Rexford Dodoo – Lecture given on 9th April 2011 at GaDangme Nikasemo Asafo
It is widely acknowledged amongst our cultural Diaspora that, while land is of vital concern to almost everyone, it is also a highly sensitive subject and therefore, best left well alone by all but the most daring or, some would say the foolhardy. I think perhaps, now is the time to think in terms of a Citizens’ Constitutional Forum for tackling difficult issues like this in the interest of public education both for the actual and potential landlessness in the Ga traditional areas.
Land is a highly politicised in the way it is treated in the national debate, but it is too important a subject to just be left to the politicians. This is not to say that we should take it out of politics altogether because, at the end of the day, it is the politicians who have to decide on land policies, and after a long hard look, look at whether we should in fact run a workshop on land, I believe it is now time to take the bull by the horns and do so.
Time is of the utmost urgency, and we have set the discussion on this agenda this particular weekend. We should plan the workshop in such a way that it will include Ga chiefs and leaders, Ga members of parliament, Ga academics and most important of all Ga landowners, tenants, growers and agricultural workers and members of the business community (including private housing developers). We should also consider the implications of land policy for the tourist industry.
A well known American once said “The life of the Nation is Secure only while the nation is Honest, Truthful and Virtuous”. I believe that this quotation applies as much to the land issue as it does to other issues of public policy, probably more so. We need to be honest with each other and with the nation if we are to develop sensible and sustainable land policies that add to the prosperity of the nation.
The land issue is fraught with serious stumbling blocks, which we must overcome in order to reach a solution for future generations. Firstly, we need to recognise that land is a divisive issue not only between communities but among indigenous Ga’s also. The distribution of productive land amongst indigenous Ga’s is uneven, and changing circumstances have placed significant pressure on those families that lack sufficient land to sustain a livelihood.
Secondly, we need to tackle the chronic lack of foresight and political will that undermine effective resolution of looming land problems. Absence of forward planning and consensus in the case of expiring leases is also a problem.
Land is an emotionally charged issue whose air of mystique acts as an impediment to rational discussion. While it would be naïve to think that you could take politics out of the land issue, politicians have been all too ready to perpetuate the prejudices of their constituencies, rather than articulate a clear vision that would take the nation forward as a whole.
Maybe we need as Gadangmes, to form a Ga Native Land Trust Board through which all land and land sales have to be registered.
The other major players will be the Chiefs. Their collective leadership will be critical in providing the impetus for goodwill and understanding that must necessarily accompany major changes to land policy. We must remind them that “those who desire to rule, says Aristotle, must first submit to be ruled”. The chiefs, too must submit themselves to discipline
We need to address a resettlement programme with more vigour and compassion. The unabated and haphazard expansion of squatter settlements in peri-urbanAccrawill, if not managed properly, inevitably lead to social tensions. It is no coincidence that this urban drift has accelerated at a time when infrastructure development in rural areas has been given low priority, and rural dwellers, particularly the young, have opted for education and employment opportunities in the larger centres.
Having looked at some of the dimensions of the current debate, I would like to suggest a few ideas of my own, not as radical as Ade will have you believe but as a way forward to formulating sensible policies on land.
1 If we must accept that we cannot remove politics and tribe from the debate, let us at least resolve to treat each other with a reasonable level of civility and goodwill. This should begin in my view with parliament which is responsible for setting the tone for the national debate, and which should therefore encourage thoughtful consideration of the issues at hand.
2 The constitution must be amended so that we are compelled to reach a consensus by a two thirds majority on Land issues. A bipartisan approach therefore becomes necessary.
3 Any changes to land policy should be fair and equitable to landowners and tenants alike and must take into account the broader national interest over the medium to long term
4 Rather than expect a quick fix we need to address fundamental questions of land ownership and administration, and do so within the overall objective of realising the productive potential of the land.
5 Every stakeholder is entitled to a voice in the process of consultation and negotiation, particularly landowners, tenants and Chiefs (council of chiefs).
6 Landowners must be in a position to make informed choices about the future development of land, based on sound and objective advice.
7 Policy makers need to determine and promote a national strategy for the revival of the rural sector. We need to take a significant leap forward in sustainable commercial production accompanied by necessary developments in infrastructure.
8 Last but not least NATIONALIZATION OF ALL GHANA LANDS
By that I mean the abolition of freehold tenure is called for (i.e. the fee simple estate and the absolute proprietorship estate). This does not mean abolition of individual tenure or ascertainable rights of access in land. Nor does it entail the nationalization of land as such (which would mean a communist type of ownership).
Since the freehold estates now existing in Accra are unlimited in scope and duration in favour of an individual proprietor, their abolition would mean the freeing of land from the shackles of both individual and chieftaincy caprice and pave the way for a dynamic redistribution of land in the future. Freehold title could then be replaced by a well worked out system of leasehold title. This system will vest the government with greater control over all land inGhana. It would allow the government through the instrumentality of law to suppress the quantum of interests in land (reduce the size of individual landholding) in favour of the redistributive and re-allocation needs of society. The structure of and normative content of this frame work of landownership is a matter suited for a more detailed and researched study.
Land is definitely life, more so in a third world country like ours. Any policies that would lead to the ejection of man from his source of life into a world of uncertainty and homelessness are intrinsically flawed and inherently dangerous.Ghanahas followed some such policies. Land tenure reform in the direction of guaranteeing more universal access to land is, therefore, called for.