Land and Property Rights in the Context of a Global Economic Recovery

By: Jamal Browne

UN Secretary General delivers a presentation to world leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland on the occasion of the 2015 edition of The World Economic Forum on January 23 (Photo Credit: United Nations News Centre) UN Secretary General delivers a presentation to world leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland on the occasion of the 2015 edition of The World Economic Forum on January 23 (Photo Credit: United Nations News Centre)

As governments the world over continue to pursue the right combination of economic policies, social programmes and other key elements of their sustainable development agendas, the centrality of land within modern development paradigms ought not to be overlooked. This is a particularly urgent caveat for developing countries, where core industries are highly dependent on land and its associated natural resources.

Land policy instruments such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (F&Gs) are prime examples of substantial global and continental efforts at promoting socio-economic development via consensus.

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The poor lack sleep due to lack of basic amenities; the rich lack sleep because the poor are awake

Currently attending the 25th session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). To begin with, the Governing Council is an intergovernmental decision making body of UN-Habitat; a programme within the United Nations that promotes integral and comprehensive approach to human settlements; assists countries and regions with human settlements problems; and strengthens co-operation and co-participation in all countries on human settlement issues.

The Theme of the 25th Governing Council (GC25) is: “UN-Habitat’s Contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda in Order to Promote Sustainable Urban Development and Human Settlements”

As I sat to join an acquintance for coffee over one of the breaks, I posed a couple of questions that were ringing in my mind. For purposes of this blog post let’s call the person X. “X do you think the world realizes how wide and rapid the income inequality gap is growing?”

“Do you believe in distributive justice while enhancing economic growth?”

” Do you mean giving my hard earned money to the poor through taxation and stuff?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’ll make more money and hire more guards,” he replied.

Urbanization is today one of the most important global trends of the 21st century. It is a transformative force that can be harnessed to enhance economic growth and productivity as well as wealth and state building. Are the opportunities and challenges arising from this trend being harnessed/addressed properly? In my opinion, Yes and No.

Urbanization has been reported to reduce poverty and be beneficial in various development sectors. More than 50% of the world’s population is now urban and this number is expected to rise to 60% by 2030. 90% of the world’s urban population growth during this period will take place in the cities of developing countries particularly those in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, urban population growth will add to the 863 million people who currently reside in informal settlements where access to basic amenities is lacking, and where tenure arrangements are precarious.

At the heart of the United Nations is the principle of leaving no one behind, a principle that is perceived by many as idealistic/ altruistic; in fact the majority find it unrealistic. However the fact of the matter is, no amount of money can save you from the repercussions of a growing desperately poor populace.

Here’s why: Most cities across the globe are witnessing increasing levels of violent conflicts and crises, unprecedented levels of crime and other types of violence. Switch on the telly and watch the daily news, this reality is staring at you square in the face.

The good news is that urbanization can be realized as the transformative force that it is. The growing inequality gap can be mitigated if done well however urbanization in of itself is not the magic bullet. In my opinion this transformation may occur through legitimizing prioritization of the interests of the most marginalized in society and their participation in the process, in this case the poor. Do the poor have access to quality basic services both in the rural and urban areas? Where this is not the case in the rural areas we are seeing continuous migration of people from the rural to the urban areas creating all manner of pressures in the city accompanied with pockets of poverty and crime waves.

Are the poor partcipating freely and actively in addressing these issues such as access to quality housing? Giving an example in Kenya, the goverment began the slum upgrading project which is anticipated to address the challenge of poor housing facilities in the slums. Though from visiting one of the projects one may get perplexed from seeing the number of uninhabited houses or from ‘other tenants’ renting the houses. It soon dawned on me that the people there were renting out these houses or just simply not inhabiting them. The lack of inclusion and engagement in dialogue on adequate housing is evident. Questions on the mapping process arise. Did the goverment inquire succinctly the number of people in the informal settlements? Did they inquire the resources that they have? What the peoples’ desires were? What kind of housing they envisioned?

I however do laud Kenya for institutionalizing these rights. Everyone in Kenya is entitled to decent housing and other basic rights as stipulated in the Constitution and this indeed is the right foundation when addressing this challenge.

My take home from the discussions is that we cannot respond to a select elite few whilst only accomodating the poor when it comes to development. This isn’t something new, we all know this. However the valour and time that we are dedicating to shift this ‘ideology’ from wishful thinking to practical reality is the ringing alarm.

Lessons from South Africa


I still am at a loss for words on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa and have engaged with a number of friends in this discussion in the last couple of days. Some have voiced that it is quite obvious on why this happened and indeed keeps happening; increased inequality, lack of jobs and poverty levels in the country. Others have blamed it on a poor education system in South Africa while others have pinned it on the growing ineptitude in  leadership both within and out of the country. A former member of parliament from Zimbabwe recently came out vehemently blaming the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, for the unfortunate events because scores of Zimbabwean refugees have found themselves helpless and hopeless in a country that they envisioned to deliver them out of these very misgivings when they ran away from their native homes due to a collapsed economy. Indeed all these observations are true but I still can’t grapple with how one would pick a machete or light a fire to cause harm to one’s fellow brother and sister. Is this what we have become? A continent doomed to display the 4 D’s? Death, Disaster, Destruction and Disease? Is this what we are destined to be? Hopeless?

I like many of you are angry, this is both unacceptable and a grave embarrassment. South Africa which is seen to be a big brother to many nations across the continent could and should have done better! I pray that the families there do receive optimum security and that even those being evacuated may one day return to their jobs with renewed hope and dexterity. One school of thought believes that creating more jobs will stop this menacing attacks but I tend to disagree.

One hard lesson that South Africa has taught a couple of us is that rating economic progress in its individuality is regressive. A country cannot be successful without the success of its people and I do not mean success in the economic sense. No amount of jobs can teach a nation to be tolerant, compassionate and ethical to their fellow man. It takes conscious undoing of imbibed warped social ideologies to do this. Borrowing from Kwame Nkrumah, one of our founding fathers, independence from colonialism is not independence in its entirety, independence stems from the mind and Africans alike need to begin having difficult dialogues on who we are as a people. One cannot know where they are going as a continent if we cannot address our past and the challenges that come with it. For those of us with siblings we know that from time to time our older loved ones do need to be held accountable where they have failed, or even told off when they are out of line. Sometimes it also calls for tough love and assistance. South Africa cannot deal with this challenge alone. Does addressing our past mean a complete repudiation of colonial ideologies that are embedded in identities? Or does it mean embracing the old and finding solutions to it? What does Pan-Africanism mean to you and I? Our brother’s down south have posed us with a great number of questions.

All the misery on the planet arises due to a personalized sense of ‘me’ or ‘us’. That covers up the essence of who you are. When you are unaware of that inner essence, in the end you always create misery. It’s as simple as that. When you don’t know who you are, you create a man-made self as a substitute for your beautiful divine being and cling to that fearful and needy self. Protecting and enhancing that false sense of self then becomes your primary motivating force.”- Eckhart Tolle

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