Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs specialized on land governance in Africa have denounced disparities between national laws and international texts on communities land rights in Gabon, Central African Republic and Cameroon. They raised their voices last March 29, 2019 at Felydac Hotel in Yaoundé during the closing ceremony of a workshop on indigenous rights on community forests.
Organized by the Centre for Environment and Development, CED to share results of NGOs collaborating for equitable and sustainable community livelihood in Congo Basin Forests, participants stressed on the need to clarify, recognize and secure customary rights of forest-dependent communities so as to empower them economically.
After granting an expose on the state of community rights in Gabon, Central African Republic and Cameroon, the Secretary General of CED, Samuel Nguiffo explained to The SUN that “our concern was to see if recognized community rights are in conformity with international commitments taken by these countries. The first thing we noticed is that national land laws were enacted long ago as far as 1974 for Cameroon for instance and have become obsolete. At the time these laws were passed, the problem of communities land rights was not as serious as it is today. Some of the international commitments we made reference to earlier were taken after national legislations were signed, so, the issue of non-conformity does not really pose any problem in such a case. What we noticed is that, there is a gap between international commitments in the political and legal domains on communities land rights and national legislations. Main domains in which this gab is observed is the one relating to the recognition of the diversity of land rights. Generally, international commitments recommend that land rights be recognized even on unregistered lands. That is, recognizing customary land ownership and collective rights which are the bases of customary rights in all these countries. We equally observed that legislations lay emphasis on individual land ownership rights and on registered rights (land title) to show ownership on land while international texts stipulate that even space under customary ownership i.e. unregistered land, ought to be recognized and considered as part of the said communities. Such issues generate conflicts and misunderstandings between states and communities.”
Asked to know the type of relationship that exists between land rights and community forests, the CEO of AJESH NGO in the South West region, Harisson Nnoko explained to The SUN that “after working for the past years supporting communities on issues of land and forestry, I can say that, one cannot disassociate land rights from community forests because forests are on lands, therefore, we cannot talk about communities rights to forests without talking about the land. Our country has policies that manage land differently and forestry differently and that poses a lot of conflicts because there is always the overlap of actions. We recommend a holistic approach in the management of land and forestry.”