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Research Report

Land investments, accountability and the law:: Lessons from Cameroon

Pierre-Etienne Kenfack
Samuel Nguiffo
Téodyl Nkuintchua
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2016
Pages: 30
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 4-4)

    There have been three main phases of large-scale land acquisitions in Cameroon. The first was during the colonial period, when European companies obtained concessions for huge tracts of land from the German and then the Franco-British colonial authorities (Rudin, 1938; Dongmo, 1978; Ewangue, 2011). The second came in the early years of Independence, when the state invested heavily in large-scale agriculture (Gerber, 2008; Tchawa, 2012). The latest surge began towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

    As the demand for large amounts of land in parts of the country increases, this wave of land acquisitions looks...

  2. (pp. 5-9)

    The legal regime governing land tenure in Cameroon distinguishes between three categories of land:

    Private land, which is titled and registered in the landholder’s name. This includes land in the State’s private domain,¹ and land held by decentralised public authorities and private individuals.²

    Public land, which is held by the state for the benefit of the people of Cameroon. This land, which is inalienable, includes airspace, roads, maritime areas and waterways on public lands.³

    Unregistered land. Most of the land in Cameroon is unregistered, and is classified as national land (“domaine national”).⁴ Most rural areas where local communities live and...

  3. (pp. 10-12)

    As the guardian of national lands, the state is responsible for allocating land in the national domain, which may be occupied or unoccupied, used or not used by local people. This is in line with Ordinance No. 74-2 of 1974 and Decree No. 76-166 of 1976, which determine how land in the national domain should be managed. According to Article 17 of Ordinance No. 74-2, “National lands shall be allocated by grant, lease or assignment according to conditions to be prescribed by decree” (our translation). Decree 76-166 specifies which authorities are responsible for land allocations: the President of the Republic...

  4. (pp. 13-15)

    Limited access to information and opportunities to participate in land allocation processes restricts local people and citizens’ ability to promote accountability when investment projects are implemented. Efforts to ensure that the legislation is respected should pay particular attention to two important aspects of project implementation: risk management and benefit sharing.

    The advisory land committees are supposed to be a key mechanism for risk assessment, and to help reduce the risk of land shortages. Yet we didn’t find a single case of an advisory committee making a negative judgement about a project due to the risk of land shortages when we...

  5. (pp. 16-18)

    What means of recourse are there for communities that have lost out as a result of the state’s decision to assign land to an investor, or because of action taken by a company that is implementing a project on or in the vicinity of their land?

    When communities contest an administrative decision to assign land, their main avenue of recourse is to seek justice in the Court of Administrative Disputes. This is a complicated process as it usually involves a preliminary appeal to the administration (as the author of the disputed act) or to the hierarchical authority, and it can...

  6. (pp. 19-20)

    The financial crisis of 2008 marked a turning point for land investments in many African countries as they intensified their efforts to emulate the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, China and Brazil. In order to do so, much of their attention has focused on large-scale investments in the exploitation of land and natural resources, especially in the Congo Basin.

    Land tenure in Cameroon is still regulated by legislation that was formulated over 40 years ago and was itself inspired by colonial responses to land governance: registration as a mechanism for recognising property rights, and state control over “unappropriated” lands that...