Dr Michael Taylor is the Programme Manager for land policy at the International Land Coalition(ILC) an international NGO hosted at The International Fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD). ILC’s core thrust is to fight hunger and poverty through land rights advocacy. Dr.Taylor was in Rwanda recently which is currently through RISD, hosting the coalition’s Africa focal point. In this interview Dr.Taylor talks to The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah on why Rwanda was chosen to host Africa’s focal point along with other key issues facing land rights in Africa
Give us a background about your organization
The International Land Coalition was set up in 1995 by over a thousand organizations which met in Brussels in a meeting convened by IFAD -an international agency.
The main focus was addressing issues to do with fighting hunger and poverty in the world. One of the resolutions of the conference was the need to have an alliance of various parties drawn from different sources for the purposes of overcoming hunger and poverty.
Thereafter parties came to a realization that fighting hunger and poverty has huge challenges. It was decided that the best approach was to zoom in on one of the key underlying issues.
They chose Land. The coalition noted that land was one of the means that could be used to fight hunger and poverty. In 2000 this coalition was renamed as The International Land Coalition. In this coalition we have very wide representation from various players such as the World Bank, UNEP etc.
How do you partner with Governments like in the case of Rwanda?
I must say that Governments in themselves are central. Land in itself is a sovereign issue. Land policy is the preserve of the Government. Much as our membership does not contain Government officials, we still work closely with Governments as they are linked to us through inter Government Agencies.
How do you in that case engage Governments?
It is case by case basis. Different countries have different approaches to land issues. A case in point being Rwanda whose land reforms are particularly of much interest to us.
So how do you know Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD)?
RISD is a member of our coalition. RISD has been informing us about land reforms within Rwanda. Through RISD we engage land policy administrators in Rwanda such as the national land office.
What have you learnt about Rwanda’s land issues in comparison to other countries?
I think Rwanda is exemplary in Africa given the key thrusts of its current land reform agenda. There are not many Governments that are willing to step out of the ordinary to carry out the kind of reforms happening in Rwanda.
For instance, when you say that a person is not allowed to own more than one hundred hectares. Who are the people in Africa who own more than one hundred hectares-are they not the same people in authority? They are either the political elite or economic elite.
So, Rwanda’s case is rare as it goes against the norms in fact it goes against established practises in Africa. But I must say that Rwanda’s sad history is in one way or another linked to land issues.
Genocide happened due in part to the close competition for livelihoods which is linked in one way or another to land. I think Rwandans must have learnt some hard lessons from its past to have instituted this kind of reforms which are radical in nature within the entire continent of Africa .
Due to Rwanda’s past those in authority must have noted that unless the land issue is addressed head on, the sad issues of its dark past will still likely recur in the future.
Forestalling future conflicts through a prudent approach is new in Africa. This again is a radical departure from the norms in Africa.
For instance in Kenya where the underlying reasons that led to the post election violence such as land has not been addressed to date.
That is one way of saying that Rwanda’s case is exemplary and unusual in Africa. That is the very reason we are interested in working with the Government of Rwanda through RISD especially on how land reforms are being tackled.
So what plans do you have for Rwanda which is hosting your focal point for Africa?
Last year, RISD hosted a conference for African coalition members. It was a conference attended by over 80 members to discuss African Union land policy guidelines which was adopted, by Heads of States in July last year in Sirte, Libya.
When the members visited Rwanda they saw a very interesting process of reform going on by the people of Rwanda.
They particularly noted how the Government was engaging the civil society such as RISD to drive the reform process. So, when the decision came to elect a focal point and host for African coalition platform naturally, Rwanda was given the mandate.
So what does that really mean?
What it means is that there is a coordinator who is hired and is based in Kigali. The responsibility of that coordinator is continental. The coordinator has a particular perspective which is promoting lesson learning, partnerships and capacity building .
Because of the fact that all these are being organized out of Rwanda, it means that a lot of opportunities of what is going on in Rwanda will be shared throughout the continent.
So what programmes are in place to ensure that citizens of Rwanda understand land reforms?
We have involved the Government in events that we have organized. The Government has not asked us to come in to advise them.
I am saying that there are a number of issues that need to be understood correctly by citizens from land consolidation to issuance of title deeds.
You are right on that one. RISD is working on some of these issues such as sensitization of the masses using appropriate mediums. Such messages are transmitted in a better way by civil society organizations such as RISD.
Have you done some form of ranking of countries and if so where do you rank Rwanda?
That is a very good question. The fact is that we have not, but we should do that. You can go to UNDP and get a human development report with its index for countries. However, you cannot do that for land. To address this issue we are meeting to develop what we are calling a report card system on land for Africa.
Our bench mark would be African Union guidelines which we helped elaborate upon. We will be working on related indicators for the purposes of developing a scoring system. Soon we will be in a position to rank countries.
So what unique reform agenda have you learnt from Rwanda?
One is resisting land concentration. This is where a few people own the majority of the land mass within a country. Rwanda has resisted that kind of situation which is very exemplary.
On the other hand, we have cases of this actually happening, for instance, in situations elsewhere where only 4 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the land parcels. Rwanda is one of the very few countries that has fought land concentration in Africa. Rwanda has done so through establishing a ceiling on land ownership.
That should be noticed by all African countries. It is worth emulating. It is not only possible to do that, but it is actually in everybody’s interest.
How do you work with your focal points?
We have three focal points-one for Africa, another for Asia and the last based in Latin America. The secretariat is based in Rome Italy. Rome is the Headquarters for UN system on land.
That is why IFAD is hosting the coalition. We choose one country that is well placed to advance our agenda such as Rwanda. From there we support our work right across the entire continent.
What mechanisms can you recommend to RISD and Government to simplify procedures for understanding land laws and rights for the purposes of easing disputes centred on land.
Again, you are right on that one. Land laws are a product of processes that takes time. Land is also cultural specific as well as Geographic specific.
There are different aspects that make up a solution in a given country. What we can do is that we can learn from experience of how others are doing it. One thing we can say is that it is very important for poor people to have a document that entitles them to own land. Certification is important.
It does not have to be a title deed. A Certificate is a lower form of title. It is much cheaper. That is one way of protecting a citizen’s land rights.
If we have a system like this where the process is cheap, everybody’s land rights would be guaranteed particularly for those who cannot pay for titles. In that way you can have a solution to sort out land disputes.
How can Africa overcome some of the challenges on land issues?
One of the challenges is centred on investments coming into Africa. Business persons from all over the world come to make investments into Africa.
And they want land. And do you know the impression they have? That land is cheap or free or empty. I think the first challenge we need to overcome is to make it clear that land in Africa has its owners.
Just because some people do not have certificates that show that they own land does not mean that their rights can be trampled upon. So the challenge is to find a way of addressing how to handle investors verses those who occupy such land parcels needed by these investors.
Negotiations based on mutual respect should be instituted. I am not saying that we lock out investors. However, they need to reach an arrangement based on consensus on transfers of land. Unfortunately too many of African Governments are giving out land parcels for far too low value or even for free to some of these investors without any of these benefits from the investors trickling down to the former land owners.
I think that this is a very important challenge that we need to address in a more prudent and equitable manner.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Botswana. It is a large country the same size as Kenya. It has only one a half million people. So it is very sparsely populated due in part to the fact that it is a desert country.
But as I was growing up in the rural areas I saw that if people were pushed off their lands they were pushed into a much worse situation .With time I saw the effects of land inequity.
That is what motivated me to get into this kind of work. I did my PhD on this sort of area.