Land tenure has been a continuously contested issue in Mozambique throughout history. This is one of the reasons why Mozambique’s constitution, land law, and national regulations provide an important opportunity for local communities to undertake the self-documentation of their land rights. Mozambique has some of the best policies and legal frameworks for land tenure on the African continent.
Mozambique has suffered land tenure conflicts since before the colonial era and these endured even after its independence. From the 5th century CE, Mozambique was colonised by the Bantu people who were farmers originating in Cameroon and Nigeria that expanded across the continent 2000 years ago, displacing and replacing Indigenous Peoples. The Bantu established agricultural and pastoral communities in new territories, such as Mozambique, which was formerly inhabited by San hunter-gatherers.
From the 10th century, Arabs began to settle in parts of Mozambique and took control of the coastal areas. From 1440 Mozambique was part of the empire of the Kingdom of Mutapa which conquered surrounding kingdoms and established their capital in the north of the present province of Manica.
Then, in the late 15th century, the process of European colonisation began in 1498, when Vasco de Gama landed on the coast. At this time, Mozambique was still controlled by the Mutapa dynasty and a large amount of the coast was controlled by Arabs. Da Gama was attacked and forced to flee but other Europeans arrived later which led to nearly five centuries of Portuguese rule.
Initially the Portuguese collaborated with Arabs to dominate the coastal areas. But they began to penetrate the gold and ivory rich African interior in the mid 16th century. land in the interior was eventually divided into large agricultural estates run mostly by Europeans but the Portuguese did not gain control of the interior provinces until 1632. However, Changamire, the chief of the Rowzi people, was able to lead a rebellion and expel the Portuguese from most of the highland regions in 1693.
As the global demand for slaves grew in the 18th century, bandits and slave raids became more common and Indigenous Peoples were captured and sold to Europeans and Arabs in the coastal areas before being exported. By 1800, Mozambique was a major global slave-trading centre and it remained the most lucrative trade in the region until as late as the 1870s.
In 1964, The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) started the independence guerrilla war to try to force the Portuguese government to accept the independence of its colonies. The National Liberation Armed Struggle was officially launched on 25th September 1964. Later on, the country achieved its independence on June 25, 1975.
Finally, in 1990, Mozambique adopted a new constitution that allowed for a multi-party system, and the country’s name was changed from “People’s Republic of Mozambique” to “Republic of Mozambique”. Even though things advanced for Mozambique after their independence, there was still conflict. Just two years after the decade-long war for independence, the country fell into an intense civil war that lasted 16 years. Many people were forced to flee to neighbouring countries. This displacement further contributed to land tenure issues in Mozambique. Once the General Peace Agreement was signed in 1992, the country faced high competition for land, which quickly escalated.
Since then, Mozambique has built a strong legal framework to support land tenure within the country. Some of the most relevant laws and policies in Mozambique that support ORAM-Nampula’s program are, for example, Article 109 of the Constitution (Government of Mozambique, 2007), ownership of all land in Mozambique is vested with the State, but use rights are granted to Mozambican citizens and the National Land Policy (Government of Mozambique, 1995), which aims to protect Mozambican people’s land rights while promoting investment and ensuring sustainable and equitable use of natural resources for all.
Under Article 109 of the Constitution (Government of Mozambique, 2007), these three types of land tenure are decreed:
-Occupation of land by a community governed under customary law (a customary DUAT);
-Occupation of land for an uninterrupted period of 10 years, as if the occupier were the owner (so-called ‘good faith’ occupation);
-Allocation of a 50–year lease by the State to a private investor, after consultation with the affected local community (granted DUATs).
Despite the good policies and legal frameworks in Mozambique, most rural farmers are unable to obtain documentation that proves the existence of their land rights and their rights to use their land as it is embedded in the law. This has great relevance in a country for which agriculture constitutes circa 25 per cent of General Domestic Product (GDP).
One of the main aspects of this program is governing land laws and forest use that recognise customary rights held by communities and their members. This is not only important for the sake of the environment but for political stability and democracy which, since 1992, have been slowly deteriorating once more.
For the full story of land and forest rights in Mozambique go to the Timeline.
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