Thursday 17 June 2021
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Second National Land Conference: Are we ready?

The purpose of this article is to examine from an outsider perspective whether the Ministry of Land Reform is ready to host the 2nd National Land Conference.  The analysis will be based on document analysis of events leading to the 1st National Land Conference in 1991, views expressed at three preparatory meetings that I have attended and what seems to be the prevailing situation leading to the 2nd National Conference in September 2017.  I have attended three meetings on the land question this year namely, a roundtable discussion organised by the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Namibian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and preparatory meetings at Nkurenkuru and Ndiyona respectively. It is important to emphasise that we are in August, and that His Excellency the President has announced during the State of the Nation Address that the 2nd National Land Conference is to be held during the quarter of the year.  I always argue that success as an outcome indicator of any event is depended on critical input factors. These factors In the case of the 2nd National Land Conference include clear conceptualisation of the purpose of the conference, definition of expected outcomes, criteria-based identification of invitees to ensure inclusivity and clear agenda setting in terms of content and format of the conference programme.  It is unrealistic and naive to expect successful outcomes if critical input factors have not received due diligence prior to the event. Against this background, it would appear that the 1st National Conference was preceded by detailed and inclusive planning compared to the upcoming 2nd National Land Conference.

The objective of the 1st National Land Conference was clearly defined, invitees carefully selected and the structure and format of the programme clearly conceptualised. We can also recall that preparatory studies were commissioned and thus carried out by experts from institutions such as the Namibia Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) and others as well as case studies from Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe were also presented at the conference. The purpose was to enhance quality and evidence-based deliberations and subsequent resolutions.  The voices of marginalised segments of society such as the San and farmworkers were also heard through recordings of New Dawn Productions and others. It is evident when analysing the 1st Conference consensus resolutions that they were solid and evidence-based.  The problem of non-implementation is not necessary due to their nature and complexity, but rather due to lack of government urgency and incapacity to follow-up and implement public policies.  It would appear that government has forgotten about the 1991 consensus resolutions after adoption and woke up from slumber when land actors have started to agitate for access to land. If the purpose of the 2nd Land Conference is to review implementation of the 1991 resolutions and to find solutions to the land question in Namibia based on lessons learned, then any objective person informed by available evidence would conclude that we are not ready to host the 2nd National Conference. Where are the research papers that have been commissioned to facilitate informed discussions at the Conference? Why are they kept secretly?

The 1st National Land Conference for example, has resolved to establish a Technical Committee on commercial farmland. Its mandate amongst others was to establish authoritative data and arrive at sound policy recommendations regarding viable farm sizes in different regions. Has this Committee been established? Viable farm sizes cannot be decided upon at the conference on the basis of emotional feelings, but rather on scientific grounds taking into account that Namibia is a semi-arid country. Farming in Namibia considering impact of climate change is a financial and labour intensive undertaking.  We cannot continue to misinform the citizenry with narratives that our problems will be resolved when everyone has access to land or that the whole liberation struggle was about land. The liberation struggle in my view was about restoring human dignity and improving the socio-economic conditions of the people. Land was just a part thereof.

One factor that Namibia is not paying attention to in the deliberations about the land question is urban land crisis. The UN predicts that by 2050, the number of people living in cities in Africa is projected to be 56%. Our cities and towns are ill prepared both from policy and planning perspectives to deal with this crisis. In addition to the 1991 National Land Conference resolutions, land activists, academia, traditional authorities and civil society organisations should also pay attention to the Land Bill of 131 pages tabled in the National Assembly in 2016.  I am not a lawyer by training, and can therefore, not authoritatively comment on the Bill. I was surprised, however, that “public interest”, which is one of the means to expropriate land as per the provision of the Namibian Constitution, is not defined in the Bill.  The Ministry has previously lost court cases when attempting to expropriate land due to the absence of a definition and yet the Ministry has failed to define public interest in the Bill.  It would also appear that there are contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bill with reference to other laws. My conclusion whether the government is ready is a no. Civil society organisations and other actors seem to be ready, but not government. It would be unfortunate to go to such an important conference in a state of not being ready.

*Dr. Marius Kudumo is the Director of International Relations at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. His areas of expertise are Public Policy, Governance and International Relations.

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