Opinion – Snapshot on the state of land governance in Namibia

A good and predictable land governance system is needed to address gaps in the land administration system and to identify weaknesses and challenges in overall land administration and management with an informed understanding to implement concomitant corrective action early. The current system in Namibia discriminates against community ownership and management, and interventions to ensure security of tenure are therefore urgent for the debate on the land reform process.

The ultimate goal of a human rights-based land governance system is to reduce marginality and poverty over a sustained period and eliminate the inequalities that exist, particularly among women and vulnerable groups, and should enable economic growth, promote development and secure the rights of landowners and users.

Therefore, any effective land governance must address the strategic thematic areas of institutional framework, legal framework of land tenure and land administration, dispute resolution, land valuation and taxation, land planning and control. Land Use, Public Land Management and Land Information Management Governance Assessment Framework, World Bank, 2012).

Namibia has a total population of 2.4 million with a total land area of ​​825,615 km2, including 1,572 km of coastline (Namibia Statistics Agency). Out of a total population of 2.4 million, 70% of the population depends on agriculture in communal farming areas and freehold farmlands (De Villiers et al., 2019; Land Governance in Namibia).

The largest share of 43% is commercial agricultural land, while 39% of the land is mostly communal land under customary tenure, while the remaining 18% is government-owned land (Mendelsohn, et al., 2013 ; An overview of communal land tenure in Namibia).

This presents a particular challenge, as there is a huge demand for land, especially from communities that lost land during the colonial administrations of Imperial Germany and apartheid South Africa.

The colonial enterprise of Imperial Germany and apartheid South Africa has left us with massive land dispossession, internal displacement of indigenous communities and marginalization.

Thus, at the end of colonialism and apartheid in 1990, more than 36.2 million hectares of land were occupied by some 6,292 agricultural households, which supported about 2% of the population, while 33.5 million hectares of land were occupied by 150,000 families and supported more than 70% of the total population (Nghitevelekwa, 2020, Securing land rights-communal land reform in Namibia).

While Namibia has made some progress since independence in 1990, specifically with respect to land administration, major challenges are faced in the implementation of national resettlement policies, land tenure patterns, unequal distribution and politicized land, ineffective and expensive affirmative action loan programs. /financing for agricultural products and land acquisition.

Likewise, the failure to create a deliberate class of smallholder farmers and the expansion of smallholder farmers with subsequent and additional failure to effectively address ancestral land claims, genocide reparations and continued land dispossession, defines the landscape. Namibia’s land question.

With the devastating effects of desertification and overgrazing due to congestion of communal lands, on top of land degradation and prolonged droughts, rural-urban migration is increasing rapidly, compounded by widening poverty gaps and inequality between the countryside and the cities.

This requires urgent socio-economic interventions/responses to address informal settlements in urban areas, but also to address “pull factors” in rural areas of Namibia to limit and hopefully eliminate urban migration.

Land management in terms of land use planning, infrastructure development and land tenure security are essential means of coping with this rapid urbanization.

The state of the legal and institutional framework for land governance, particularly in communal lands, is at critical levels with respect to increasing cases of land grabbing, mistreatment of farm workers, exclusion of resettlement women and vulnerable groups.

These bottlenecks prevent so many hard-working communal farmers from having the opportunity to “hoard from the bottom”. There is an increase in elite land capture and land grabbing, especially by the powerful ruling party elite.

The urban land crisis is consuming Namibia as land administrators and city councils fail to curb the growing trend of informal settlements with utter disgust for their human dignity.

Yet apartments are the norm, as ruling elites and their inner circles obtain vast tracts of urban land through corrupt land deals at the expense of freehold urban housing development schemes.

A new phenomenon of land markets has recently developed, characterized by the forced eviction of landowners from their properties in northern Namibia to make way for new traders.

This is carried out in cahoots with the Chinese tycoons.

The development of nature reserves, focusing on the protection of animals such as elephants, lions and leopards, has increased human-wildlife conflict, with communal lands that were profitable for domestic agriculture now becoming unlivable. and dangerous to humans, as in the Kunene and Zambezi regions.

This land grab is celebrated as a “successful conservation agenda” that has placed Namibia among the leading conservation nations alongside Botswana, but human livelihoods and the cost of intergenerational transfer of wealth are ignored.

Likewise, the Namibian Constitution has not done well for those who have lost land in Namibia.

Article 100 states that all land, unless private, belongs to the state.

This means: maintaining colonial dispossession and apartheid land through constitutional provisions.

Article 16 provides for land ownership individually and/or in association with others. However, is there a provision for the registration of securities held in common? Freehold land in Namibia is abused by state institutions and tenure security is lacking behind freehold land titles. Where are the laws to protect others and not just individuals? Nowhere is historical land dispossession a key constitutional and legal requirement to redress historical injustices.

Yet the Namibian government has been pushing for a law where veterans of the so-called liberation struggle are placed as priority beneficiaries of land in the resettlement scheme. These veterans have never lost an iota of land! These are grave injustices, and their continuation is an affront to restorative justice and the advancement of human rights.

* Henny H. Seibeb is the Deputy Leader and Chief Strategist of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM). He sits in the 7th National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia. This short piece was submitted to the Network of Excellence for Land Governance in Africa (NELGA). NELGA is a partnership of leading African universities and research institutes with a proven track record in land governance education, training and research.

2021-09-07 Staff reporter


Gregory M. Roy