Enthusiasm as EAC partners begin to share best practices on land governance

Tuesday December 20 2022
People protesting against alleged grabbing

People protesting against alleged grabbing in Kenya’s Elgeyo Marakwet County. Discussing matters land in the East African Community has been difficult because land, its policies and laws, aren’t easy to agree on. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Discussing matters land in the East African Community has been difficult because land, its policies and laws, aren’t easy to agree on. They are jurisdiction-specific. What works in one country may be inapplicable in another. Indeed, the Protocol on the establishment of the East African Community (EAC) Common Market is explicit on matters land.

The Common Market Protocol provides for the free movement of goods, persons, labour, services and capital. It also provides for the rights of establishment and the rights of residence of EAC citizens. Article 15 of this protocol is on access to and use of land and premises. It tersely provides that Partner States are agreed that access to and use of land and premises shall be governed by the national policies and laws of the Partner States. This, therefore, limits the depth of discussions on matters land within the Community. 

The above notwithstanding, EAC Partner States will in future share lessons and best practices on land policy formulation and implementation. This will not negate the provisions of the Common Market, but will instead result in improved land governance in the respective Partner States. Besides, lesson sharing will enhance collaboration in the management of transboundary issues that require convergence. These include the management of transboundary infrastructure, wildlife ecosystems, cross-border towns and the management of transboundary environment and natural resource ecosystems.

The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 on the “Africa We Want” seeks to transform the continent into a global powerhouse of the future. To realise this agenda, which is framed around 50 years from the year 2013, will call for improved land governance around the continent. This is because land plays a central role in the national development processes of AU member states.

Land plays primary roles in national interventions targeted at reducing poverty, improving infrastructure, environmental management, enhancing gender equity, strengthening governance, conflict resolution and enhancing food security. The AU agenda on land, which is based on the African Union Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges of 2009, complements the realisation of some of the components of the AU Agenda 2063.

The AU Declaration on land invites regional economic communities to convene platforms to facilitate the sharing of lessons and the dissemination of best practices in land policy formulation, implementation and monitoring. Such platforms will enable States to share lessons and information on best practices documented during their land policy formulation, implementation and review processes.


In keeping with this call, the EAC has recently been in partnership with the African Land Policy Centre, based at the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, to establish such a regional platform. The first regional platform forum was held on August 17-18, 2022 in Kampala,  and featured experts from the EAC Partner States, the EAC Secretariat, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and the African Land Policy Centre.  This forum was preceded by a study on the status of land policy development within the EAC region. From the experiences and lessons shared, the region has done quite well in land policy development. 

The six states that participated in the study have made good progress in their land policy development processes.  South Sudan is yet to complete its national land policy process, but Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have comprehensive national land policies to guide land governance. Indeed, some countries have reviewed their policies after years of implementation, while others are in the process of doing so.  

Priority issues flagged from across the region included the digitisation of land records and the establishment of modern land information management systems. Sustainable land use planning, compulsory land acquisition and the pertinent compensation were also flagged as priority concerns. One can appreciate why. The increased numbers of physical land records in land offices are beginning to overwhelm institutions while the management of land use is becoming increasingly pertinent as land becomes fragmented with increased population and competing uses.

The development of road, rail, oil and power infrastructure within the region, which is needed to move people and goods, and to support sectoral development, requires the compulsory acquisition of private and community land. This attracts due compensation, based on the applicable national laws. Compensation is a sticky issue around the region and any delays around it easily escalate project timelines and costs.

Emerging issues identified included land grabbing and the resolution of land conflicts precipitated by the numerous land and boundary disputes. Climate change and soil fertility are other emerging issues, with the latter getting pronounced where quality has declined with land use.

Ibrahim Mwathane is a consultant on land governance and has provided technical support to the continental land policy process: [email protected]