International Institute for Justice and Development


Conclusion on the IIJD’s African Land Grab Series

Posted on June 06, 2016

By: Jillian Nowlin

In the previous articles, unexposed issues, property, economic, food, and environmental rights have been discussed relating to land grabs in Africa.  As one can see, land grabs are not only an issue of property and land titles, but also an issue of economic self-determination, food and water security, and environmental justice.  For centuries, Africans have fought to control their own governments, economies and societies as independent people with human rights.  However, the continuance of land grabbing prevents the realization of African self-determination and all that self-determination encompasses.

As we move deeper into a world in which businesses know no boundaries and increasingly become entities unto themselves, there becomes a greater necessity for corporate responsibility.  Corporate responsibility includes fair labor standards, fair wages, sustainable resource extraction, and industrial processes that create the least amount of pollution possible.  Furthermore, corporations have a responsibility to respect the cultures of the communities where they do business and abstain from any practices that threaten the cultural existence of those people they meet.  Economic growth is essential to all societies and without industry the human experience would be more difficult than it currently is.  However, growth and profit-making should not come at the expense of social justice and environmental protection because without either social justice or environmental protection profit-making will not continue either.  Land grabs are anything but corporate responsibility as they put the primary focus on profit-making and completely ignore the rights and culture of the African people they affect.

African governments and non-African governments also have responsibilities to their people and as members of the international community.  Their responsibilities are to uphold their constitutions and abide by the international laws they are party to and to develop laws where there is a need.  The state must act to protect the social, economic, environmental, and cultural interests of its people.  Moreover, the State must do all these things transparently; otherwise, there can be little legitimacy in the eyes of its people.  Land grabs are lacking on all these points making any business deals achieved in this nature illegitimate.  The legitimacy of African governments is especially pertinent to the land grabs issue as corruption is a huge problem in general for African countries.  As stated throughout the African Land Grab series, the reason for land grabs is not so much a lack of laws making them illegal, but a lack of enforcement for the laws that exist.  In this way, land grabs are that much worse because they are already illegal and not merely unjust, based on many African national laws and certainly by African Union standards.

Undoubtedly, land reform is a serious issue that must be tackled on the African continent.  While the concept of land titles may not be culturally relevant to all African people, a land registration system has merit because it can protect people from being removed from their land.  However, this is not to say that all African land tenure customs should be forgotten in lieu of international practices.  Instead, land tenure systems must be both culturally relevant as well as consistent with international practices to attract business and investment.  This is the only way to both justice and sustainability.  African civic engagement is one way to bring forth these changes in land management.  Africans who know about their rights regarding land, economics, food security, and the environment have a responsibility to bestow that knowledge on fellow Africans, and if African communities work together they can generate governmental change within their countries.