Land for Life Takes Customary Land Law to Indigenes of the Land

By Foday Moriba Conteh

As part of their efforts towards increasing women’s knowledge on the Customary Land Law and putting the lawin the hands of customary people in the country, Land for Life, a platform of civil society organizations, organized to promote inclusive, people-centered land governance in Sierra Leone has on Wednesday 31st May, 2023 held the People’s Land Conference during which the organization symbolically handed over the Customary Land Rights Act, 2022 to the Customary People.

The Land Conference which was held at Di Wizzard Hall on Dambala Road, Bo District, brought together 100 customary people from the South and East Regions in order to increase women’s knowledge on the Customary Land Rights Act and putting the law in the hands of  customary people.

Speaking during the ceremony, the National Coordinator of Land for Life, Berns Komba Lebbie said Land for Life is an Initiative by prominent Civil Society Organizations from four African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) The organization is currently being funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through Welthungerhilfe (WHH) in order to facilitate a multi-actor process for a people-centered land governance in the four countries.

He said that the idea of putting the customary land law into the hands of the customary people is underpinned by the motivation of the culture of people-centered responsible governance which simply implies that Government and policy authorities are officially presenting the new laws to the people for which they were enacted.

He noted that it could be recalled that since Sierra Leone became aware of the need to reform its land laws, the land reform effort has lingered on for a significant period, commencing a little earlier than the formulation of the VGGT in 2012 and its subsequent introduction to Sierra Leone in 2014, adding that following the introduction of the VGGT, there was a need for a review of the then existing Sierra Leone’s National Land Policy, with the sixth version completed in 2015.

He said that the 2015 NLP emphasized the need for the protection of the customary land rights of rural Sierra Leone and a reorganization of the land governance sector with specific recommendation for the establishment of a National Land Commission with the technical staff to rollout a people-centered land administration in Sierra Leone and that taking these recommendations forward, Sierra Leone completed the enactment of two important laws in 2022 – the Customary land Rights Act and the National Land Commission Acts.

Underscoring the objectives of the gathering, he said ,community stories related to land rights, land governance procedures, conflicts and contemporary issues to be addressed, are shared by various participants, which will facilitate share-learning, adding that during the event participants had the opportunity to learn about key legal provisions in the land laws, ask questions and their doubts are cleared;

He maintained that the conference reference the new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, 2022 and emphasize the stakeholder commitment to the minimum 30% quota for women, as illustrated by the presence of more women in the conference.

Making a presentation on the Customary Land Rights Act, 2022, the Deputy Executive Director of Namati-Sierra Leone, Eleanor Thompson, said that with the Customary Land Rights Act at least 60% of the adult male and female members of the family must agree before a family land is leased for investment and the long term tenancy for family land shall not exceed 50 years, to be renewed not more that 21yrs.

She said that the Chiefdom Council shall play an oversight role to ensure that there are no conflicts in families as they deal with their land issues and that no member of the family is discriminated against.

Eleanor Thompson pointed out that the maximum size of land that anyone shall initially acquire for investment shall be 15,000 hectares for Agriculture and 10,000 hectares for mining and all other investments other than mining and Agriculture shall receive an initial maximum of 5,000 hectares of land for a single investment, furthering that Government and all other authorities shall try to discourage displacement or resettlement for investment if resettlement should happen unavoidably, communities shall be informed about such possible resettlement prior to start of investment.

She informed participants that no investment shall take place on any land subject to customary law unless the investor obtains the written free, prior and informed consent of at least 60 % of the male and female adult members of the family or a fair representation of the community with rights to the land and the consent shall be obtained in a meeting held with the potential investor and families and communities shall set up a bank account in which land lease shall be paid.

The Deputy Executive Director maintained that both male and female members of the family or the community now have equal right to hold, use, inherit, succeed to or deal with land without any discrimination and any existing customary law that discriminates against anyone based on their gender, is considered void under the Customary Land Rights Act, 2022.

Giving the keynote address, the Paramount Chief for Kakua Chiefdom Bo District, Hon. PC Boima IV, commended Land for Life for taking the Customary Land Rights Act to the customary people in the country.

He said that he had played integral part in the enactment of the Customary Land Laws in the country which gives him wealth of knowledge in the law, stating that one of the problems relating to land is the issue of title to land which he said this and many other issues the current Customary Land Rights Act has addressed.

Hon. PC Boima IV encourage participants to make good use of the opportunity by increasing their knowledge on the law, adding that as per the law committees will be setup of which he called on women to make themselves relevant in those committees in the different districts.

He said that people over the years have been making use of lands without going through the right process which was been depriving the chiefdom authorities from getting revenue, but said with the new land laws land registration is going to be made possible which will also make land owners to be accountable to their properties.

Closing the conference was the symbolic handing over of the Customary Land Rights Act, 2022 to the customary people of the South and East Region present at the conference by the Paramount Chief for Kakua Chiefdom Bo District, Hon. PC Boima IV.


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