How do we solve Africa’s land predicament?

This a question the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) aims to answer through its collaboration with the Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA).

In recognition of PLAAS’s contribution as a knowledge and training leader in the area of land governance and its years of engagement in promoting NELGA, the University of the Western Cape was recently incorporated as a “special” node into this pan-continental network which already features university hubs in North, West, Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.

NELGA is a programme initiated by the African Land Policy Centre (ALPC) which forms part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and focuses on research to enable good land governance and administration to promote and sustain African development.

Image 1: Dr. Joan Kagwanja, African Land Policy Centre; Image 2: Prof. Moenieba Isaacs (left) and Prof. Ruth Hall; PLAAS, Image 3; Bernardus Swartbooi, NELGA alumnus

So far, PLAAS led three short-courses on “The Political Economy of Land Governance” which was held in Cape Town, South Africa; Zanzibar, Tanzania; and Accra, Ghana. The short-course is designed, and co-coordinated by PLAAS’s Profs. Ruth Hall and Moenieba Isaacs.

The training, provided to 95 students from 26 countries across the continent, encourages a critical, questioning approach to dominant, free-market-oriented and nationalist policies for land use in post-independence Africa.

“The training allowed us to question assumptions,” said Bernardus Swartbooi, a former deputy minister of land in Namibia and an alumnus of the five-day course established by PLAAS.

“When, as a government, you look at investors from other countries coming in for land deals, you don’t tend to look at the costs in terms of identity, culture and the actual meaning of the land for the community.

“The training helped practitioners to realise that the current set-up of wealthy landowners and poor people on the land is not actually a ‘normal’ arrangement and reflect on the tools that are needed to enable us to imagine a new dispensation around land.”

Dr. Joan Kagwanja, chief of the ALPC, said incorporating PLAAS and UWC into NELGA is a natural fit. She referenced the university’s activist tradition as a home of critical scholarship and progressive, liberation politics in South Africa and the continent, saying: “At UWC, we have found a safe space for innovative ways of thinking.”

NELGA was structured in line with the regional economic communities which form the building blocks of the gradualist continental integration envisaged by the AU and thus features six regional university nodes at: Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire (IAV) Hassan II in Morocco, for North Africa; L’Université Gaston Berger in Senegal in Senegal, for francophone West Africa; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, for anglophone West Africa; University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon for Central Africa; Namibian University of Science and Technology for Southern Africa; and Ardhi University in Tanzania for Eastern Africa.