deals in Africa: What is in the contracts?” – can be downloaded freely at https://pubs.iied.org/12568IIED.html.
On the basis of on statistical databases and satellite imagery, Lorenzo Cotula, author of the report, warned, “There are widespread perceptions in government and investor circles that much land in Africa is empty or underutilised. But much of this data goes back to the mid-1990s and does not fully factor in intervening changes such as land degradation; and satellite-based studies seriously underestimate the land areas used by shifting cultivation and pastoralism.”
Over the past few years, agribusiness, investment funds and government agencies have been acquiring long-term rights over large areas of land in Africa. The 56-page report looked at the contractual terms of 12 land deals all over Africa.
“The central role of the state in land allocations reflects trends in national law,” said Lorenzo Cotula. In most African countries, land is owned by the state. For instance, land is nationalised in Ethiopia, where private land ownership is outlawed and only long-term land leases may be acquired. Countries such as Mali and Cameroon do allow private land ownership, which may be acquired through land registration procedures.
In countries like Cameroon and Ethiopia, where customary rights are not legally recognised, and even in countries like Mali, where customary land rights enjoy some protection, national law considers most rural people as having qualified use rights on state-owned land. As a result, the government has sole legal authority to sign off transactions.