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Regulate policy to protect land and resources

By Opio Jackson

Land grabbing is a persistent issue in South Sudan and it mostly involves powerful local elites who actively deny the community’s land rights by encroaching and claiming part of the communal lands as their personal property.

Authorities closed down my school simply they wanted to grab the land, according to Thomas Lodovico, a resident of Torit, Eastern Equatoria State.

Thomas is one of many citizens who have lost land rights in the country due to the vices of land grabbing.

Thomas is the Head teacher of the defunct Progressive Secondary School insisted that the land where he built the school belongs to his family. He vowed to take all legal measures to reclaim the land because he is the rightful owner.

In 2007, the state government declared that the Otuho ancestral village in the heart of Torit town will not be demarcated but open roads, regrettably when  another administration came to power in 2010, the order was reversed that the Otuho village must be demarcated that affected his school.

 “There are many issues of land grabbing in Eastern Equatoria State. There are some situations where a plot has been allotted to more than three people. The one who has money can go quickly and register the land in his name and once he does it the rest of people will have no rights. This is already part of land grabbing because the poor person who owns the land will have no rights,” Thomas explained.

He said the authorities have annexed his land to Omliha Market.

Thomas said even those who fled the conflict to the neighboring countries they now find it hard to return home since their land has been occupied.   

Tuok an Internally Displaced Person living at the Protection of Civilians’ site (PoCs) who requested for use of one name only said his residential land at a New Site in Juba has been grabbed after he fled the conflict. He said a person who grabbed his plot is in military uniform.

“After I fled the area the person decided to seize my plot and built a permanent house in my land.” He narrated.

Although peace has returned to the country, for Tuok coming out of the PoCs is something still uncertain.

 “I am ready to return home but where will I settled since my land have been occupied,” he asked.

However, Tuok said with the formation of the Revitalized-Transitional Government of National Unity where every citizen expects reforms in governance, he vowed to take the case to the court.

“I have reported the case to Humanitarian Development Consortium (HDC), an international organization operating at the PoCs in Juba who have promised to provide for me a defense lawyer,” he said.

According to the Land Matrix database, which compiles data on land grabs from governments, companies, NGOs and citizens, has tracked about 2.5 million hectares of land grabbed in South Sudan since 2006. Land grabbing is the acquisition of land without regard for the interests of existing land rights holders.

Robert Ladu, a senior official at South Sudan Land Commission admitted that despite vast land in South Sudan, there have been a lot of problems regarding land issues in the country.

In the last year’s National Dialogue grass roots consultation held across the country, land grabbing has been identified as one of the major causes of conflict among communities.

Mr. Ladu admitted rampant land grabbing in the country and said there was need to regulate the current land policy to address the land issues.

He was speaking during the launch of a technical workshop on land policy and administration in South Sudan and that was attended by all political parties in the country.

“With the help of land experts, the commission would make good document for presentation during the national dialogue conference in March 2020,” He announced.

Janet Ponnie Bullen a resident of Juba said the land grabbing was very rampant across the country especially within Juba City.

She said land and the resources need to be protected for the future generation, “Government should ensure community rights over their land since it was given to them by God because before the government came to that particular area there were already people living in the area so if the government wants to operate in the area it should first consult the community,” Ms. Ponnie explained.

She reiterated that all resources were created by God and in case of any investment the community has the right to get some percentage so as to benefit from their land.

Ponnie said the reason why some communities today did not want to give land to the government was because of bad experience during the liberation struggle.

“During the SPLA/M war of liberation for instance the people of Yei due to generosity they gave lands to the SPLA but after the war ended in 2005 those areas were turned in to communal settlement,” she narrated.

“Today some of those areas have been nicknamed by those who now settled in the area. This is likely to cause conflict in future as the indigenous people will never tolerate land grabbing,” Ms. Ponnie stressed.

She called on the Land Commission to enact strong law to ensure that every citizen respect other people’s right to own properties.

“We need to respect other rights when you are in another community. You should respect their rights and behave like them,” Ms. Ponnie explained.

“If you in Juba City you must also respect the laws in the Town, we should not behave like we are above the law,” she added.

She called on every citizen to follow legal procedures of acquiring land instead of forceful means that may fuel conflict in the society.

Jame David Kolok, Executive Director for Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) said one of the biggest issues that led to the conflict was the land.

He said if land issue not addressed could likely generate another war in future, “Literally citizens are very concern that if land is not properly addressed in South Sudan is likely to be critical factor of community instability.”

“The massive displacement that have happened have displaced people from their lands and in one way or the other have made others who are not the owners to take control of the land,” Jame says.

He said in Yei some returnees who have started arriving home were complaining of their houses and land being occupied by some military Generals or people who got power in the government.

“If this issues are not addressed it is likely to derail the process for the returnees to come back home,” he says.

The activist said the question of women empowerment also needs to be addressed in regards to property ownership, he says one of them is land.

James explained that land is one of the major asset in production and that people need to focus on how best women can acquire land to reinforce their income production.

He called on all citizens to respect to people’s rights to land ownership.

 According to South Sudan Land Act 2009 it states that the land belong to the community. The Land Act prescribes that land may be acquired, held and transferred through Customary, Freehold and Leasehold tenure. All citizens hold freehold titles to their lands.

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