We support evolution of customary norms and tenure arrangements for people-centred
governance in protecting the bundle of existing land rights/interests
There is a lot of debate on how to effectively deal with customary tenure (sometimes referred to as being informal or traditional) alongside statutory tenure systems. This is due to emergency of a tenure governance regime where most urban communities tend to use the statutory system while rural populations typically rely on their customary practices. The resulting dual system often poses ownership wrangles, boundary conflicts, and administrative challenges making it difficult to effectively govern especially if customary arrangements are not supported to evolve in parity with statutory systems.
Some schools of thought tend to undermine customary tenure as being outdated yet it includes arrangements whose attributes and strengths can respond to real contextual needs in many local communities. It is evident that once customary systems are undermined, they leave a void that statutory systems are ill equipped to fill given the latter's limited administrative capacity to provide affordable, accessible, and scalable services at national and local levels.
But the most important point in this discourse is to realise that customary arrangements are not static or unorganised because they continuously adapt to changes in economic, social, political, cultural or environmental conditions. When these arrangements are overlooked, not only do the vulnerable people lose rights that are critical to their livelihoods but also those whose foregone interests are unfairly compensated create resistance. As a result, there is increased hunger due to reduced productive activity on such land and this eventually translates into household poverty among already marginal populations.
The integration of customary tenure arrangements into the realm of statutory law now offers new opportunities and benefits for communities although many project-led initiatives still fail to effectively exploit these legal provisions. They concentrate wealth, privileges and decisionmaking powers in the hands of just a few powerful individuals in the community without clear governance frameworks in place. Though customary tenure involves a multiplicity of overriding entitlements and sometimes conflicting interests, the communal land association model is one of those remedies that can support mechanisms to implement statutory regulations while making necessary reforms to customary arrangements intended to secure the bundle of existing land rights/interests.
The measures that we take in forming communal land associations ensure that the evolution of customary tenure responds to a wide range of contemporary issues including socio-cultural changes, institutional gaps, economic needs and environmental pressures. Participatory processes are also undertaken at every stage to allow for enough flexibility as well as accommodate the complexity of rights and practices across multiple stakeholder groups. This includes addressing gender disparities found in many customary norms. In practice, we work with local governments and the communities to customise the evolving tenure regimes in ways that combine attributes from the customary and statutory systems so as to balance various realities in the contemporary setting.