Realizing land rights for subsequent peace in Darfur
Picture this in rural western region of Sudan - an increasing and high number of displaced population, overwhelming economic and livelihoods dependency on natural resources, uncertainty due to lack of a comprehensive legal basis for land ownership and land user rights, and severely limited ability for official land demarcation and on ground survey – all these elements leads to a recipe for competition and grave conflict. The issue of land (ownership, occupancy, titles) in Darfur constitutes a significant challenge to Darfur’s short and long-term stability and thereby the most important challenge to peace initiatives in the region. Resolution of land issues is critical to pave the way for sustainable recovery and reconstruction in Darfur.
The conflict over land and productive functions of the environment constitute the oldest and most diffused forms of conflict in Darfur, as the livelihoods of majority of the people is centered on land and the direct utilization of the environment and natural resources. The historical and longstanding conflict between pastoralists and sedentary farmers is an evident example in this case. Environmental degradation and climate change have had additional impacts by reducing the area of arable land and, as such, increased the competition over the scarce natural resources. The returning of refugees and IDPs, nomadic corridors, long-term investment, recovery and reconstruction processes all depend on effective management of the land.
Addressing the issues of land policy, legislation and management in a politically, socially, economically sustainable manner will require development of innovative approaches from the bottom to up ensuring participation of stakeholders at all levels to reach a consensus between customary and statutory law. It also requires adoption of dynamic, flexible and realistic land conflict resolution mechanism and land legislation that ensures long term vision with short term practical solutions to key land issues based on participatory priority setting. Hence, the involvement of communities who are well versed in their role and rights to land through participatory methods is key to set up this mechanism.
The Strengthening Land Management for Peaceful Co-Existence project aims to inform communities and women in particular, on their role in land administration through outreach and sensitization efforts in all five states of Darfur. The project has been organizing targeted workshops that raise awareness about women land rights, use and management with wide participation of women from the political and professional spectrum.
In Ed Daein, the capital town of East Darfur state, one such awareness workshop was facilitated by two acclaimed national land experts. The workshop explained the rights of women in the Sudanese national, state, local and customary laws and demonstrated the development of national laws in favour for women land ownership and management rights. Customary laws have profound influence in Darfur and they play an active role to defuse and resolve disputes which are often related to land ownership and use, specially between nomad pastoralists and settled farmers. The workshop was solidly boosted by the use of local folk arts, culture and drama, to discuss customary laws in Sudan focusing on land issues in Darfur that helped local audience to understand this complicated yet crucial issue through the medium of entertainment allowing participants to relate their land rights as stated by national laws to their local norms and traditions.
“I had no idea!” Fatoma Fadul, a workshop participant expressed her amazement “despite being an educated woman, I did not know a lot about women’s land rights, I thought I know well enough about women’s rights and roles when it comes to land ownership and management but, this workshop opened my eyes to facts that I was not aware of”. Niemat Musa concurred with Fatoma and added, “60% of farmers in East Darfur are women, yet they barely know anything about the same land they cultivate, which creates an environment of mistrust and conflict. Such workshop casts a light on this issue, and paves the way for empowering women with knowledge reducing sources of disputes.”
Darfur Land Commissioner, Mr. Salih Mango attended the workshop where he emphasized on the importance of reaching consensus among communities and authorities on necessary changes and reforms to people-centred land title system of awareness “Such workshops that facilitate knowledge sharing are necessary to create an environment where communities are aware of their rights and obligations towards land issues and how to work collectively to resolve them in a peaceful manner”.
Ms. Shazaliah Abdallah, Director General of the Ministry of Social Affairs, East Darfur state explained how this joint effort between the Ministry, East Darfur Women’s Union and UNDP would contribute to peace in Darfur: “I am glad to see how participants were actively engaged in the discussion, women play a key role in the safe keeping of Darfur culture which influences customary law. By reconciling social knowledge, customary and national laws related to land ownership, we are paving the road to a sustainable future. A future where the coming generations will have a chance to make use of their treasured lands to build their own lives”.
The Strengthening Land Management for Peaceful Co-Existence in Darfur is a Foundational and Short Term (FaST) project implemented by UNDP, UNHABITAT and FAO. Funded by Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) through the United Nations Fund for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Development in Darfur (UNDF).