Land Conference Without Representation?

“NOTHING about us without us” is the thought I had coming out from a round-table discussion, organised by the Catholic parliamentary liaison office, on ‘land reform and administration in Namibia’ last Saturday.

This is in association to the realisation that civil society groups and other land stakeholders are largely not involved in the planning and preparation of the second coming of the national land conference to address this sensitive issue.

More troubling is the shock that stakeholders have to learn about the date of the conference, which is believed to be sometime in September 2017, through the hotel where it is booked.

Words are that consultations to the regions are about to start. But two months to go before this very critical conference takes place, we still do not know who will be invited to attend; we do not know the criteria for selecting the participants; we do not have information about the content or subject matters to be discussed; information regarding the budget, process and the format are still not clear; and we still have no clue how many people are expected to attend.

Accountability and transparency are key pillars set out in the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) for strengthening governance, improve service delivery and restore public confidence in the workings of government. Back in 2016 when the Harambee Plan was launched, the insistence on accountability and transparency was what made some people fall in love with the plan.

Why are the accountability and transparency principles not being applied properly to the preparation and planning of the coming national land conference? Why is the President, the architect of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, not demanding accountability and transparency?

Land matters are sensitive and a ticking time bomb for Namibia. If we cannot address the issue of land ownership – both urban and rural, and commercial and communal – we are in trouble as a nation because people will soon not accept the status of being the dispossessed ones.

In urban areas not only do many working people cannot afford the high prices but also Namibia does not have a national strategy to deal with the mushrooming of shack cities engulfing our towns. Equally, not only are the rural area people marginalised but the fencing of large tracks of land by the elites and well off to do is displacing many ordinary folks from their livelihoods.

Such land problems of gigantic proportion that a harshly constituted and poorly planned conference will not give us the desired results we are looking for in solving the shortcomings of our land reform.

Therefore, by leaving out the voices of many land stakeholders in the planning and preparation, the land conference is failing to pass the accountability and transparency test.

Accountability and transparency, as invoked in the harambee plan, does not just mean government getting or passing on information but requires critical engagement with citizens, including direct involvement in the planning and preparation process and execution.

Meaning that as government plan, prepare and implement the land national conference, citizens and stakeholders from all walks of life be invited, right from the start, to participate at the planning table.

The presence of all stakeholders at the planning table is a strength that should be welcomed by the government because these civil society organisations and groups would strengthen the implementation of the land conference, including future monitoring and evaluation of processes and outcomes.

The success of this national land conference will perhaps depend on what happens before the actual start of the conference. It therefore is an urgent matter that the land ministry tries to bring all on board by:

Making sure that appropriate time, conference documents/materials and information are given to all the stakeholders to enable them study, discuss, analyse and prepare.

Involve and engage beyond the usual stakeholders. This national land conference would require broader participation beyond the obvious stakeholders – not only relying on the traditional regional consultations but also making the documents and relevant information available in local newspapers, online on social media, government websites and through television and radio. Doing so would help in reaching and getting feedback/inputs from many people, especially the unorganised citizens.

Engaging and utilising academic institutions, social movements, faith-based organisations, and business associations can bring in expertise and knowledge at technical and community level.

Lastly, it is important to provide a platform/space for all the stakeholders to own the conference. The worse we can do is to make people come to this conference feeling that they were not part of the planning process.