Land law reform is high on the agenda of “second generation” structural adjustment in many, perhaps most, African countries. This turns out to be far more than a matter of simply “getting the institutions right.” Discussions of land law reform are occurring against the backdrop of on-going tensions and sometimes violence. Rising tensions and violence coming out of Kombo South between the communities of Gunjur and Berending are very disturbing.
True that the government has instituted a Land Commission, where all matters relating to land issues should be addressed but land issues continue to emerge and there are no clear cut guidelines that demarcate free hold land between the communities. Ancestral property is mostly confused with a narrative from generation to generation that sometimes could be misleading.
Land law reform is and will remain much more difficult, politically, than much of the policy literature would predict. Today’s discussions of land law reform are taking place in the context of intensifying conflict over land rights in our country. Many a times a piece of land is sold to multiple people, each one of them with a certified document from an Alkalo or his clerk. Our courts have heard numerous court cases with dubious dealings.
This is not peculiar to the Gambia but across much of the continent, demographic increase, environmental stress, and the mounting (although very uneven) pressures of commercialization of land, labor, and output all add momentum to processes that can promote the growing exclusivity of land rights. Pressures or movement in the direction of more exclusive land rights — including the land law reforms now on the table in many countries — can provoke contestation and conflict because of the distributional implications of such changes.