Protecting Community Lands and Resources: Evidence from Mozambique [Executive Summary]

As Mozambique’s economy grows, it is more important than ever to support communities to delimit their lands and take empowered action to enter into negotiations with potential investors. Yet since the passage of the Lei de Terra in 1997, only a few hundred communities across Mozambique have been delimited. Starting in 2009, Namati and CTV investigated how to facilitate community land delimitation processes more efficiently. Our findings identified a potentially high-impact solution: by teaching communities to undertake the delimitation process on their own – led by trained local paralegals and supervised by a legal and technical field team – government actors and land rights advocates can support the delimitation efforts of many more communities. This low-cost and community-driven approach allows one regional technical team to support and supervise multiple communities’ efforts simultaneously, opening the door for community land delimitation at scale.

Based on this finding, CTV and Namati now employ dozens of locally-based paralegals to lead communities through the delimitation process. These trained and supervised paralegals, or ‘Community Mobilizers,’ convene and facilitate community meetings, answer questions about land tenure rights in Mozambique, and support their communities to complete each aspect of the delimitation process.

The study described in this report provides crucial insight into how to improve NGO and government facilitation of community land delimitation processes. The data clearly indicate that delimitation efforts that end merely with a certificate and a map may do an injustice to communities; it is necessary to go beyond technical delimitation to ensure that communities have the tools to create, plan for and actualize their own vision of a prosperous future. It is critical to frame community land delimitation efforts as a comprehensive package of work that combines mapping and delimitation with improving governance and safeguarding the land rights of women and other vulnerable groups. To ensure that community members are equipped to enter into authentic consultations and fair negotiations with investors, the delimitation process must also promote legal literacy and empowerment, and include steps designed to ensure good governance of community lands and natural resources.

To this end, CTV and Namati now pair on-going legal education with a multi-step community rule-drafting process, in which communities list their customary rules, amend them as necessary to ensure that they do not contravene the Mozambican Constitution, and then formally adopt them as local ‘by-laws’ for the management of land and natural resources. Drafted by communities, these by-laws help to hold community leaders downwardly accountable, ensure that women’s land rights are protected, and support local sustainable management of natural resources.

As part of this same study, data from Uganda and Liberia illustrate how integrated, comprehensive community land delimitation efforts have the potential to foster profound changes that go far beyond documentation. Since adding a governance component to our work in Mozambique, we have observed the same remarkable changes: communities are debating local rules for the first time in living memory, then revising them to align their community norms and practices with national and human rights law.

In the long run, however, community-driven land delimitation processes cannot succeed without the commitment and support of the Government of Mozambique. To this end, CTV and Namati work closely with district and provincial governments throughout the delimitation process and at specific points in the by-laws drafting process. We ask that governments not only recognize communities’ by-laws, but also assist with their implementation and enforcement. Government officials could also: help to defend communities against elite encroachment or bad faith appropriation of customary lands; act as a check against abuses of power by corrupt community leaders; enforce investor fulfillment of benefits promised in return for the use of community lands; and enforce the land rights of women and other vulnerable groups.

The findings described in this publication provide an excellent foundation for stronger, smarter efforts to protect community land rights and improve local land governance. We now understand the risks of delimitation in isolation, and have broadened our intervention to ensure a comprehensive strategy that has the potential to support rural communities throughout Mozambique to claim their land rights, establish accountable governance, and shape their own future development and prosperity.