I keep saying and will continue saying that this thing we cherish and love called democracy, is quite complex when it is put at par or cross marched with the other things we think is part of our birth right, called tradition. Part of the tenets of democracy is the access to resources, which becomes so important in a world where the population keeps rushing far ahead of both the natural and man-made resources.
Why can’t we keep scrambling for almost everything around us…is it not a natural law that one tries first for self preservation? We really have a lot of problem trying to come to terms with things that heavily impact on our lives, some of which are ideas borrowed from elsewhere. Well on the question of borrowing, we really have to petty ourselves. We borrowed religion, we borrow fashion, we borrow clothes and we even borrow the way we talk and live. Well you might say what is the big deal in this global era?
You can actually go and sleep peacefully in this 21st century. What’s your problem…today man and man are happy to be gay couples and when their African compatriots complain, they can run swiftly to Great Britain for protection or perhaps fight for being naturalized as British citizens. Are you not perturbed by the many bizarre things that are happening right under your eyes all in the name of freedom and globalization? Indeed anything can happen these days when our girls and ladies do not wear panties and our boys send their trousers way down beyond their buttocks, exposing their backsides in a grand style. Oh how unsightly this boisterous display of the bottoms and making public what otherwise is actually very private part of the body. (I hope I am not sounding conservative here!
I have been thinking hard on resources and the growing families we have. Given the devastating effects of climate change I really wonder whether we should be having more people to feed in this our beautiful world. Nature is really a two-sided sword. We fight to stay alive, but then we have to contend with meeting the needs of so many people. Each time I go to my home town, I find that the family keeps growing by the day. When I think of the agricultural resources which has remained the same for the past 50 years or so, I wonder how we are going to cater for the needs of all.
In rural areas, it is actually the agricultural land that guarantees the viability of the family. The truth is that not all of the current children born in the fakais may have the opportunity to go through school successfully. So they will need the land to fall back on. So much has been said about land tenure but the tail still continues to wag the dog. The 75 % of our compatriots literally tied to the land need to be protected and their future assured.
Over the years we have been having land disputes all over the place, with some actually resulting in deaths. You go anywhere in our country, land ownership remains very contentious.Whether lease, free-hold or whatever, it has been difficult to put one’s finger on the issue properly. Many people have highlighted the problem over and over but it is yet to get the necessary action needed.
My approach to the problem is from the angle of the rights to the current lands. Who owns the land? Very often we hear of land owning families. You can hardly buy a piece of land without gong through these people especially in the regions. It is unfortunate that although colonialism ended decades ago, we are still living with its resultant challenges and n-natives.
I recently stumbled on some work by a Sierra Leonean Lawyer Mr. Amadu Koroma that makes an interesting reading. It leaves one with the fact that we are yet to find strategies unresolved issues as regards land ownership. Our laws are still talking about natives and non- natives.. His analysis and the legal provisions are enough to let one realize how serious this land issue can be. I really hope civil society could work with him to influence policy change on the matter.
There is currently gross discrimination on the right to land. In the Western Area, only Sierra Leone citizens can own land while foreigners can have lease hold. Fair enough here, but up country only indigenous natives are allowed to own land. My major issue of contention is this issue of land in the countryside being exclusively in the hands of land owning families, or villages and clans.
Each member of the family or clan is entitled to a piece of land to farm but has no legal title to the land which he cannot sell or lease. According to Lawyer Koroma’s piece, the legislation which presently regulates the occupancy of lands up country by non-natives, the Provincial Land Act Cap.122 of the Laws of Sierra Leone defines a non-native as “ any person who is not entitled by customary Law to right to land in the provinces.( I really hate the word province, as to my mind it implies there is still a colony) The Act vested all land in the provinces into the hands of the Chiefdom Council, on behalf of the native community concerned.
One interesting fact of this law is that unfortunately, the Creole community mostly in the Western Area, is not regarded as natives; they are foreigners just like the Lebanese and others. Is this not quite absurd, given the speedy integration of ethnic groups over the recent years? Sure, this is enough recipe for discord. The days when we had the colony and the protectorate are too far gone! I really think authorities and Parliament should have a very good look at this whole legal inexactitude if we are to see our nation as one. In any case, people haling from the regions can buy free hold land in the Western Area and are actually representing people in the Western Area in Parliament.
Definitely so much is changing around us and we as a nation should clear hurdles that impair our existence as a nation. The processes of acquiring land in the provinces vary from place to place. According to the Act, it seems that absolute sale of land is only possible in the Southern and Eastern Regions among the Mendes, Konos and Kissis.
The only qualification is that the purchaser must be a native. On the other hand, under Temne customary Law in the North, a stranger can only purchase and utilize it in his life time. After his death, his family will have to seek permission. Sometimes the land reverts to former owners, In the south and east, so much flexibility is seen where for example, a stranger can acquire land from time immemorial and still keeps hold on it and actually free to sell. There are examples abounding in Bo. When you look at the pressing problem of un-employment, a businessman who is able to acquire land anywhere can actually boost development.
The fears of opening up free hold land possession in the provinces in the colonial period, I think no more could be tenable, so a review of the whole issue is most welcome.
Of course one has to be aware of the fact that land issues are politically sensitive and no government could just plunge into it with any passion.
I however have a little question: How did the land owning families acquire the lands in the first place? What documentary evidence exists to attest ownership? Well I know it will be difficult to answer these, but when you look at the shylockian attitude of some land owning families, especially the sale of lands to multiple owners, then one needs to interrogate the history. It is just like the issue of Ruling Houses.
I have a lot of reservations, given the modern trend of having democracy at the heart of state craft. With increasing populations, we better start addressing the grey areas in the land tenure, so that we save future generation’s unnecessary crisis and disintegration. We must put a strong spotlight on the customary laws!
By S. Beny SAM