Over the last decades, about three and a half million people in Somalia have been affected by conflict and famine. That conflict has devastated a significant part of the country’s infrastructure.
That has also forced over one million people to escape their homes to neighboring countries, while several thousand others were displaced internally. Various efforts have been made to revive peace in the country by organizing several reconciliation conferences inside and outside. Within these conferences, the question of land, minority rights, and the place of women have taken a central role.
The question of land, minority rights, and women has also been vital agenda in the successive governments of Somalia as well as foreign and local NGOs. Despite these efforts, little has been achieved to this end, even in regions and territories that have successfully overcome conflict and enjoy relative peace.
However, the land question continues to undermine the gains made with fears that land and insufficient attention to the rights of the minorities could cause another severe round of conflict. But the challenges in managing natural resources such as land and water do not end in Somalia. These are problems affecting various regions across the country and can be seen as an extension of the existing clan rivalry. About 45 to 55% of Somalia’s land area is classified as permanent pasture, while 20% is reserved for the forest. Roughly 13% is suitable for cultivation.
As relative calm and stability are being restored in various parts of the country, several Somalis are returning from the diaspora with the hope of rebuilding the country and taking advantage of the current economic opportunities. In turn, this has led to an upsurge in land prices as demand continues to increase significantly. Such requests have also resulted in more land disputes, given the confusion that a three-decade conflict may have on the ownership of various resources.
In addition, manipulation of documents and records to change the identity of the person in the land belongs to has long been recognized as a compelling force behind violent conflict in Somalia. Local courts continue to receive numerous cases, which seem to increase over the years. Even though the reports to formal institutions such as courts are high, some people still depend on the traditional justice system instead of engaging in the formal or secular justice system; they perceive the secular system as the hub of injustice or ineffectiveness. In that regard, local people have strong confidence in relying on a basic traditional governance system.
The land conflict has been concerned with both urban and rural areas
Due to weak law enforcement following the collapse of key state institutions in the early 1990s, wide disparities have been experienced between the traditional land tenure systems and the legal/statutory law. That has, for many years, enabling the most powerful and exacerbating individuals, groups, and clan divisions to engage in illicit appropriation on the part of those. Due to the prolonged absence of apparent central government authority and the subsequent erosion of legal systems, land, and property have been subject to the illegal occupation and land grabbing; this remains the primary source of violent conflict.
Several measures need to be taken to address this decades-long problem. One is the review of the constitution to establish three vital institutions. The first institution that needs to be installed is an independent boundaries commission that will be tasked with the proper delimitation of boundaries along administrative lines (NB: This commission has existed but is not functional). Secondly, an independent National Land Commission should oversee the distinction between public, private, and communal land. It will also be tasked with reviewing land ownership, updating the national land records, and modernization of land ownership title deeds.
The third institution is a court within the judiciary to deal with land disputes. Such a court will need to be spread across major cities and towns to deal closer with the people. For justice to be done and social trust to be given in the process, these institutions must remain exclusive and independent from political and social interference. An Ad Hoc Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission can address some of the most touching issues of historical land grievances and seek consensus between the parties.
Other vital actors need to be involved in establishing these legal structures. For example, NGOs and local civil society groups can play different roles ranging from civic education to advocating for the rights of weaker members of the society or providing pro bono legal services to those who deserve it. That will ensure that every community member has an equal share in this national process. Solving the land issue is a critical step toward social reconciliation and peacebuilding. In addition, the whole process of land reforms must ensure justice for women and minority groups are treated fairly and equally.
Dr. Mohamed BINCOF is a Ph.D. in Political Science and Public Administration, a university lecturer, and a Specialist in governance, strategy, and politics. you can reach him at email: firstname.lastname@example.org