Now is the time for Africa to digitize land registries, says Joan Kagwanja

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 28, 2020 (ECA) – The ongoing coronavirus crisis (COVID-19) has added impetus to the need for African nations to create comprehensive, up to date land registries to safeguard ordinary people’s land rights, especially in rural communities, Joan Kagwanja of the African Land Policy Centre said Thursday.

Speaking during a webinar organised by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) to discuss African land rights in the time of the coronavirus, Ms. Kagwanja said COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of millions of rural people across the continent raising the need for more transparency and accountability in land governance across the board.

“This is an opportunity for us to do what we should have done a long time ago. We need to now put in place technologies to be able to deliver land rights to the vulnerable in particular. Now is the time,” she said, adding this would create more transparency and help root out corruption in land governance systems.

Ms. Kagwanja said land rights were becoming even more precarious as more and more people move into the rural areas as the ongoing health crisis continues to bite, affecting economies across the continent.

“What we have noted is that the land rights delivery is not benefiting at the moment because our institutions are not functioning. Land governance has been affected especially for our vulnerable people across the populations,” she said.

Panellists, among them Fatmata Fouard-Kanu of Sierra Leone’s Namati Land Rights Organisation; His Royal Highness Stephen Drani of the Forum for African Traditional Authority; and Bernadus Swartbooi, Namibian lawmaker and leader of the Landless People’s Movement, agreed the crisis needs to be better understood if great responses are to be developed to secure people’s access and rights to land now and beyond the pandemic.

They also agreed that women across the continent were bearing the brunt of COVID-19 as they have been pushed out of agricultural value chains resulting in drastically reduced incomes and domestic violence in the home.

“In Kenya for example, the pandemic has exposed gender inequalities as women have been pushed out of spaces they normally use to earn a living. Women have completely been locked out of agricultural value chains and men have been left in control,” said Bernadette Muyomi of Kenya.

She said COVID-19 has seen more land grabs taking place in rural Kenya.

“This has been happening with the support of the State. With COVID-19, the rich are likely to grab more land as the poor abandon it,” said Ms. Muyomi.

Mr. Swartbooi said this was the time for African governments to address all ills affecting land governance on the continent and move to strengthen small holder farmers to ensure they can lift the continent’s economies by producing enough food for Africa.

Among the evident COVID-19 effects are the halting of programmes to secure tenure, institutional support for land rights and conflict management, and the diversion of State and donor resources towards emergency responses.

Panellists agreed this underscored the importance of resilience and accountability among local institutions - both state and traditional - in land governance.

Digitizing land registries, they agreed, would reduce the expropriation risk for most rural dwellers.

They also agreed that governments should speedily move to regularise customary land tenure to secure and protect the land rights of the rural people.


Note to editors:


PLAAS is a special node of the Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) and convenes a short course on the Political Economy of Land Governance in Africa. This course is funded through the African Land Policy Centre (ALPC) and GIZ.

The Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) is a programme of the African Land Policy Centre (ALPC), an initiative of the African Union, the United Nations Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank. It is a partnership of more than 50 leading African universities and research institutions, to strengthen the training and curriculum development on land governance in Africa.

The African Land Policy Centre is a joint programme of the tripartite consortium consisting of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Its purpose is to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.

To access the ECA’s COVID-19 resource page, please click on this link:

Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826