Namibia moves towards land expropriation.

Author:Berti, Giorgio

Land reform is a pressing issue in Namibia. President Hage Geingob has called for expropriation without compensation, a move that many landowners oppose.

With the 2019 election drawing closer, Namibia held its second nationwide conference dedicated to land reform, an issue which remains at the forefront of Namibian politics. Held in Windhoek in early October, the conference concluded with a controversial call to revise the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.

Supporters of such a move, led by President Hage Geingob, view expropriation without compensation as a chance to finally correct the injustice of land dispossession under apartheid and colonial rule by offering ownership, stability and employment to historically marginalised Namibians.

"The willing buyer, willing seller principle has not delivered results. Careful consideration should be given to expropriation," argued Geingob at the conference.

Yet critics question the legality of such a move, pointing to a potential negative economic impact and uncertainty around the ability of government to successfully implement reform.

The political stakes are high. The SWAPO government has held power in Namibia since independence in 1990, but has been criticised for failing to tackle land inequality. In 1992 the government planned to transfer 43% of arable land, amounting to 15m hectares, to previously disadvantaged groups. However, only 27% of the original target has been transferred. As a result, expropriation is being seen as a means to accelerate the process.

Schemes fail to deliver

Originally, the government embarked on two forms of land reform both of which were based on the "willing seller, willing buyer" principal. The first, the National Resettlement Programme, saw the government distribute 3m hectares of land. The second, the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, offered subsidised loans to Namibians to acquire commercial farmland as a freehold. Both schemes failed to result in sweeping reform, in part because many farmers were reluctant to sell and "willing buyer willing seller" allowed them to set high prices.

According to the government, in October 2018, white farmers still own around 70% of freehold land in Namibia, with previously disadvantaged people holding 16%. Currently, freehold land represents 48% of Namibian arable farmland, with 35% being communally owned and the remaining 17% owned directly by the state. Many impoverished freeholders lack title deeds to...

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