Land governance is key to Africa’s transformation

The Africa Land Policy Centre (formerly the Land Policy Initiative) in collaboration with partner organizations will hold an International Conference on November 14-17, 2017 in Addis Ababa. In line with the AU Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa, this multi-stakeholder dialogue platform will contribute to knowledge generation and sharing, as well as advocacy on land policy development, implementation and monitoring.  
Themed “The Africa We Want: Achieving socioeconomic transformation through inclusive and equitable access to land by the youth”, the Land Conference will have particular focus on youth and how they can be mobilized to benefit from land and its resources. It is anticipated that the Conference will bring into discussion new land policy issues and how they can be addressed in an inclusive manner.  
It is indisputable that inclusive land governance practices provide an opportunity for Africa to benefit from the continent’s demographic dividend. They will help increase the number of working age adults relative to youthful dependents through enhanced agricultural production and agribusiness. Further, holistic land policy practices can contribute to maximal utilization of land based resources. Where large numbers of working age adults are engaged in productive activities, livelihoods are secured and families are able to invest in a sustained manner. This will lead to improvements in education, skills development, public health, economic growth, job creation and accountability in governance.  
Demographic dividend is not incidental. Rather, it is a consequence of inclusive and equitable policies and strategies pursued by nations. There is no doubt that youth involvement in decision making and empowering them through access to land and other natural resources will unlock Africa’s economic potential and provide a pathway towards Agenda 2063. It is important therefore that policy makers and researchers discuss strategies for achieving socioeconomic transformation through inclusive and equitable access to land by the youth, who constitute over 65 per cent of the continent’s population. It is commendable that AU declared 2017 as the year of youth. This shows the commitment of Member States to invest in young people.  
Generally speaking, an examination of youth demographic in Africa portrays a generation that is dissatisfied and restless. They feel deprived of employment opportunities and peripheral to high level decision making structures. The high rates of migration to the North and radicalization would to some extent attest to this. While at independence youth were the principal agents of socioeconomic transformation in many nations, this role has shifted over the decades and an aura of despair and disillusionment has taken over.   
But youth in Africa can be given hope again to become agents of social and economic change. This can be done through a review of land policies to increase access to land as well as harnessing technology and innovation for securing land rights and increasing productivity. These measures, coupled with transparent and sustainable land based investments, economic justice, climate change mitigation and environmental conservation are critical for the transformation of the continent.  
There are other reasons why we must invest in innovative land policies. Land is a strategic resource in industrialization. But for maximal utilization, clarity of policy on its management and use is needed. In the discharge of its mandate, the African Land Policy Centre has provided principles and guidelines for Large Scale Land Based Investments (LSLBI) in Africa. Using these guidelines, African states have an opportunity to leverage the abundant natural resources on the continent to propel economic growth and industrialization. With determination and focus, the continent can take strategic control over its resources and seize the opportunities provided by advances in technology to maximize its value from this capital. We know that land has been used as the foundation of economic development elsewhere in the world and promoted food production. We can learn from these experiences to increase production, investment and opportunities in Africa.  
Of equal importance to socioeconomic transformation is provision of relevant and holistic land governance curricula responsive to Africa’s unique history, ecology and socioeconomic needs. Emerging research shows gaps in the training of land professionals. There is an opportunity for professionals to be well equipped to serve the needs of different sectors of society in which their services may be needed. One way of addressing the curricula gaps is to link learning institutions and industry. Another route is the commitment to undertake regular research based curricula review in order to provide relevant knowledge and skills.  
The Africa We Want Conference has come at the right time for the continent.

By  Dr Abdalla Hamdok, ECA  

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