November 11, 2011

Land reform programme too slow, civil society criticises

Civil society organisations were jointly hosting a land workshop to review the current status of Namibia's land reform process, which they have criticised as slow and riddled with inconsistencies and allegations of corruption and favouritism. The workshop, to be attended by 80 people, will focus on critical aspects emerging from the two main land reform programmes resettlement and the acquisition of commercial land through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) of Agribank. The organisations question the criteria and management of the two programmes, criticising the process as not pro-poor anymore, and not having the desired impact of poverty alleviation. "Whereas the willing-buyer/willing-seller concept remains problematic, we are also worried about reports that the government is not buying most of the land that is being offered. Therefore there is a need to drastically increase the budget for land reform," the organisers said.

Critical concerns were raised that the resettlement programme initially intended for poor individuals and communities now seems to benefit high-income earners and high-ranking public officials. They said concerns have also been raised that people from distant regions are being favoured at the expense of landless communities living near resettlement farms. Other concerns are a lack of post-settlement support, illegal fencing in communal areas, tenure security in communal areas, water and other infrastructural deficiencies, and allegations of favouritism and nepotism in the allocation of resettlement land. Another aspect that will come under the spotlight is current land disputes including growing disputes in the former 'Rehoboth Gebiet' - and the consideration of recommendations to resolve these disputes.

Amongst those critical is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. Speaking at a media conference to announce the programme of the workshop, Uhuru Dempers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia's desk for social development, blamed the country's escalating inequalities on the slow progress in implementing land reform. Dempers also blasted that the resettlement programme, in its current format, was putting more emphasis on the quantity of people resettled as opposed to improving the quality of lives of the resettled. He said: "It is a matter of historical record that colonial dispossession of land has robbed black Namibians of the only livelihood they had resulting in massive poverty. Despite many attempts by government and other stakeholders, twenty one years after independence, the situation has not improved much. Inequality is on the increase and the country has failed to make a dent on poverty levels and unemployment because of massive job losses in the agricultural sector. The high income inequalities existing in different Namibian communities are partly rooted in the fact that the majority of Namibia's black population does not have access to land as a resource to earn a living."
He also raised concern that while the resettlement programme was intended for poor and low income individuals and communities, recent beneficiaries had however included high income earners and high ranking public officials. Dempers added that there was need to clarify the criteria for resettlement. (The Namibian/Namibia Economist)

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