Things haven’t always been so peaceful in this rural area of Kasaï-Central province, however. In 2019, Emile’s village fought a brutal conflict with neighbouring Bushila village. Many lives were lost.
Fighting over land
Emile explains: “The cause of the conflict which caused us to hurt each other so badly was a disagreement over which village had the right to use the surrounding forests and savannas.”
Alphonse Kabasele Bushila is chief of Bushila village. He recalls the devastating impact of the violence.
“Because of the fighting, children went hungry and didn’t go to school,” he says. “We had to start again from zero because we had lost everything we had before. During the war they destroyed our goods and crops and we destroyed theirs. Lots of lives were lost.”
Disputes over the use of land are at the heart of many violent conflicts in Kasaï-Central. From small-scale scuffles between neighbours over field boundaries, to large-scale clashes over which village can farm or exploit certain lands, these conflicts are often bloody and result in loss of life.
The underlying causes of these disputes are many and complex. One factor in the recurrence of the disputes is the lack of accurate maps clearly outlining the borders of villages in rural areas. Instead, traditional authorities and village chiefs agree on natural borders to their lands. Problems often arise when these traditional arrangements are challenged.
A legal solution to a practical problem
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) legal assistance team in Kasaï-Central aims to find lasting solutions to land disputes such as these.
We knew that to achieve this, we would need to work with lawmakers to tackle the problem at its root. So, we invited provincial parliamentarians to participate in a workshop with other local leaders and traditional authorities.
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At the end of the workshop, Bob Kayombo Nyoka and Stephane Muanda Malombo, both members of the Kasaï-Central provincial parliament, committed to introduce an “edict” to the parliament. Among other things, this edict would help to properly demarcate the borders of rural areas – filling a legal gap in the province until the land laws could be reformed at the national level.
Consulting the community
Working with NRC’s legal experts, Nyoka and Malombo took up the challenge of drafting the text of the edict. We helped them to consult with community members and thought leaders so that as many people as possible could provide their input to the text.
“We really wanted this edict to be drafted in a consultative manner, so we spoke to many stakeholders – including experts such as jurists and university professors. All of their feedback was reflected in the final version of our edict,” explains Malombo.
The edict was to be presented to parliament on 21 December 2020; however, competing priorities caused this to be postponed. A vote on the edict is nevertheless expected at some point this year.
“Even though this edict is not going to eliminate all of the problems related to land disputes, we are sure that it will go far in reducing the occurrence of such conflicts,” says Nyoka.
Making peace with the neighbours
While these efforts to prevent future disputes are ongoing, our team is simultaneously working to defuse ongoing disputes. We are doing this by organising workshops with local leaders to help people resolve land disputes peacefully.
Alphonse Kabasele Bushila and Emile Ndibu both attended one of these workshops. As a result, their villages managed to negotiate an agreement over the use of the surrounding forest.
“After NRC’s workshop, we came up with an arrangement regarding the forests we were disputing. We agreed on how to divide the land and said that we would exploit the right side and they the left,” explains Alphonse.
Both parties are happy with the outcome.
“Today we are at peace with our neighbours,” says Emile. “Our sons have married their daughters and our daughters have married their sons. We have no quarrel with them at all.”
We hope that these workshops, combined with the edict and subsequent legal reforms, will make violent land disputes a thing of the past in Kasaï-Central.