EUDC - on The Land Issue in Eritrea
Ratified at the second congress in February 2015, EUDC views the land issue as follows
The Land Ownership
(i) Land ownership is that of the people. To ensure the continuity and growth of the people, land will not be sold or exchanged. The government will have stewardship of land administration to safeguard the growth and continuity of the people.
(ii) Respect people’s rights to lease out their land and benefit economically.
(iii) When the government takes land from indigenous people for development, the government will have the responsibility to provide the owners with alternative land and/or compensate them fairly.
(iv) All the land owned by the regime will be confiscated and used for the benefit of the people and the nation.
(v) Land taken from people illegally should be returned to the legitimate owners or compensation will be given as deemed appropriate through legal processes.
(vi) The land issue is very sensitive and a body that studies it, in depth, and researches land issues needs to be established.
Housing and Land in the City
(i) Considering the shortage of land in the cities, modern housing developments, should be increased to minimize housing shortages while maintaining public interest as the core priority.
(ii) Encourage local and foreign investors to invest in the planning and development of modern cities.
(iii) The government has the obligation to provide an alternative or appropriate compensation when indigenous people or legal residents are displaced for investment or for the expansion and development of cities.
The land issue in Eritrea is very explosive and some analysts say it is a time bomb waiting to explode when the current regime collapses. The regime’s land policy is based on its infamous and illegal Land Proclamation. No.58/1994. It is illegal and unconstitutional because it was never approved by a parliament and it was decreed in order to control the population. The Eritrean people were never consulted about it and it remains to be one area where abuse of power was carried out in a wide scale.
- Inherited systems of land tenure.
(i) Diesa: land is common property of a village. These were found in the greater part of the highlands of Hamasien, northern and southern Akeleguzai and in parts of Seraye before 1950s until the Italians spread it further. A majority of the villages in the Seraye experienced a land reform to introduce a modified Diesa under the initiatives of the ELF and EPLF. The Ethiopian government under the Derg also introduced some modifications.
(ii) Tsilmi: this describes “ownership” of land by the immediate family or larger kinship group (enda), with rights of use going to individuals through inheritance, but involving no right of sale or other alienation. This system was found in agricultural areas of Senhit and before 1977 in parts of Seraye.
(iii) Quah Mahtse: this describes cases involving the association of a large area with particular local community, members of which are entitled to cultivate any unused plots. This system was found in middle and lowland areas of Akeleguzai and Seraye.
(iv) Domeniale: This is state owned land, designated by the Italian colonists. In the western and eastern lowlands in particular and to a lesser extent in parts of the highlands, large tracts of land were granted as concessions to Italian settlers. This land was deemed officially to be unoccupied, although much of it in fact was under the jurisdiction of one village or another. What this system implied was that land could be privately acquired by clearing and using it, with government approval. This is exactly what the PFDJ regime is doing at present.
- The Land Proclamation of 1994.
The rationale for the Proclamation was to radically transform the country’s land tenure system. After independence, 2 factors demanded the speedy resolution of the land issue:
(i) Demobilization of fighters
(ii) Repatriation and reintegration of over 600,000 refugees in the Sudan.
The new regime claimed that this was an integral part of its overall policy for post-war recovery and reconstruction. After many years it was obvious that the proclamation has to still be implemented except for one or two pilot projects around the capital. It was never thought that its implementation would be too complex and costly, let alone its illegality.
The above mentioned traditional land tenure was made null and void by this proclamation (Article 39). This article also cancels village boundaries due to the decree which says that all land belongs to the state. Article 41 makes village land disputes null.
Sadly the vindication on the unworkability of this proclamation became clear when the Minister of local government (Woldemicael Abraha) gave a series of seminars in October 2015. The regime, after 21 years of issuing this proclamation, is trying to give it life again. He stressed the need to meticulously implement all the provisions of the 1994 Land proclamation. He said “it is the right of every citizen to use land equitably”. He called on all concerned authorities to implement the proclamation. The minister admitted that traditional use of land for agriculture was not productive and indicated that better land distribution is being introduced in villages. He reminded that village land disputes should be solved through mediation.
This shows that the regime is trying to reassert its failed ideology and has incoherent approach to the land issue. How can you talk about village land disputes if you have already declared there are no more boundaries 21 year ago. It is an indication that its idea has been defeated and has no acceptance by the Eritrean people.
The minister was very emphatic in stating that land belongs to the state only and reminded that there will no more be individual ownership of land or inheritance of land from generation to generation. He made it clear that land will be given only to users and one cannot hire land. (Many questions arise from these points. For example, who decides to give the permission to use land?). Anyone who does not use land properly will be disowned. Village land is available only to direct users of the land according to the minister. Those who live outside the village cannot get land use through representatives. Direct users are defined to be villagers who have no other property or livelihood. Farming land does not concern those who have other means of livelihood or reside abroad. (These have serious implications for many Eritreans. For instance, all refugees including those in the Sudan and Ethiopia are automatically landless and cannot claim anything). The minister goes into many details regarding the distribution of land and admits that it was attempted in only 2 places so far-Dibarwa and Serejeqa. (This is another admission of failure of the land issue). He informs that in 2016 a new rule of law will be operating in Eritrea and indicates that the land distribution is different from what the regime attempted before.
The illegal land declaration is a carefully designed mechanism by the EPLF/HGDEF to reward its supporters so that it can cling to power forever. As is well known, its source of foreign currency - the 2% tax and land is used as a bribe to that end. Of course, the land is sold to these illegal and unconstitutional tax payers. Inside Eritrea, you need to do the indefinite national service in order to get any service from the state, including use of land. It is not difficult to see how the regime controls the population and has destroyed the noble tradition. It may sound socialist idea but it equates to the practices of Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. This becomes clear when we remember that there is no concern or dignity for human life in Eritrea.
- Opposition to the Land Proclamation.
The Eritrean people have consistently shown their opposition to this decree individually and organizationally. EUDC has made it clear in its manifesto that all unfairly grabbed lands have to be returned to their righteous owners. This would also include the unjust legacy of the Italian rule that unfairly declared large tracts of the lowlands as “Domeniale”, presumed as no man’s land. This unjust legacy has also given the PFDJ relatively a smooth ride and use it for its own selfish and totalitarian aims. The fact that the original population were forced to flee during the liberation war, PFDJ falsely claimed that they have willingly chosen not to go back, and preferred to remain permanently settled in the areas of their asylum. The opposition from Adi Abeyto and other villagers to the policy is well documented and they paid high price for it. The issue of compensation for land joined to the cities is another contentious issue, where the regime did not pay a penny for taking villagers land and sold it to its Diaspora supporters for dollars – not only once but twice or three times for the same land. All villages joined to the cities, in particular Asmara, are victims of the inhuman land grabbing policy of PFDJ.
- What next?
The land issue as tackled by the PFDJ has disastrously failed and is a burning issue. The regime has to be removed and a new thinking with the full participation of the people has to start to address the land issue. So much has been messed up and it is going to be very complicated matter to handle.
In its manifesto the Eritrean Unity for Democratic Change has this to say about the land issue:
5. The Land Ownership
Land ownership is that of the people. To ensure the continuity and growth of the people, land will not be sold or exchanged. The government will have stewardship of land administration to safeguard the growth and continuity of the people.
(i) Respect people’s rights to lease out their land and benefit economically.
(ii) When the government takes land from indigenous people for development, the government will have the responsibility to provide the owners with alternative land and/or compensate them fairly.
(iii) All the land owned by the regime will be confiscated and used for the benefit of the people and the nation.
(iv) Land taken from people illegally should be returned to the legitimate owners or compensation will be given as deemed appropriate through legal processes.
(v) The land issue is very sensitive and a body that studies it, in depth, and researches land issues needs to be established.
- Housing and Land in the City
Considering the shortage of land in the cities, modern housing developments, should be increased to minimize housing shortages while maintaining public interest as the core priority.
(i) Encourage local and foreign investors to invest in the planning and development of modern cities.
The government has the obligation to provide an alternative or appropriate compensation when indigenous people or legal residents are displaced for investment or for the expansion and development of cities