The mention of Sierra Leone invariably conjures images of the protracted civil war and the Ebola outbreak that afflicted this West African country.
However that is not all about Sierra Leone; there are a lot of positives the country can showcase which include good practices in land administration.
At the just-ended 2017 Conference on Land Policy in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the West African country unveiled its good practices from implementing the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT).
It is the only land policy in Africa which is VGGT- compliant.
With the support of the German government and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Sierra Leone has scored a first by coming up with a VGGT, which is in line with the continental land policy.
The journey started with the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform and VGGT institutional framework in 2014.
Christian Schulz, the national resources management officer for the FAO office in Sierra Leone, said the VGGT is being implemented through a sectoral project in five components.
The land partnership alliance is a tripartite agreement between FAO and the governments of Sierra Leone and Germany.
The VGGT has created a critical mass of informed stakeholders that include the government, private sector, academia and the civil society.
Its institutional framework in Sierra Leone comprises an inter-ministerial steering committee, the VGGT steering committee, multi-stakeholder platforms technical working group and the VGGT secretariat hosted by the Ministry of Lands.
Mr Schultz says the VGGT structure, which has so far worked well to strengthen dialogue, has shaped the achievements recorded.
The creation of the VGGT, according to Mr Schultz, has among other things improved coordination, participation by all stakeholders and enhanced transparency as there was no such a platform before.
The VGGT has contributed to the comprehensive assessment of the land, fisheries and forestry sectors and strengthened the capacity of all the actors.
Its milestones, besides the involvement of civil society in decision making, include cabinet approval of the new land policy in November 2015.
This has also culminated into the introduction of enabling technologies in land administration.
“Some of the country’s best practices recorded so far have been the building of a neutral space for people to freely discuss tenure governance,” Mr Schultz noted.
The country has also set up an institutional framework that fosters ownership and action as well as the secretariat that supports coordination on a daily basis.
The mobilisation of a strong political buy-in from the government, capacity development and awareness-raising activities to engage all affected stakeholders are among the best practices so far.
Despite the success stories, the initiative has had some challenges.
These include the lack of a wider private sector engagement and the full involvement of communities and grassroots at the decentralised level in decision- making processes.
They also include lack of effective implementation of the National Land Policy and the reflection of the VGGT principles in the revised constitution.
Mr Schulz says there are other long-standing disputes between communities and investors which remain unresolved.
Alphajon Cham, the deputy director for planning, policy and research in the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and Environment, highlighted the unprecedented high number of disputes which are before the courts.
Mr Cham pointed to existing and new districts as well as chiefdom/family boundaries arising from de-almagamation and re-districting for the challenges.
There is also large scale acquisition of land by corporates for investment in agriculture, bio-energy and mining which override land tenure rights.
The country has customary land parcels which are not yet demarcated and registered. This has also been exacerbated by lack of land records, absence of or unreliable spatial information, and the lack of an integrated national geo spatial and cadastral information system.
Mr Cham contends there is need to promote responsible investment, effective land use planning for environmental sustainability as well as gender equality and social equity.
The Namati Sierra Leone, a civil society organisation, while noting progress made by the VGGT, wants a land policy that addresses challenges faced by local people.
Sonkita Conteh, head of Namati, wants a land policy that will convert provisions of the policy into reality.
Mr Conteh has warned that problems of land tenure security are profound and, if unresolved, may lead to another civil war.
Sierra Leone is still recovering from the bloody 1991 – 2002 civil war as well as the deadly Ebola outbreak two years ago.
The 2017 edition of the Conference on Land in Africa was held under the theme :The Africa We Want: Achieving socio-economic transformation through inclusive and equitable access to land by the youth.
The theme of the conference was aligned with the Africa Union declaration of 2017 as Africa’s year of youth as agents for socio-economic transformation.
This declaration is realised through the theme ‘Harnessing Africa’s Demographic Dividend through Investment in youth.’