May 31, 2012 ·12 Comments
OPINION | MAY 31, 2012
A group of armed men attacked a government military base in Hargeisa, last month. The attack was more deadly than other protracted land disputes, in which Hargeisa residents get used to for last two-decades. This attack caused the death of 7 people and at least 28 injuries.
Violence related to land disputes is very common in Hargeisa, because of the highly inflated prices of real estate due to the speculations. Buying and selling land become the best game in the town for income hungry people. However, the failure of the government to enact a land tenure system resulted more in “land grabbing”, which could become a security threat in our country, unless the political leaders come out effective statutory laws or policies to manage, administer, and distribute the land.
The land tenure system is a set of statutes that determines how land is used, owned, leveraged, leased, sold or in other ways disposed within society. These statutes may be established by the state or custom, and rights may accrue to individuals, families, communities, or organizations.
I would like to cover the problematic land disputes in the urban area of Hargeisa. There is no doubt that Somaliland desperately needs land tenure system for both urban and rural areas—farming as well as grazing lands. In rural areas, everyone has carved out a piece of land for grazing, and the government does know not who owns what and where. We need a system that would classify the lands into settlement, farming and communal grazing, and wild life area for future park and game reserves development.
For two decades, different Somaliland’s administrations deliberately encouraged the “land grabbing”. Government officials used shady tactics to sell government properties such as warehouses, office buildings, houses, parks, and so-called farming lands acquired for public purposes, to the elite groups, which was not their land under any law.
Indeed, the main accomplices and the financiers of the “land grabbing” are actually people with financial resources and political connections—the top business community in Somaliland. They are in a buying frenzy for government properties or any other undeveloped lands. For instance, the former Headquarters of Somaliland police (a prime real estate area in downtown Hargeisa), during the Riyaale administration was given to local businessman. In exchange, the businessman offered a piece of land, he owned in outskirts of the city, for the police force. Then he sold the Headquarters of the police, in a hefty five-figure price to business group. Again, I am not just singling out any single group for these corrupt dealings. However, other top businessmen in Somaliland were also involved in similar transactions.
But the most protracted land disputes and expensive litigation happen between individuals. Some times these disputes escalate into skirmishes between two sub-clans because of inaccurate, lack of land records or double land claims.
For some people, they choose “Xeer” (“Clan laws”) ,which is very efficient to settle their disputes over land. Unfortunately, others end up using Somaliland’s broken judicial system for their litigation. During my time in Somaliland, I was amazed, how some people and judges are using that broken judicial system to make money. For instance, anyone could claim any piece of land or even any property in Hargeysa. All he or she has to do is to go to the district court, file a petition and pay a $10 fee to the court clerk. Then the petitioner has a claim, Hargeysa residents called this frivolous claim “Ku qabso, ku qadi maysid” (“Claim it, you never lose it”). While the court is hearing the case, which could take a year or even more, the real owner would not only have to prove to the court that he or she actually owns the property to court, but he or she could not sell the property or build it. And whoever the judge rules for the land would eventually claim it. Most likely, a corrupt judge would rule in favor of the petitioner, because he has a stake on the outcome of his decision.
Other culprits who are also fueling the land disputes for financial gains are the mayor of Hargeisa, his deputy and some Hargeisa City council members. Instead of running the daily tasks of the city such as picking up the trash, repairing roads, and making the city streets safer, cleaner and friendlier for the families. These local elected officials become rich, in Somaliland standard, by manipulating a phony land titling and registration schemes.
Because of their knowledge of impending land registration, they usually register some land on the names of proxy persons. Then the land would be sold to the business communities or individuals for profit. Even though poorer people( mostly women, widows with children and young people) without access to education, lawyers, and government contact may find the land they thought was theirs has been sold to some else. In addition, their hut homes were destroyed, with no compensation. At last, they become homeless. While the elites (public officials, businessmen, politician and judges) made money or got land for speculation only.
Nevertheless, equitable land distribution would improve economic development, especially for women and widows, who own only 2% of the land in Somaliland. Land rights are very important for widows who lost men during the civil war, and female-headed households, who usually lose their land or other asset because of the male dominated society. It would eliminate those who are buying land for speculation purposes, would also generate revenue for the sale of the plots and provide a future tax base for the government.
Lately, advance in spatial data system have led into improvement in cadastral land surveys and land management. For example, John Drysdale’s Somaliland cadastral survey used this technology to register and title effectively for small agricultural landowners in Gabiley County. We could use the same technology for urban areas as well as for grazing lands.
The current paper based land registration system is prone to duplication, misplaced documents, and inaccurate record keeping, and multiple land claims, which would lead into more disputes and costly litigation.
Land administrators in Burkina Faso and Ghana, for instance, used the geospatial surveys to create a more accurate land tenure system. While these new technologies would not solve all land related disputes, but at least, it would make the land registration simpler, efficient, and accessible for all landowners regardless of their income.
Layouts of urban planning schemes or zoning laws are needed. It is also important enough space to be allocated to public utilities, parks, playgrounds, schools and clinics. Today, Hargeisa, it is dusty and congested, and you could not even find a government owned plot for public use.
I believe it is time for Somaliland political leaders to pass laws for a land tenure system—coupled with a fair and honest enforcement and judicial system. What we have is a mess that is only benefiting for few.
Silanyo has opportunity to make history by enacting a land tenure system for Somaliland because it matters to our own national security and economy. Anything else would mean more deadly protracted land disputes.
Ali Mohamed is co-founder of the Growth and Development Club of Somaliland. It is a grass roots organization, located in Lewis Center, Ohio, which advocates for the improvement of economic conditions of the indigenous people of Somaliland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow @somalilandpress
By Hassan Ali