However, recent political gains across the continent present significant opportunities for change. The 2016 adoption of the Community Land Act in Kenya and the 2018 passage of the Land Rights Bill in Liberia provide legal frameworks to secure community land rights and ensure successful implementation by governments and the private sector. Such gains also provide important lessons for reforms in countries like DRC, where the government is currently revising its land policy and has begun implementing community concessions.
Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) focuses its efforts in three countries where Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ organizations are on the cusp of potentially significant change. Read more about our efforts in Liberia, Kenya, and DRC below.
Inequality in land ownership and insecure community land rights underpinned the conflicts that drove Liberia’s two devastating civil wars. While ensuring communities’ rights is critical to the governments’ aims to consolidate peace, catalyze sustainable development, and conserve its precious forests and ecosystems, the government has continued to welcome large-scale land acquisitions by timber and palm oil companies that often displace communities from their lands and devastate the environment. But RRI’s Collaborators are laying the groundwork for a more sustainable and equitable path for Liberia’s development. RRI has supported the work of the Civil Society Organization Working Group (CSOWG) on Land for over a decade, culminating in the passage of Liberia’s historic Land Rights Bill in 2018. The bill establishes the legal framework for securing Indigenous and community land rights in the country, opening a window of opportunity to secure rights at scale. RRI is now supporting the Coalition in efforts to implement this bill, as well as convening spaces for dialogue between key private sector stakeholders and leaders from government, civil society, and communities to explore alternatives to large-scale land acquisitions based on community-led economic models.
Kenya’s 2010 Constitution launched a major reform of the country’s land and forest sectors, recognizing the collective nature of land ownership as well as community rights to customary and ancestral lands. The government of Kenya further defined the legal framework for the recognition of communities’ land rights by passing the Community Land Act (CLA) and the Forest Conservation and Management Act in 2016 and regulations to the CLA in 2018. While implementation proves challenging, Indigenous and community networks are mobilizing to assert their rights.
Led by Kenya’s Indigenous and community organizations, the RRI Coalition is focused on ensuring implementation of the new laws and addressing the impact of private investment on communities. Priority engagements include working with Indigenous and community platforms to start the process of registering communities’ lands under the CLA, providing opportunities for other actors to scale up the registration process going forward. RRI is also engaging the private sector in Kenya through the Interlaken Group, convening fora where representatives from the private sector, government, civil society, and communities can collaborate in an atmosphere of mutual trust and collaboration.
DRC is home to the majority of the Congo Basin rainforest, the second largest tropical forest in the world and a critical site in the battle against climate change. As a result, the country has attracted substantial investment from conservation and climate initiatives. However, many of these initiatives fail to take into account the rights of the communities who have lived on and protected these lands for generations, and as a result they often create conflict and even displace communities from their lands. Private acquisition of lands for mining and agriculture have further exacerbated the issue.
To address the pressures on communities and their lands, the government of DRC is undertaking unprecedented reforms in the land and forest sectors. The RRI Coalition in DRC is advocating for an inclusive land reform process and seeks to support the creation of a land policy and land law recognizing the rights of local communities, Indigenous Peoples, and the women within these groups; and to ensure that international initiatives safeguard free, prior, and informed consent and participatory mapping.
Regionally, RRI supports efforts to share learning and build political will across the continent. While many governments now recognize the benefits of securing Indigenous and community land rights, their action has been constrained by insufficient financial capacity and political will, as well as a lack of opportunities for peer exchange between the government institutions overseeing land policy. As a result, even where there are progressive laws recognizing Indigenous and community land rights, implementation has lagged.
Inspired by the efforts of Indigenous and community organizations throughout the region, RRI has used its convening power to encourage representatives from land institutions across the region to share learning and foster dialogue. A regional workshop in Madagascar in 2019 brought together representative from 14 governments across Africa to learn from one another, bolstering their land reform processes and renewing their commitment to recognize the land rights of local communities, women, and Indigenous Peoples. The workshop leveraged the recent political gains across the continent in the land sector, showcased implementation options (including with the Tenure Facility), and built on governments’ commitments. These meetings led the governments involved to create the African Land Institutions Network for Community Rights, a platform for leaders from these institutions to continue sharing learning, while also acting as a mechanism for measuring progress in implementing Indigenous and community land rights.