TRADITIONALLY, land ownership and access took diverse forms but were largely vested in lineages, clans and families, and only male children had rights to inheritance.
Women or female children hardly had full rights to land.
Many African countries today recognize both “traditional” rules of land ownership and Western-type statutory laws.
Such dual systems have often disadvantaged women, limiting their contribution to Africa’s radical development.
Currently, women in Africa contribute 70 percent of food production.
They also account for nearly half of all farm labour, and 80–90 percent of food processing, storage and transport, yet they often lack rights to land.
The security of their land rights is often tenuous because they only enjoy these rights at the mercy of their in-laws or their own brothers.
Recently in Kigali, the International Land Coalition (ILC), being a global alliance of civil society and intergovernmental organizations has worked together to promote secure and equitable access to control over land for poor men and women through advocacy, dialogue and capacity-building.
While they convened they agreed on “concerted efforts in line with EU to implement the Africa Land Policy Framework and Guidelines.”
The 60 members and partners of ILC that signed the Kigali declaration commended the hosts, the Government of Rwanda, for implementing a pro-poor land policy in close collaboration with civil society.
In most rural African societies, women are very vocal about the unfairness they see, particularly of widows and divorcees.
However, most of them do not properly understand the full extent of their rights and fail to approach issues of exploitation on their own. Due to their low education levels, and even when they know, they are reluctant to insist because of cultural taboos associated with such independence.
They are almost left out when decisions are made on succession, use or transfer of land due to the low status accorded to them in most African traditional societies.
Today, the tables are turning and more women are taking ownership of their rightful land; they are trashing tradition the enemy that had held them for so long against their land rights.
In Rwanda, the government passed a law in 1999 giving women inheritance rights equal to those of men and this overruled the traditional norms where only male children could inherit land.
This has enabled widows and female orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to secure land.
However, many other African countries are still lagging behind and have failed to protect the land rights of poor citizens, most especially women.
Poor policy formulation and lack of political will to implement good policies are undermining land rights and aggravating hunger and poverty on our continent.
In general, if Africa’s fast development is to be realized, then women should be given full rights to exploit their potential in every sector.
The positive aspects of tradition should somehow be preserved while the negative ones are waived out and made history if Africa is to eliminate poverty from its continent.