Northern Bahr el Ghazal state allocates land to 900 returnees and issues first ownership certificates

28 May 2012

imagecertifying the land certificates (left); First returnees accepting his land certificate from Hon Paul Malong Awan, Governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal

On Thursday 24 May 2012, the Honourable Paul Malong Awan, Governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State announced the allocation and transfer of land to over 900 returnees, and presided over a ceremony to present the first land ownership certificates to the returnees, as part of a programme jointly supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). 

A high number of returnees have returned to settle in South Sudan, particularly in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap states.  Initially, it was expected that the majority of returnees would settle in rural areas, while a few would remain in urban locations.  However, over 80 percent of returnees have settled in urban areas.  Thus, towns with little urban planning grew rapidly, stressing the already weak public utilities and running the risk of overcrowding.  Moreover, it complicated land management for state. 

To assist the states in addressing these challenges, UNDP together with USAID and other development partners, supported the Government in designing a land management plan, acquiring basic training and equipment to support urban planning, and developing a land registry database to manage the land titling process. 

UNDP deployed specialists in urban planning and civil engineering, through the Rapid Capacity Placement Initiative (RCPI), to work side-by-side with Government to help returnees access land and reintegrate into communities.   As a result, 9,874 plots were surveyed and demarcated in Aweil town.  The residential plots have an average size of 600m², with a provision for public utilities and community facilities.  The first 900 of these plots have been allocated to returnees through a lottery process.

In addition to presenting the returnees with certificates to their land, the State Ministry of Physical Infrastructure demonstrated how the new land database system functions.  These plots are surveyed using GPS and an advanced land registry systems that manages the titling process, tracks the plots, and produces land certificates which clearly delineates ownership.  Although helpful from an urban planning perspective, the clear legal ownership of land also provides benefits for returnees in terms of their social and economic well being. . 

“With a formal deed that is traceable, people have the confidence to develop and invest in their land, as they know it cannot be taken away” said George Conway, Country Director, a.i..  Moreover, ownership of land can also be used as collateral for securing loans at a bank or microfinance institutions, which helps empower people to unleash their economic potential and transform their communities. 

Land tenure positively influences social equity and agricultural productivity.  Secure access, use, and control of land, whether through traditional systems or legal means, is essential to protecting women and vulnerable groups from injustice related to arbitrary management of land.  Women and poor people are most at risk of forfeiting their land rights. 

The Honourable Ronald Ruay Deng, State Minister of Finance for Northern Bahr el Ghazal stated “With the help of USAID and UNDP, we have made great progress.  Land is key and management of land is key to our state’s development.”