By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London.
Scramble for private ownership of land has never been higher as in current in the history of Gambia. Because of this unprecedented growth in the bid for private ownership of land, prices have rocketed sky-high. This is not due to the simple economic principle that land appreciates in value over time. More than just that, players in the land game have kept both demand and prices growing higher and higher, it emerged that there is a new breed of land grabbers in the corridors of power.
Traditional land owners in different communities are being dispossessed of land inherited from generation of their ancestry. Communal reserved land for agricultural and collective use in many party of Kombo is being transformed into privately commercial ownership for profits. In the Gambia today it seems President Yaya Jammeh owns all the land. He only points his fingers and it is allocated to him. A show case example was the criminal trespass case of 90 years old Jalanbang village Head Former Alkalo Alhagie Njobo Bah. He was sentenced for providing land to farmers, unlawfully given to Former President Yaya Jammeh. He was remanded in Mile Two Prisons after being held in NIA cells and sentenced to two years concurrently albeit with an option of a fine of D10, 000 to the Former President and another D1000 to the court. The trend and pattern of Land grabbing matters since July 1994 get worse as the country’s is a thematic for land governance.
With agrarian based economy, the Gambia really needs to reform its land-use policies and legislation to manage agricultural land. Equally urgent is the need to protect the forest cover from rising demand of human settlements so as to meet the challenges of demographic growth and environmental degradation. The coming into law of the land commission after the 1994 military taken-over of the Government by the criminals in uniform was seen as a sensible intervention. But public confidence was betrayed as recommendations to prevent land grabbing all continue to be violated by law makers of the regime which set up that commission. A roaring 22 years’ rule of Former APRC Government is marked by high level corruption and massive land grabbing. We are all paying the price for the greediest leader in a decade and half of our nation’s history. All the commissions set up and their recommendations are now meaningless putting into the stock the trend and pattern of Yaya Jammeh’s wealth and capital accumulation. The commissions set up were nothing other than a form of attracting cheap popularity and blatant witch hunting of the deposed Sir Dawda Jawara’s regime. Gambians are conned. Every man and woman of conscience in the past 22 years OF Yaya Jammeh’s have seen the misuse of power against the powerless as communities fall fatal victims of senseless land grabbing syndicates. The myopic, insensitive and cruel regime of Yaya Jammeh in 22 years of misrule in that tiny West African country is not going without costs. We the ordinary people are paying for it dearly.
Land use planning and tenure of ownership under Yaya Jammeh’s dictatorial regime is not directed within a formal legislative framework. Customary tenure and natural resource management issues have become particularly big cause for concern in peri-urban areas of Greater Kombo where we are now witnessing massive land grabbing in Real Estate Development. We all know that there are numerous problems in the current customary land tenure system but the trend of land grabbing in this current regime is more serious. While both customary and formal legal structures exist and constantly interact in land administration, there has been increasing tendency over the past decades where the government expands its jurisdiction in an attempt to take more active and directive role over land resources management and planning.
We have got a snap shot of Yahya Jammeh’s properties accumulation trend postulates him as having nobility, supremacy of privileged order coupled with his absolute power to own every land in that country. Yahya Jammeh’s rise on the property ladder is through an encroachment of other people’s land including Dobong Farm, Kanillai Estate and Farm, Brufut AU Villas, Siffoe Farm, Farato Farm, Abuko, Sindola Hotel, Santaba Safari Park, Kanillai zoo, Brufut Sallaba, Kansala River Line Project, Farm in Makumbaya, Kunubeh, Mandinary, Darsilami etc. These and many unlisted possessions which fall under the property empire of a land-grabbing the Former President Yaya Jammeh. Many of the land are wilfully possessed and others falsely said to be gifts from communal elders without going through the due process of legality.
Putting such greedy land grabbing into perspective now brings the relevance for setting the land commission following the 1994 military takeover, into question. One of the Recommendation of the Land Commission stated that every Gambian should own one piece of land was first violated by the Former President himself when he initially grabbed the land in Dobong Farm belonging to Jammeh clan of Kanillai with whom he bears no close blood family relationship. Another show of narrow-minded ideas or frivolous policy of the Jammeh regime where they classified all land in Kombo and Kombo St Mary’s, as belonging to government. On reverse provisions of the same law the rest of the country retain traditional ownership of their ancestral land.
Citizens of Kombo and many rural Gambia enjoyed considerable tenure security under the former regime. Customary tenure traditions were strong in Gambia and for this reason the rural population knows and respect traditional tenure provisions. This does not mean the picture is rosy particularly with continued land dispute unfolding in many communities all over rural Gambia. The criminal regime of Yaya Jammeh further enhances those disputes with their expropriation policy and failed customary tenure tradition extended into formal legal framework. Customary land tenure arrangement was recognised by law in The Gambia. Provinces Land Act provides it is expedient that existing customary rights of indigenous inhabitants of provinces be reserved. This empowers them to use and enjoy the land in the provinces. Here in England and Wales, many of customary tenants of law were codified and written down while in The Gambia many of these traditional legal precepts have not been written down for benefit of legal profession and general public consumption. In The Gambia 1946 Land Act was passed with intention of preserving the existing customary rights. With coming into power of Yaya Jammeh in 1994 they wilfully disregarded all legal instruments. All problems regarding land matters become aggravated because of the regime’s vested interest in land grabbing sustained by emerging property developers who collaborate to sustain their corrupt activities.
Land laws in The Gambia provide the way and manner in which land be acquired from traditional holders. Land Acquisition and Compensation Act permit acquisition for public purposes upon payment of compensation to injured parties. In the case of TAF Construction Housing project in both New Yundum and Brufut no compensation is still given to customary land owners. The Land Acquisition and Compensation Act further stipulate the purposes which land in The Gambia can be acquired from the people. These includes where land is used: – Exclusively for Government or community use, sanitary improvement building new government station, control over land contiguous to any port or airport, defence purpose, environmental protection and conservation. The illegal acquisition of land in New Yundum and Brufut by TAF construction and that of Yaya Jammeh in Siffoe, Darsilami, Marskissa, Makumbaya, Kubuneh and Mandinary in Kombo North, Kombo Central was only for personal gains but not in accordance with the legal context of the Act. All land in these areas has been reclassified as state and its allocation to go through Land Board and planning authorities.
Land Acts of 1990 has given me powders to Minister of Local Government to designate state land for human settlement and other purposes. Looking into that Act it has loopholes for corruption. According to powers conferred on the Minister for Local Government in designating land for human settlement, no formal procedure is in place to allow public comment or reaction to this unilateral decision of profound implications to rural populations. Land boards and planning authorities are selected by the minister rather than by the general public. This is a design by authorities in The Gambia to protect their Land grabbing interests and closing all doors to ordinary land –owning citizens for legal redress in cases of dispute.
In the Gambia there is need to revisit our land use planning system at a time when we are witnessing continuous violation of legislative provisions regarding land use. The present trend of land grabbing without due consideration to statuary codes such National Environment and Management Act 1987, Resource Management and Local Government Legislation, Forest Act 1997, Wild Life Conservation Act 1997 and Fisheries Act 1991 is not sustainable. These are important environment laws and legislation that should take a centre stage in planning, development and control regulations for the interest of sustainable and gainful land resource management. Unfortunately, those who stand to protect us are now the ones victimising us as a nation.