There is no doubt about the vital importance of land and its resources for economic and social growth. Land in Africa has been used for economic growth and human development from time immemorial, so much so as over half the world’s population lives in farming. In Africa, agriculture remains the cornerstone of economic activities for the bulk of its people, even in nations such as Egypt, Libya, and Niger Republic, which are over 90% closed countries.
This essay examines the land and its resources from an African traditional perspective. All resources belong to the community / country, land usage rights were transmitted by oral tradition and not technically documented and many Africans were left without any land to call their own with the commercialization of land by colonial masters and the inflation of its prices.
When the land topic is discussed, other dimensions are frequently ignored. First of all: what is the view of Africa? It goes beyond the purely economic field, but it is vital for productive land usage.
But contemporary debates on land redistribution in Africa always privilege the production aspect. This, regrettably, is due to a lack of understanding about what land means to Africans.
Of course the economic is part of the social, the political, the spiritual, the cosmological and the philosophical. The departure point therefore is an African perspective that enables a broader definition and understanding of land in Africa as linked to being and identity.
The belief that land stands for production of agricultural commodities destined for the market is perverted. The primacy of the market and private property, which is the core of capitalist thought and logic, is contrary to the African worldview. Unlike Euro-American considerations, the African views life and what it is constituted of as a totality.
Land is neither a commodity nor an individual possession. It doesn’t belong to humans but is a gift from God. Land is understood as embracing the ecological, cultural, cosmological, social and the spiritual. The juridical considerations which are ingrained in social systems result in values, norms and observances that protect natural resources, the environment and wildlife.
This is the reason for taboos and strict injunctions that forbid environmental destruction, wanton and indiscriminate cutting down of trees, defiling of sacred sites, pollution of sacred pools where water spirits give life in lieu of water, and transgressions that are said to offend the earth.
There is an interface between land in Africa, soil, earth and cosmology. These are inseparable.
Land Laws in Africa
Of course there is divergence between European jurisprudence and African land laws. The former views land as a private property, a commodity, which underlies the ambition to colonise nature where man rises above it and exploits it to sate his greedy impulses.
African land laws debunk the idea of ownership. Instead land is a natural endowment that can neither be bought nor sold. African land tenure is not based on ownership but on use and access. Since Africans have common rights to land, communal rights override individual rights, which are subsumed to the overall communal good.
Land in Africa: Tenure
Tenure rights are built through reciprocal obligations and mutuality. Land in Africa belongs to the living, the dead and the unborn, making it inalienable.
The dead are highly esteemed because they become ancestors. In African cosmology, communion with the dead facilitates meaningful prayers to God. It is the departed who guide and provide for the living.
In African cosmology there is mutuality between humans and the earth: the earth has the omnipotent power to punish transgressors. However, a particular punishment is not directed towards the offending party, it is collective and universal.
There is a need to transcend the flawed economic determinist view current in land debates that denies Africans the right to land on the premise that they would not be able to productively use the land. For Africans land is everything. Depriving one of land means robbing them of their personhood, being and identity – in other words their full humanity.
Also Read: Procurement essay
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