Introduction Statement by the President of South Africa, Mr. Kgalema Motlanthe, on the Topic of Resource Management and Control: Land, at the 1st Extraordinary Summit of the African Peer Review (APR) Forum, Cotonou, Benin, 25-26 October 2008

Chairperson of the Forum, His Excellency Prime Minister of the Ethiopia, Mr. Meles Zenawi;
Our Gracious Host, His Excellency President of Benin, Mr. Boni Yayi;
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government;
Ministers and Ambassadors;
Chairperson of the APRM Panel Prof A Adedeji
Commissioners and Staff of the African Union;
Distinguished Guests;

I would like to join other colleagues in expressing our gratitude and appreciation to the President, Government and the people of the Republic of Benin for hosting this Extraordinary Session and for the excellent hospitality accorded to all of us.

This is my first attendance at an African Peer Review Forum.  I, therefore, wish to congratulate the founders of the APRM.  It is truly a ground breaking mechanism in enhancing the development of the African continent.  What better forum of solidarity to learn from each others successes and mistakes in our common effort to eradicate poverty and create jobs and a better life for the people of Africa?

We have been asked to address a challenging issue in this session: Land in the context of Resource Control and Management. The land question resonates across the continent because it represents a harsh manifestation of the colonial legacy and the gross historical injustices that shape land ownership patterns in Africa today.
It is important that African governments, along with all other stakeholders and institutions with an abiding interest in social justice and equality of economic opportunity, give due attention to this matter, given that the land question underlines whatever policy thrusts we conceive for economic growth and sustainable development of our continent.

Before delving on other critical matters to do with the land question, I wish to reflect briefly on a new challenge looming for Africa today: the clamour for land to grow crops for bio-fuels.

Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, this scramble is taking place in partnership with sections of African interests, promoted as foreign direct investment, foreign aid, bringing job creation opportunities, utilisation of otherwise "fallow" land and providing clean energy – to the exclusion of considerations of land hunger and opportunities that could derive from utilisation of land for other productive purposes.

The high and increasing demand for biofuels, fuelled by high crude oil prices, legislation and incentives obtaining in many of the major grain producing countries, may result in less land available for food production as farmers are enticed to switch to biofuel crops.

Multinationals have moved into parts of the continent, buying large tracks of land, establishing plantations and factories for the production of bio-fuels.

We raise this issue not because we are opposed to the production of bio-fuels. Rather what we seek to emphasise is that projects to supply such production should be located within a broader land reform strategy, developed and driven by African governments and peoples themselves.

In this regard, we will be able, to find appropriate balances and competing imperatives between:

  • The poor and authorities with responsibility over land;
  • Native populations and the descendants of colonizers
  • The need and obligations for maintaining biodiversity.


Land ownership and land reform are, for good reason both contentious and emotive, throughout the African landscape.

In fact, some researchers contend that, in light of the history of dispossession and colonialism, land has assumed critical proportions as a resource in terms of the following issues: 

  • Food security at a household or even country level,
  • Poverty alleviation and inclusive growth,
  • Broadening of democracy and a sense of worth and belonging.


(Roy Proserman and Tim Hanstad 2003)

The social unrest caused by a dissatisfied populace for whom land was a liberation expectation as well as the unreliability of global food markets and food inflation should impel African countries to prioritise this often neglected matter.

The land question is highly complex. We need to recognize the diversity of Africa and land struggles that have taken place in different parts of the continent. Rapid population growth, environmental degradation, as well as slow rates of economic development have resulted in growing competition and contestation over land.

APRM Country Reviews have illustrated the way in which these challenges have undermined the optimal use of land across the continent. The Reviews have inter alia shown that:

  • Customary and traditional land rights do not provide the required security for credit to enable optimal agricultural land use.
  • There are high levels of underutilized arable land.
  • There is a highly unequal distribution of land in terms of land quality and land ownership.
  • There is land degradation due to population density and poor land use practices including overcrowding, overgrazing, deforestation and the mismanagement of wetlands;
  • There is a failure to cater for marginalised and/or vulnerable groups such as women and orphans. Many traditional land holding practices perpetuate social injustices by denying access of land to such groups
  • There is a lack of land for development and can create conflict in communities due to socio-economic factors such as the exercise of mining rights;
  • There is poor investment in and abandonment of agricultural land leading to low productivity levels as well as high unemployment


The foregoing challenges have contributed to the underdevelopment of the continent which remains largely reliant on rain-fed agriculture and other land-based resources. The lessons from the Country Reviews indicate particular policy directions with respect to land and agrarian reform. These are:

Firstly, countries should continue to review their land policies to address critical issues of land management and the redress of historical injustices.

Secondly, the main prerequisites for effective land reform are: political commitment; strong nationwide support; and administrative and resource mobilization for effective implementation.
Thirdly land reform programmes must take cognisance of the political, economic, socio-cultural and legal dimensions of the land question.

Fourthly, land tenure should not be viewed in isolation and must create the material conditions for successful productive agricultural and marketing opportunities.

Fifthly, in order to promote investment and reduce insecurity of tenure and land related conflicts, measures should be put in place to enhance formal registration.

Sixthly, better land use practices to address environmental degradation including re-forestation, management of wetlands; irrigation and crop rotation should be promoted through requisite incentives.


A holistic approach involving scientists, agriculturalists, health workers, social workers, planners, civil society organisations, and international partners should be developed to address land-related problems.

In addressing all these matters, attention will have to be paid to the following critical areas:

1.         Customary Land Tenure

Customary systems of land tenure have become associated with tenure insecurity and restricted access to land by certain groups, particularly women.

Land tenure reform requires the promulgation of laws that recognise the need for security of tenure for all.

The Ghana Country Review points out that its Land Administration Programme seeks to address some of these issues in order to reduce land disputes, enhance access, and make land more productive. It also contains measures to overcome cultural impediments to gender equality in Ghana.

2.         Policy and Legal Reform

The Country Reviews suggest the need for a clear land policy and comprehensive legislative framework for the management of land. Rwanda has instituted an integrated land reform strategy to address these issues.

The complex and diverse laws governing the use of public land coupled with the absence of legislation on private land in many cases does not facilitate optimal use of land for agricultural and other economic activities.  The Country Review Report of Benin noted that 'there is under-exploited agricultural potential (only 1 million out of 4.8 million hectares of arable land are cultivated)'

In this regard, it would be critical to revise policies, laws and regulations in order to design an effective land administration policy.

3.         Land Registration

Poor systems of land registration contribute to tenure insecurity and limit access to capital for investment as the land cannot be used as collateral. Other related problems include costly and long drawn out registration processes; overly centralised registries and inadequate dispute resolution forums.

These defects require comprehensive interventions such as those undertaken by the Ghana Land Administration Programme and include:

  • Developing cadastral and land information systems;
  • Establishing model land titling and registration offices;
  • Improving and simplifying formal registration of land;;
  • Establishing land valuation data bases and land banks;
  • Decentralising and computerizing land registries.


4.         Land and environmental degradation

Poor land use (overgrazing, overcrowding and deforestation) has led to deterioration in the quality of land and the environment. 

The Algerian Country Self Assessment Report showed that environmental degradation is responsible for a loss of around 7% of GDP. To address these numerous challenges the Algerian Government has developed several policies, strategies and actions. In particular, a 2025 Land Development Plan has been formulated, devoted to key areas such as the environment, industries and transport infrastructure. These examples suggest that monitoring land and environmental management practices should be critical elements of sustainable land reform.

In the context of the current global economic crisis, food security must be a central objective of land reform strategies on the continent. It is important to observe that developed nations want Africa, Asia and Latin America to have free agricultural markets, while protecting their own markets in Europe and North America. This is evidenced by the maintenance of agricultural subsidies and the failure of the Doha Round Development Negotiations. Protectionism in agriculture has undermined trade and food security on the continent and reproduced the cycle of dependency and underdevelopment.

High food prices in the current conjuncture provide both a challenge and an opportunity for African agricultural producers. Whilst the challenges are formidable, Africa must develop its own responses to enable it to engage with the developed world on an equal footing.
5.         Gender Equality

Whilst mainstreaming gender is an overall African priority as reflected in the Nepad vision and programme, it has specific importance in this area. The Country Review Reports suggest that there are challenges in ratification and implementation of African instruments for advancing gender equality. For example, in Rwanda and South Africa, where these instruments have been ratified, there is a high level of women's participation in decision-making.

In the case of Rwanda, the country enjoys a progressive legal framework on the overall advancement of women's rights. These legal provisions enable women to inherit property. Strong gender machineries in Rwanda and South Africa provide oversight and facilitate mainstreaming in all sectors including land. Legal reform in Rwanda in respect of land laws has broadened women's access to land.

In many parts of the continent, however, gender discrimination is starkly manifest in relation to land rights. Various Country Reviews demonstrate the challenges confronting women regarding land rights. The Benin Country Review report shows how in terms of customary law, access to land is based on patriarchy.

The Ghana Country Review Report for example shows how endemic insecurity of tenure has a bearing on both poverty reduction and economic growth. It hinders the transformation of the agricultural sector from subsistence farming into commodity production. The report also argues that in the absence of protected land rights, the poor, the vulnerable and women are placed at most risk.

The solution lies in formulating national policies against gender discrimination, with specific emphasis on the land ownership rights of women.

It remains our view that if we are to be successful in our collective endeavour to free our continent from poverty, the empowerment of women remains central. 

6.         Agricultural Support Programmes

Not enough resources are allocated to agriculture and related sources of income. It is therefore critical to allocate funds to the modernisation of agricultural practices, with adequate government monitoring capacity to ensure increased training and capacity building for agriculture, including more extension officers, support for cooperatives, and lending to farmers.

In this regard, the experience of Tanzania is quite instructive: from a low base, budget sector allocations increased from an average 2.5 per cent in 2001-2004 to 6.1 per cent in 2006/7 and are projected to rise in 2008. In addition, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya have initiatives to support farmers such as lending schemes, cooperatives, agricultural extension officers and market promotion.


The African Peer Review focuses on mutual assistance between peers to enable African States to meet their established targets. However, the lessons from the peer review point to common approaches that would ultimately assist African states to achieve the African Union goals of gender equality, eradicating poverty, creating employment and overall socio-economic development.

Consequently, the following issues emerge:

Land reform must be politically feasible and sustainable.

Reform programmes should be designed and financed to impact positively on agrarian and production systems to enhance the agricultural sector of the economy.

Training should be undertaken in agriculture and commercial farming, to optimise land use in contributing to economic growth and sustainable development.

Land tenure should be designed to eliminate racial, gender, ethnic or other inequalities and in particular to address the developmental needs of the poor and marginalised.

Society as a whole should be engaged in all aspects of land development including access, control and production to ensure popular ownership of land reform programmes.


The productive use of the land must serve as a catalyst for other forms of economic opportunities which are not necessarily dependant on agriculture.

To address these land problems, we will need to break new ground, because conventional thinking and doing has thus far failed to do so. 

What is not in dispute is the urgent need for land reform and equitable land distribution. This is because the land question unresolved becomes an obstacle to growth and development as well as social cohesion, gender equity and good governance.

We also have to accept that measures aimed at land reform are likely to encounter resistance from groups that have historically benefited from the status quo.
For this reason, land reform measures can only succeed on the back of a comprehensive and popular democratic programme.

When we embarked on the Peer Review process none of us could have anticipated the power and uniqueness of our collective experience which we deeply cherish. This brain child of NEPAD which is today a potent weapon in the hands of Africa must continuously be sharpened and enhanced. The cross cutting issues illustrate the richness of the APRM experience from which all of Africa and the people of the world can learn.

I thank you for your attention.

For more information contact Prof. Richard Levin: Director General for the Public Service and Administration on 083 320 4129


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