Land registration in Cameroon: prospects and challenges
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Generally, before colonialism touched Africa, the notion of individual land tenure or land registration was alien. Despite the fact that many people own land today, very few have title to those lands or have embarked on any form of registration.
A vast majority of those who own or purchase land usually brandish sale/transfer agreements or Deeds of Conveyance as proof of title. Generally, this study seeks to assess the procedure for registering land in Cameroon. Specifically, the study will critically assess the legal and institutional framework of land registration in Cameroon; examine the procedure for establishing a land certificate in Cameroon. And to assess the challenges in registering land in Cameroon, the study will also explore the effectiveness of measures put in place to tackle the challenges. The researcher decided to use a quantitative research method that involves content analysis of data.
From a long time past, the land has always been a source of economic and political power; it has equally been at the centre of many ethnic conflicts as well as the one of the reasons behind tensions between the natives and their colonial masters during the era of colonization. The prime advantage of land registration over unregistered landed property is security of title to wit; land registration clearly accords full and final title to the land owner. This means that, a land certificate is a full guarantee to the title over the land.
This chapter is going to introduce the historical evolution of land registration in Cameroon through the background of the study, raise problems in the research in the statement of the problem which will unravel research questions and objectives using a particular methodology. This chapter is also going to review literature and equally highlight the gaps in the literature used in the research and also provide justifications, significance and scope for the study while looking at the limitations of the study, define key terms and end with the synopsis of chapters.
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The territory Cameroon did not exist till the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 19th Century, who named the country rio dos cameroes (River of Prawns) from which the country had its name. However, the territory only became a colony upon the signatory of the Germano-Duala Treaty in 1884 and since then, the territory has had a triple colonial experience. In this light, the historical evolution of land tenure in Cameroon is not very different from the changes in colonial masters and policies. The historical origin and evolution of land tenure in Cameroon can be sub divided into three parts to wit; land tenure prior to colonization, during (German, British and French rule) and post-colonial era.
Generally, before colonialism touched Africa, the notion of individual land tenure or land registration was alien. Africans held land to be scared and did not attach much value to land. They regarded land air and water which they could use freely without restriction or alienation, the land belonged to the community, a family, a village and never to an individual; per the purports of Viscount Haldane’s dictum in the case of Amodu Tijani v. Secretary of Southern Nigeria. These lands were held on behalf of the people by the chief or family head who for the lack of a better word acted as some form of a trustee over the lands.
The chief or family head was a mere custodian of the land and not owner as the case Omagbemi v. Numa suggests. In essence, though some form of customary land tenure exists prior to colonization, the notion of individual land tenure is a complete novelty to the traditional African context. Notwithstanding, despite the fact that there was no defined form of land tenure in Cameroon before colonization, obtaining land through wars and by the first settlers were the earliest forms of obtaining land. The evolution of land tenure in Cameroon during colonial era revolved around 3 countries; Germany, Britain and France.
To begin, the Germans were the first to colonize the territory. After colonization they were in no hurry to establish an immediate system of land tenure, rather they focused on first acquiring as much land as they could get from the natives for little or nothing as price. Once they had acquired enough land for settlement and trade, they needed even more for plantation agriculture; at that juncture, they saw a need to enact a comprehensive land law in Cameroon. Land tenure under German reign was governed by the Kronland Act of 1896.
The primary aim of this act was to transfer land controlled by the indigenes through their chiefs to the German government, to wit, German rule. This was a mild way of expropriating native land with little resistance. In a bid to further to legitimize the expropriation of native land, the Germans came up the concept of “herrenloss lands” stated in Article 1 of the Kronland Act.
This concept was to the effect that, all lands apart of those occupied by the chiefs or the communities or those which formed property were declared terra nullus or herrenloss (Land without masters) and as such lands belonged to the crown (German Government). The German land tenure in Cameroon was guided by 2 main aims. First to dispose the indigenes from the native land and expropriate same for plantation agriculture and to resettle them in reserves called reservats to obtain get cheap labor for their plantations.
Further to the already existing land regulations under German rule, they introduced the first form of land registration in Cameroon, all land were registered in the ‘Grundbuch’ which was some form of a land register. Despite the developments made, the German colonial policy generated numerous land conflicts between themselves and the indigenes. A clear example is the Bakweri people who have succeeded in a claim against the state for the restoration of the native land expropriated by the Germans during colonial rule for plantation agriculture. The government has responded to this claim by granting re-allocating land to these communities in the form of new layouts.
In another development, the evolution of land tenure in Cameroon continued under the British reign. The British administered her own part of Cameroon as an integral part of Nigeria, thus the system of land tenure in British Southern Cameroon followed that which was applied in Nigeria to wit; the Land and Native Right Ordinance No. 1, 1916 and Ordinance No.1 of 1927. Despite the fact that, the Trusteeship Agreement required that all laws on the transfer of land and natural resources to take into consideration native laws and custom and should only be transferred with the consent of competent authority, The British used indirect rule to control ownership of land without any resistance by ruling the indigenes through their chiefs.
The British declared that all lands as native lands and placed them under the control of the Governor who administered the land for the common interest of the natives, who in real fact were reduced to mere users of the land. The Governor was to be notified for all transactions in land either between indigenes or between them and foreigners.
Upon notification, the Governor issued a certificate of occupancy which was treated as some form of title to land. Thus no occupation and use of land were valid without the consent of the Governor. In 1922 the British enacted the land registration ordinance to consolidate and amend laws related to land registration. In all, though the British made a significant contribution in the development and evolution of land tenure in Cameroon by introducing a system of individual ownership of land and a land registration system, their policies greatly altered customary land law and hindered the indigenes from owning and having access to their land freely.
Cameroon’s land policy under French Cameroon (1916-1960) The French unlike the British applied a system of direct rule which gave them the leeway to directly export and apply their legislation in Cameroon. They generally differentiated between laws that applied to the indigenes known as ‘droit indigenat’ and those which applied to the educated and assimilated Cameroonians referred to as ‘droit assimile’. However, when it came to matters on land, such distinction did not exist with the French applying a uniform system of land tenure.
The French adopted a system of granting land by concession whereupon an application for grant of such land, the government will grant the land to an individual for a particular purpose stated in the ‘cahier de charge’ which literally translates to a record book. The individual was obliged to adhere to the purpose of the land as stated in the ‘cahier de charges’ and once the purpose was fulfilled, the grantee could apply for the conversion of the land to freehold. In 1932, the French enacted two decrees, the first being for the collective recording of land rights by corporate bodies with no document of title and the second pertaining to the registration of individual land rights.
These rights were registered in ‘livre foncier’ issued 3 months after a meeting with the ‘prefer’ (District Officer). Though the ‘livre foncier’ gave some form of insurance and security of title over land, holders of such land rights could only sell with the consent of the administration. Further, in 1938, the French administration divided all lands into 3 holdings: native lands, lands under German titles and ‘terre vaccante’ (vacant land). All lands which were not occupied under German title were considered as vacant lands. The French aptly described these lands in the following words; ‘terre vaccante et sans maître appartenent au territoire’ which translates to, vacant lands without masters/owners belong the territory.
The territory referred to in this statement did not refer to the indigenous territory but rather, the greater French territory since the French considered their overseas territories as an integral part of France usually referred to as ‘franced’utre mere’. The concept of ‘terre vaccante’ was more or less a reincarnation of the German concept of ‘herrenloss land’. This policy was not greeted with much euphoria by the indigenes who considered it unjust and unacceptable, and as independence drew nearer, land became highly political. In an attempt to swing support in their favor, the French enacted the decree of 1959 to re-establish customary land tenure. Article 3 of that decree placed all lands except private property under customary land tenure.
During the post-colonial era, land tenure in Cameroon still followed the blueprints of some aspect of colonial land registration, The British system of land tenure was applied in West Cameroon as it then was while the French system continued to apply in East Cameroon. However, with the emergence of a new state, there was an urgent need to control land which had been placed under customary care by the colonialist before their departure. In a bid for the government to consolidate all lands, they introduced to the concept ‘la patrimonie collective nationale’ or better still national law under the 1963 decree. This was more or less a continuous reflection of the concept of ‘terre vaccante´ under the French reign and ‘herrenloss land’ under German rule. The 1963 law identified 4 major types of land to wit; national land, state land, land under customary tenancy and land covered by the land certificate. In addition, another decree was passed in 1966 in East Cameroon stressing the need for ‘la mise en valeur des terres’ (evaluation of land)before anyone could obtain a land certificate. Notwithstanding, land tenure in both parts of the territory were eventually harmonized in 1974 with the enactment of the 1974 Land Ordinance. Other subsequent ordinances, decrees, orders and circulars were passed between 1972 and 2011 to form a compendium of laws governing land tenure, registration, state land, national land, state property et cetera.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Land today is a key asset in every stratum of our society. However, despite the fact that many people own land today, very few have title to those lands or have embarked on any form of registration. A vast majority of those who own or purchase land usually brandish sale/transfer agreements or Deeds of Conveyance as proof of title. But even these are not conclusive titles of ownership because while they might suffice to justify an interest in land, they are inadequate to justify absolute ownership. The lack of a conclusive and final title to land is usually at the centre of many land disputes among Cameroonians. Hence the importance of land registration cannot be overemphasized neither can the problems caused by its absence underestimated.
Further, despite the presence of the 1974 ordinance on land tenure in Cameroon and more specifically the 1976 decree establishing the condition for obtaining land certificates, the procedure for land registration still remains complex and unnecessarily lengthy in some cases and not many are familiar with the procedure. The complex nature of the procedure coupled with a lack of mastery probably accounts for the disproportionate rate of lack registration to land acquisition in the country which is in itself problematic.
1.3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
This study seeks to address the main research question and other specific questions.
1.3.1 Main Research Question
What is the procedure for land registration in Cameroon?
1.3.2 Specific Research Questions
- Are there any legal and institutional frameworks for land registration in Cameroon?
- What are the challenges associated with registering land in Cameroon?
- What measures have been put in place to place to surpass those challenges?
- What is the way forward with regards to land registration in Cameroon?
1.4 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
This study has general and specific objectives which it set outs to achieve.
1.4.1 General Objective
The overall objective of this research assess the procedure for registering land in Cameroon
1.4.2 Specific Objective
- To critically assess the legal and institutional framework of land registration in Cameroon.
- To examine the procedure for establishing a land certificate in Cameroon.
- To assess the challenges in registering land in Cameroon.
- To explore the effectiveness of measures put in place to tackle the challenges.
- To make policy recommendations on issues relating to land registration in Cameroon.