Ever since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, the country has struggled to gain control over land allocation.
The abundance of land is extremely important to the South Sudanese because it is a significant resource for sustenance, with citizens relying heavily on agriculture and freshwater for their daily meals. It is also a source of income for many who are unable to travel within towns for industrial jobs.
Problems with land rights came after South Sudan became independent following two civil wars that led to a pause in land development and infrastructure. Violent conflict also caused many to disperse to areas with safer shelter, leaving land unsettled after the wars.
Unsettled land, however, does not mean unclaimed land.
Disputes over land ownership have extended the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. Unsettled lands have been subject to several customary claims from Sudanese citizens. Conflict over property has led to physical violence and increased destruction of infrastructure.
Years after the war, many South Sudanese people are being displaced from their homes. Economic opportunities are limited because of poor transport infrastructure in which people cannot easily travel between towns. Land plays a key role in the overall stability of the country, and contributed greatly to its success as an independent nation.
Last month, politicians in South Sudan and the United Nations came together to discuss new legislation that aim to resolve the country’s land rights issues. Government representatives and land commissioners proposed a revised National Land Policy, which if implemented, will encourage transparent access to land, support for displaced citizens, and peaceful means for resolving land conflict. Another significant feature included in the policy is the improvement of women’s land rights.
This conversation stems after a similar workshop amongst South Sudanese land commissioners in May that revealed that resolving land conflicts would only be possible if the government considered more inclusive approaches. Specifically, the policy would enhance women’s access to land as unmarried people. It would also promote the inclusion of more women in authoritative roles –– allowing them to make decisions concerning the gendered effects of land governance.
This legislation is progressive in comparison to other African countries. The proposed National Land Policy recognizes women’s rights to own and inherit land and property without a man’s binding. The Constitution also orders the government to enact laws that combat biased traditions, which cripple the autonomy of women.
South Sudan is part of the International Land Coalition –– a global alliance that works to “put people in the center of land governance.” A specific goal of this alliance is to protect and meet the needs of land residents, prioritizing women and children.