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News & Events What art, culture and language teaches us about land governance in Africa
What art, culture and language teaches us about land governance in Africa
What art, culture and language teaches us about land governance in Africa
Gerard Sekoto’s Song of the Pick (1946). Photograph: Gerard Sekoto/© The Sekoto Foundation
Gerard Sekoto’s Song of the Pick (1946). Photograph: Gerard Sekoto/© The Sekoto Foundation

Ahead of the 2021 Conference on Land Policy in Africa (CLPA), taking place 1 - 4 November, the Land Portal spoke with three members of the organizing committee.

Dr. Rexford A. Ahene is a Professor of Economics at Lafayette College and the Chair of this year's Scientific Committee at the CLPA-2021. 

Dr. Kimani Njogu is a Professor of African languages and sits in the African Academy of Languages. His role is to advise how arts, culture, and heritage can inform more inclusive land governance practices.

Eileen Wakesho is advisor of the Community Land Protection Program at Namati. She brings a focus on Women’s Land Rights and Land and Natural resource governances.


Why is it important that the 2021 Conference on Land Policy in Africa focus on safeguarding art, culture, and heritage?

Ms. Wakesho: Across the continent, land is not just a factor of production or assets, it’s identity, spirituality, and heritage. This influences largely how land is governed and administered. Social land relations are anchored in Africans' rich culture and heritage.  The conference thus provides a great space for African scholars, practitioners and governments to interrogate the ignored space of culture in land governance.

Dr. Ahene: The conference theme is "Land governance for safeguarding art, culture, and heritage towards the Africa We Want."  The theme aligns with the African Union Declaration of 2021 as "Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building Africa We Want," which is epitomized by Aspiration 5; fostering innovation, stimulating social and economic value through creativity, talent, intellectual capital, expressions of the arts, and cultural entrepreneurship as envisioned in Agenda 2063.

Equally relevant to the CLPA-2021 focus is the 2030 United Nations (UN) Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognizes creative industries and tourism as one of the engines of inclusive growth and development. Here, the focus on sustainable utilization and development of land include positive impacts on job creation and environmental preservation. According to the 2018 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's report on the creative economy, the global market for cultural goods and services doubled from US$208 billion in 2002 to US$509 billion in 2015. 


What can art, culture and language teach us about land governance in Africa?

Dr. Njogu: We have to start with how our culture gets created. Culture is our way of life, the way we live in the world, culture is created in the process of work, of production. Most production takes place on land, and as we work, we produce culture. In terms of foods we eat, how we interact with the environment, generational interactions, and so on, whether as farmers, as herders. Culture is really integral to the ways in which we survive in the world and the ways we work on land. Art itself is an expression of culture. If you're talking about music, visual arts, film, theater, all these are expressions of culture. If culture is created in the process of production, then there is no way one can divorce culture from issues of land governance.

It's really appropriate that those of us who work on land governance pay attention to communities and the ways in which they engage with land in terms of decision making, institutions, for conflict mediation, and conflict mitigation. Language is the way in which we communicate with each other and build relationships, and the ways in which we are inclusive or exclusive. It is an important aspect of the conference.


In your view, how is land connected with art and culture?

Dr. Ahene:  In almost all African countries, the sacredness of land and the customary tenure system remains central to traditional authority, land governance, and cultural identity. The geospatial boundaries of communal lands are closely connected to ethnic identity and social organization. The land is also valued as a resource of livelihood. The African land culture and heritage create a powerful system of land allocation regimes and a tenure system designed to preserve the asset base of communities for current and future generations. Therefore, traditional, culturally embedded land resource management ethos provides a coherent socio-economic framework for promoting environmentally sustainable land and land-based resources policy.

The Conference's focus on African heritage and cultural dimensions of land draw attention to the potential to secure livelihoods, economic growth, and sustainable development through the creative economy in rural and urban settings. The centrality of land to Africa's economic development is symbiotic with the significance of land resources to cultural and traditional practices. Traditional conservation measures such as sacred groves, ancestral forests, rituals related to thanksgiving, and other land resources management practices are integral to the complex economic, social, and ecological stewardship interplay. Therefore, cultural practices promoting conservation, protection of fragile ecosystems, and responsible management of land-based natural resources are fundamental to land policy. And eco-tourism provides a broad spectrum of opportunities along the value chain for culture and creative industries in Africa.  According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Tourism related cultural artifacts and creative industry products will contribute US$ 269 billion to Africa's GDP and 29 million new tourism-related jobs in Africa by 2026. The connection is evident for local communities; selling artifacts and handicrafts in gift shops, engaging local performers for theatrical displays, developing handicraft skills, and employment through work-training opportunities that allow the youth to gain marketable skills to meaningful work.


What perspective are you bringing on community Land Protection to the conference discussions?

Ms. Wakesho: The continent has witnessed a wave of formalization of customary and indigenous land rights. Kenya has not been left behind, it enacted the Community Land Act in 2016 providing a framework for recognition and registration. This wind of formalization of customary lands must be discussed with an intent of ensuring that it doesn’t result to privatization and commodification of the commons. I will be sharing some of my experience from the formalization of customary lands in Kenya and the impacts on women.


What concrete outcomes do you envision for the conference?

Dr. Ahene: I believe sustainable land stewardship and climate change mitigation is a cultural, social, and economic challenge. The conference will bring artists, academics and scientists, writers and cultural opinion formers, policymakers, and practitioners to share knowledge. To find creative avenues to communicate and amplify the urgency of promoting livelihoods-enhancing growth without compromising climate-resilient management of land-based natural resources.

Ms. Wakesho: Every conference provides an opportunity to reflect on the AU declaration on land issues and challenges and develop a call to action from different stakeholders. My vision for this year’s conference is that we will go beyond the call to action and develop a clear framework that holds member stakes to account.


What do you hope to accomplish during this Conference on Land Policy in Africa in terms of policy dialogue?

Dr. Njogu: The African Land Policy Centre works on issues of knowledge production, but also ways in which policies becomes reshaped so that they are much more inclusive and community driven. We hope that at the conference we will have an opportunity to discuss ways in which communities become more integrated in our thinking and our plans for policy reform so that communities and their cultures are not seen to be extra to policy discussions but actually are integral to policy discussions.

When we include communities and cultures then we are much more inclusive in fact of what is valuable to them. How do we build land policy guidelines, processes, and policies that support pastoralism in an inclusive way? How do we reform traditional institutions so that they are more responsive to women's land rights? How do we ensure that our urban policies and expansion are sensitive to arts and culture? Are we creating enough spaces for creativity, for the imagination? To what extent are we taking care of our cultural heritage and heritage sites on account of climate change?

In the course of the conference, we'll have opportunities to discuss policies that can drive systematic urbanization on the continent that can integrate communities more directly so that communities are integral to policy reform. Intergenerational dialogue: most young people are  in arts and culture, creative industries. So how do they get integrated into policy discussions even as they work in creative sectors? This is what we're hoping to achieve -- much more inclusive approaches to land policies. 

It is hardly the case that cultural industries find themselves discussed by land economists. So for the first time, we are having a moment where we can discuss film, visual arts, fashion with land economists and to show that there are opportunities in these sectors. 

Dr. Ahene: What the conference hopes to accomplish is a shared understanding of culture and inclusive land governance. We understand that no community of people anywhere in the world will volunteer or accept land policies designed to abrogate their historical, socio-cultural, and economic anthropology, primarily when their cultural identity, social organization, and governance systems are defined by their land heritage. The conference will provide avenues to discuss the synergy between Africa’s traditional land culture and the creative works that act as a catalyst for communicating proper land stewardship as a crucial nexus for the broader political and social dialogue about culturally inclusive land governance. 

Ms. Wakesho: As a member of the Scientific Committee of the Conference on Land Policy in Africa, I envision that this year’s conference will move the conversation from policy dialogue to practical workable solution for Land governance in the continent.


Please visit the CLPA-2021 page to read more and register. The Land Portal will be convening two panels at CLPA-2021 on Wednesday, 2 November 2021.