Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Grappling with Land Reform In Pastoral Namibia

Research reports

It is often asserted in Namibia that the war of independence was fought over land. More than half of the agriculturally usable land in the country is occupied by some 4,200 commercial farmers, mainly white; the rest provides a home and, in varying degrees, a source of subsistence for about 120,000 black rural households.

Today, about 44 per cent of the country is freehold land, occupied by surveyed and fenced commercial farms. The remaining 43 per cent is communal land, most of it unsurveyed and unfenced, lying mainly in the north of Namibia. About 13 per cent of Namibia is state land, unsuitable for agriculture and designated as desert. It is mainly in the west of the country, much of it leased for diamond mining or set aside as national park (NEPRU 1991a).

When Namibia came to independence in 1990, the SWAPO government announced its intention to `transfer some of the land from those with too much of it to the landless majority'. Who should lose land and who should gain it, how the land should be utilised and conserved, what this transfer would cost in terms of land prices, lost taxes and export earnings and the resettlement and servicing of small farmers, were not at that stage considered. In the political euphoria of the post-independence period, the sobering experience of neighbouring Zimbabwe and Botswana with pastoral settlement and development schemes was not fully taken into account.

As the government began to consider the practicalities of land reform, it became evident that a great deal of information and consultation was required before policy could be formulated and a programme of land transfer could be initiated. Research into a wide range of land related issues was therefore started in late 1990 under the aegis of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) and the findings and recommendations were made available to the National Land Reform Conference held in Windhoek, in June 1991.

At the time of writing (September 1991), it is still too early to comment on the implementation of land reform in Namibia, as it has not yet begun in earnest. Land policy has yet to be detailed and ratified, the institutions for implementing land reform and settlement programmes have to be appointed and in some cases created de novo, and large sums of money have to be found. This paper is therefore addressed, as its title implies, to the process of grappling with the issues of land reform in a largely pastoral setting, in preparation for what is already perceived to be a long and difficult process of implementation.

Martin E Adams and Paul Devitt