Chiefdom Land Committees and reducing insecurity over land tenure in rural Sierra Leone

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What has been the effect of Chiefdom Land Committees at providing access to more secure land tenure for the rural poor, and at preventing and resolving disputes over land? The 2004 political decentralisation process made provision for an elected local council member to be a member of the chiefdom land committees, which hitherto, had been dominated by people handpicked by the paramount chiefs. Has this inclusion had any effect on the security of tenure for the rural poor, and at preventing conflict over land?

These are important questions for governance effectiveness and development outcomes in rural Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, the institution that governs land in rural areas is customary law. These are undocumented informal laws that vary from one locality to the next. In the absence of formal land demarcation, registration and titling, claims and counterclaims over rural land have given rise to considerable disputes over farmland in rural areas in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

As custodians of rural land, paramount chiefs (PC) are key players in preventing and resolving disputes over land. No meaningful land transaction is completed in the chiefdoms without the stamped approval of the PCs. Many analysts have suggested that intergenerational grievance resulting from repressive rule of PCs and the limited access to land for young people formed part of the structural triggers for conflict and made it easier for the insurgency to thrive once the Sierra Leone civil war started. The 2004 political decentralisation reform was partly aimed at remedying this situation, and access to land was a key area of focus. But there are still claims that paramount chiefs have not been impartial arbiters in resolving disputes over land in rural areas.

This study will aim to document the incidence of dispute over rural land at two levels:

  • The Chiefdom level, where the project will collect information on the number of reported cases over land at both the magistrate and local courts in each chiefdom; and
  • The household level data to capture perceived tenure security and the incidence of disputes withing selected chiefdoms.

The research will aim to understand whether or not there are any links between these outcomes and Chiefdom administration, specifically, the Chiefdom Land Committees.