Opinion – Improving research capacity in Africa…the context of land governance research

My objective in this article is threefold. First, to present my perspective on why research capacity in Africa is currently weak in general and particularly poor in the area of ​​land governance. Second, to show why improving research capacity in land governance (i.e. channeling land policy towards the benefit of all citizens) is essential for Africa’s development. And third, offer ideas on how to improve the situation in the future.

Scientific research involves investigative procedures to find new results that advance human knowledge in a particular subject. This requires resources, including funds, skills, equipment, specialist knowledge and appropriate dissemination of research results. Doing research to create impact requires capacity, that is, the individual and institutional capacity to conduct and publish research. Research capacity around the world varies from continent to continent and country to country. This is due to differences in skilled personnel, funding; and an infrastructure for teaching, performing and publishing research. “SCImago Journal and Country Rank”, a publicly accessible portal that includes national scientific journals and indicators developed from information from the most reputable scientific database, ranks countries and continents annually according to their results of research. Africa always appears at the bottom of the ranking.

It is essential to deepen the current state of scientific research in Africa. A survey by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) indicates that around 40-80% of publications on science and technology innovation in Africa come mainly from the health and agricultural sciences. It should be noted that this research is done with external partners – usually international donors who have an institutional interest in these areas. Scientific surveys of the various disciplines related to land (including land use planning, geodesy, land management, etc.) are still very little studied. Again, even the paltry results of these fields come mostly from researchers who depend on external collaborations around the world, especially from the Global North.

The ACBF survey shows that collaborations between African scholars in Africa are generally weak. Only about 2% of the research done in East Africa was based on partnerships within Africa. It was 2.9% in Southern Africa and 0.9% in West and Central Africa. I have chosen to mention these data to draw your attention to the typical character of us, African researchers. A significant portion of our research output comes from external collaborations (such as academic networks and visiting scholars). Overreliance on external collaborators, especially donor organizations, discourages African researchers from looking within.

In 2016, the African Union (AU) called for “good quality research on earth” in all African countries. The AU then launched this call in recognition of the unique nature of land issues in Africa which requires an Africa-centric capacity development strategy to acquire the knowledge necessary to improve the multiple land issues facing the continent. . In the area of ​​land governance, this weak research capacity on land issues needs to be improved. If research capacity is not improved in the land sector, we may never have the data needed to make evidence-based decisions in policy and implementation of land-based development activities . African universities with land-related programs will play a key role in this regard. External collaborations will always be necessary to establish and adhere to best practices worldwide. However, this requires the growth of locally realistic knowledge that contributes directly to Africa’s development through partnerships between African researchers in Africa.

There are four main reasons why I think building research capacity on land governance is vital in Africa. First, the causes and effects of the growing wave of land grabbing in African countries can only be understood through research. The government and large-scale land investors do not understand the implications of land grabbing activities on the continent. There is a need to seek locally responsible practices that facilitate land grabbing and win-win land reform solutions. Second, ongoing land reforms are progressing slowly or being abandoned due to a lack of data and evidence for their implementation. Locally conceptualized research is needed to find local solutions that would achieve the goals of land reform in a timely manner. Third, there is a gap between policy and evidence in land governance in Africa. African decision-makers have limited access to the results of scientific research.

The implication is that academics are frustrated with their inability to influence land governance solutions. Finding how policy makers and academics can work together in natural resource governance should be a research question. Fourth, citizens of African countries are vulnerable due to exposure to various insecurities in exercising their land use rights. Consequently, African politicians are poorly informed on land issues. Most of our politicians learn on the job. They have limited knowledge of land reform decisions because they do not use the scientific evidence produced by academics. Improving research capacity in universities on how to communicate land issues to politicians should become a priority.

Land governance researchers are best placed to generate empirical evidence that can address the needs of women, children, refugees (and others) and the best ways to empower them with knowledge about land and property rights. This requires that African governments and research institutions (especially universities) commit to funding their staff to conduct more Africa-focused surveys. Moreover, African scholars should make African problems a primary focus of their studies. We must also collaborate with other African researchers as we collaborate with others. Finally (and most importantly), our senior researchers must mentor our young researchers. Note my emphasis on “shall”.

*Uchendu Eugene Chigbu is an Associate Professor (Land Administration) in the Department of Land and Property Sciences (DLPS) at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own and not those of NUST.

2022-02-08 Staff reporter


Gregory M. Roy