In this interview, Prof. Felix Ngana talks about the creation of the Training and Research Unit (UFR) on Land Governance and Local Development (GFDL) at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR). Following the establishment of a Bachelor's degree program, plans to extend this training to the Master's and PhD levels are already underway. These efforts are timely, as the country has embarked on a decentralization process to elect mayors and governors to head municipal and regional councils, respectively.
1) Prof. Ngana, why did you launch this training unit on land issues at the University of Bangui? What needs does the training meet?
It was NELGA that motivated us. I am the Focal Point for NELGA in the Central African Republic. As part of the implementation of its structure in Central African universities, NELGA had launched a survey to revise the curriculum of land governance.
Since its creation in 1969, the University of Bangui has not had a specific training unit on land issues. Nevertheless, land tenure was addressed in various subjects such as land law and environmental law in the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences; land use planning, rural and urban geography, cartography and geomatics in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Humanities; rural economics and land rent in the Faculty of Economics and Management; agronomy, forestry and livestock in the Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural.
Because of the lack of specific training in land governance, the University of Bangui was classified as ineligible for funding for the curriculum revision envisaged by NELGA. Given the importance of land issues in the decentralization process that the country has begun, we decided to launch this training. In 2018, we formed a small team of teachers to fill this gap by initiating this Training and Research Unit. It was in June 2021 that the University Council of Bangui approved the program and License 3 was launched in October 2022, for the academic year 2022-2023.
This training responds to the country's development and poverty reduction needs. Indeed, our communes do not have well-trained executives in land governance, to enable land resources to support economic development.
The training is designed to strengthen the capacity of the CAR's communes in the good governance of land resources in order to reduce the extreme poverty in which the population, the communes and the State find themselves. 75% of Central Africans live below the poverty line and approximately 71% are illiterate. The population also lacks information on land legislation. Traditional occupants sometimes make land use planning difficult. The managers who are trained through this program will be able to support the decentralization process with a special focus on local development to help people live off their land.
2) Can you explain to our readers what a ‘License 3’ is in the Central African Republic? What are the topics covered in this training?
The Bachelor's degree in land tenure in the Central African Republic is part of the Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate (LMD) system and corresponds to a Bac +3. We recruit students with their Bac +2 in all fields without exception given the multidisciplinary nature of land studies. The students already have a two-year prerequisite after their Bac.
The License 3 lasts one year. It provides basic knowledge of land tenure in all its dimensions and offers opportunities for further study in the Master's program, which lasts two years. The program is multidisciplinary and brings together professors of law, geography, natural sciences, anthropology, history, sociology, etc.
The specific subjects covered in License 3 concern the definition and typology of land tenure; land tenure law and regulations; the components of urban and peri-urban land tenure; mining land tenure and strategic resources; the anthropological realities of land tenure; customary land tenure and colonial influence; gender issues and access to land tenure; and land topography and registration. This last subject is even taught by an official from the Ministry of Urban Planning.
The Master 1 program is under construction for the start of the 2023-2024 academic year. The objective of the Master's program will be to master the techniques of good land governance and local development strategies in order to implement the knowledge acquired in the third year of the program. Eventually, the objective is to set up a doctoral school to enable Central African students to defend a thesis on land tenure at the University of Bangui. A Land Observatory will be created to handle this training and the collection of land data in the country.
3) Do you have any testimonials on the impact of your training?
Yes, we are only at the beginning of the process, but the testimonials are already encouraging. Two of our students are heads of department at the Ministry of Urban Planning. This training has made them aware that with a territory as vast as that of CAR, the central state alone cannot ensure good land governance. It is necessary to provide the communes with the skills required to work with the population and economic operators, within the framework of the decentralization of State services to local authorities.
The country is in the process of organizing municipal elections. Previously, cities were managed by presidents of the special delegation appointed by decree. The country did not have elected mayors. We will have them after the municipal elections in 2023.
We hope to train more students who aspire to become mayors in their hometown so that they can ensure good governance of land in their locality. Some teachers from the University of Bangui, who already have their Master's degree, are considering enrolling and following this training for this purpose.
4) The Land Portal is an organization that strives to improve access to land data and information. In many countries, information such as land records, statistical data, and publications on land issues are not available online or you have to pay to access them. What was your experience in gathering content for this training? Did you face similar challenges?
No! We have not experienced this problem. Thanks to institutions such as CIFOR, PRASAC, NELGA and Land Portal, we easily obtained this information. At the national level, we also had a lot of ease because of our different functions. The services of the Ministries of Water and Forests, Urban Planning, and Agriculture collaborated with us to share the data. As land tenure is a source of many conflicts in CAR, the administration was interested in the training.
Our fieldwork with students has also greatly simplified the collection of data to build this training program. We mobilize this data as part of our teaching.
Language is still a limiting factor for us as a French-speaking country. As a solution, students are forced to translate certain documents from English to French themselves.
5) Are there any other challenges you face in providing this training? How do you address these challenges? Are there any facilitating factors?
Yes, there are many challenges, especially regarding funding and lack of partnerships. Teachers are demanding overtime pay and the state does not have the money to fund this training. We do not have vehicles for field trips. There is also no support in terms of scholarships or computers for the students.
The limited availability of classrooms is also a limiting factor. Arrangements will be made in the future to have a specific building for this training.
6) Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, we would like to share our vision with Land Portal readers. NELGA of the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic is going to be constituted as an Academic Federation in consortium (FAC) gathering the different disciplines concerned with land.
We are going to buy a piece of land on the outskirts of the city of Bangui for our practical work in agriculture, agroforestry, urban planning, tourism and hotel management, fish farming, mining and livestock breeding in order to set an example of good land governance and local development. We have been inspired by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. This strategy will make it possible to combine theory with practice, to reconcile training with employment and research with development. The Training and Research Unit (UFR) will become a Training and Production Unit (UFP). This is the beginning of the creation of these villages which will be called "NELGA UB Villages".
In concrete terms, the opening of the License 3 in Land Governance and Local Development at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic aims to train mayors for our communes in land governance and local development, as well as to train doctors, with the possibility of having competent governors for our regions.