AUF African Unification Front POLICY ON LAND REFORM Part 9 (The RKPHA, June 2002)
Describing the first of its four aims on “Land Reform Policy”, the AUF states that, “to correct the overly skewed land distribution pattern in which a small percentage of the population owns the majority of the land, by giving access to land to the millions of peasants who struggle to survive by working in temporary agricultural jobs. Securing land for landless people will guarantee food security for families”. Contrary to the above statement of the AUF, the traditional land distribution systems in Eritrea, at least the “Risti” principle in the Kebesa regions and the Kunama traditional communal land ownership, do not specifically reflect the “overly skewed land distribution pattern in which a small percentage of the population owns the majority of the land” but they allow the villagers and communities to have their fair share of the land they all own. In the Kunama traditional land distribution, ownership and administrative system, every family as well as every adult owns and has the right to own enough arable land to sustain family-members or single individuals. The Kunama society does not know a “feudal-system-like” of land distribution. As we have often pointed out, the Kunama have a very clear pattern of distributing their land:
1.- land reserved for dwelling purposes;
2.- arable land for all and different kinds of crops the Kunama grow each single year;
3.- large grazing-land for their different types of live-stock and
4.- reserve-land, considered as sacred, where the chopping down of trees and hunting of the wild animals are strictly forbidden. There is no free Kunama land which a stranger could buy, occupy or own. The Kunama land-tradition does not allow land trading. The Kunama people do neither sell nor buy their land but they only have the right to own, use or rent it among themselves periodically. The Kunama consider their land as the resting place of their ancestors as well as the patrimony of the entire Kunama ethnic group and therefore as an object of no trade. The land, apart from being the only provider of their sustenance, it is also a very sensitive issue to the Kunama people because of the ethno-cultural values attached to it. The principle of “Terreno Demaniale” introduced by the Italians into the Kunama Land was therefore due to lack of knowledge of the existing Kunama traditional land distribution, ownership and administrative systems. It was a forced imposition of a powerful foreign coloniser against which the Kunama were unable to resist. The system the Italians had brought into the Kunama Land was nothing less than the “feudal system” they were used to in their own country. It was a principle which suited both the Italian authorities as well as the Italian farmers involved in their various plantations and other agricultural activities. They were also able to carry out their researches also in the field of mining industry. The extraction of gold and other minerals from the Kunama Land (Sosona, Ugaro and Dase) and the trade of them made many Italian individuals and families extremely rich. The Italian farmers or so-called “i concessionari” did not own “the majority of the land”, but they did surely occupy and administer the most fertile parts of the Kunama Land. The little credit one could give the Italians is that, throughout their administration, they did respect and protect the Kunama land by, not only, controlling and preventing the excessive influx of other ethnic group members, but also by not invading the crop-fields of the Kunama people and the grazing areas of their livestock. The Kunama people have never been landless and they have never looked for land outside of their ethnic and geographical borders. The vastness of their land should not be considered and interpreted as being too much for the numerically smaller Kunama ethnic group, but as a land already designated to serve particular purposes. The introduction and the retention of the principle of the “State Land”, is neither to help the Kunama people improve their life-standard nor is it going to satisfy the agricultural requirements of the state of Eritrea as the present PFDJ regime seems to have in mind. The forced and continuous invasion of the Kunama land whether by the decree of the government, for its agricultural purposes and to resettle the Eritrean refugees returning from The Sudan, or whether by private individuals who, taking advantage of the present laws on the Eritrean land, are buying, selling or using it as they please. From the view-point of the Kunama traditional land policy, the past “Terreno Demaniale, the State Land” and the present “Meriet Mengsti” are all forcefully and therefore illegally imposed foreign decrees to be annulled in their due time. This is exactly how the AUF sees the land issue in Africa when it states that. “in many cases it is the state government that allocates and relocates land”. The AUF in fact considers land as a fundamental object of conflicts in Africa and therefore adopts, as its aim number three, the theory of “establishing a mechanism for mediation of conflict and clashed between the land-less and the police, the land owners and the public.” In the Kunama Land however, it is the government which is trying to deprive the public of its land and the police, supporting their regime, are intimidating and oppressing the Kunama farmers. Knowing the principle of “Risti” in the highland Kebesa regions and similar traditional land ownership and administrative systems in other Eritrean ethnic groups, we do not believe there could be families or individual Eritreans who do not own a piece of land of theirs in their own respective home-regions but, should there be any, these have to be accommodated anywhere but using only peaceful and not coercive means. It is a natural land law that, no matter how it has been sequestrated it will be reclaimed no matter how much time may have elapsed in between. Let the land issues in the countries like South-Africa and Zimbabwe be of example to. AUF suggests that, “the intervention of the labour unions, religious organisations and human rights groups in the mediation of land conflict must be given official recognition and resources allocated for this service”. We do not know how willingly the PFDJ regime would go along with such a suggestion as it would conflict with its absolute policy on the land issue. It is this kind of decentralisation of power that the present Eritrean regime is very allergic to. As there are neither independently organised “labour unions” nor courageous “religious organisations” and very active “human rights groups”, to contest with the regime’s policy, the AUF’s piece of advice and aim cannot be implemented in the state of Eritrea. Added to this, the PFDJ regime would never “allocate resources” to be administrated by private bodies where it does not exercise its full authority and influence. This has always been a point of great conflict between the donor-countries trying to carry out their aid projects independently and the regime which tries to prevent any private organisation even from entering the country unless it agrees to operate under the strict control of the regime. Such obstinate policy has been discouraging many NGOs from undertaking their valuable work among the Eritrean populations and therefore there is no hope, under the present regime, that independent bodies would be allowed to bring their contribution in the land reform, tenant and developmental policies. The PFDJ regime will never understand that, the land development at regional, village and individual levels is the most appropriate and basic approach to undertake. Eritrea, in its small geographical size, is blessed with different kinds of climate favouring different kinds of crops in different places at different times of the year. This means that, as, for the time being, the PFDJ regime is either unable to understand the advantages of such favourable climatic varieties or just blinded by its state-oriented political attitude, is failing to adopt the pluralistic land development systems which already exist in the various Eritrean regions. This calls for developing first both the local manpower, engaging them in the land projects by “allocating enough resources” to improve their methods of land tilling and being the prime beneficiaries of the fruits of their local crop-fields. We believe, developing land at local levels, to be the basic step to elevate land productivity at the national level. Lacking of or rejecting this fundamental principle of land use, which is anyhow inherent in the various ethnic groups and local communities, the present Eritrean regime is creating confusion in the local communities themselves by imposing its own laws and engaging its own personnel who very often fails to understand the various characteristics of the Eritrean landscape. The principles and the aims of AUF presuppose the existence of democratic African governments which would really understand the problems related to the land and the consequences they have on the African rural populations.
The RKPHA ( June 2002 ).