JOWHAR, 2 August (IRIN) - Even as Somalia tries to lift itself out of the devastation caused by nearly a-decade-and-a-half of civil war, fears abound that land disputes will erupt when the interim government becomes fully operational, threatening the country's stability once more.
In an interview with IRIN at the temporary seat of government in Jowhar, 90 km north of the capital, Mogadishu, the Minister of Land and Settlement, Mowlid Mani Mohamed, said plans were being drawn up to address questions of land ownership. Below are excerpts from the interview:
QUESTION: What is the first issue your ministry plans to tackle in Somalia?
ANSWER: The first issue is how to negotiate between those who are completely landless, because there are a lot of land disputes in Somalia after 15 years of catastrophe. There are people who looted plans [and] people who openly snatched land from other people. The biggest problem we shall face is how to solve the problem of land disputes.
Q. How do you plan to go about this?
A. We cannot absolutely force the people to give up the occupied land seized by gunmen. The solution is to use the traditional method to convince the person and to use traditional leaders to tell the occupier that he must leave the land. We cannot force them or use guns to get them to leave occupied land. We want to use our own traditional methods to vacate the land occupied by gunmen in Somalia.
Q. It sounds like a daunting task. Do you have records of titles to help you define who owns what?
A. We do, because all lands issued before the civil war broke out were recorded by the local government - in Mogadishu and every local government, in every village and city. All those records are still available, we can get them.
After the civil war [broke out], no one could issue permits or authorisation for owning a plot of land. So we will use the old records because these are the only legal documents that one can use to prove that the land is his. Some people have been known to issue fake documents, but luckily, Somalis known each other, nobody can fool us into pretending they own land they really don't.
Q. Your ministry is now established in Jowhar?
A. The ministry is not established in Jowhar. We are going to Mogadishu, since Mogadishu is the capital city of Somalia. We are moving as soon as the problem [of insecurity] there is solved, which is what we are working on now. As soon as Mogadishu is secure we will have, in all regions, representatives of the Ministry of Lands and Settlements who can respond to the demands of the people in the regions.
Q. Is there a role for Somali civil society to play in this task ?
A. The traditional leaders are part of the civil society, and we want to use these traditional leaders to solve the problem of land disputes; and there are other civil society members who must play their role. Because we cannot say that the Ministry of Lands and Settlements has an armed group who can enforce our decisions. We want to use the civil society and its traditional methods of resolving problems of the people in their area.
Q. What is the traditional Somali way of solving disputes?
A. Our traditional way of solving problems is according to our religion - we put every party on oath. They have to swear that the land is theirs, and the adverse party will not contest this, because we respect our religion very much, and people are afraid of lying in such conditions. We put the party's hand on the holy Quran, and we ask him to swear. If he is not the owner of the land, he will refrain from taking the oath. Then we deliver the sentence that gives back the land to its rightful owner. Before taking the oath, we always try to convince the person that the land is not his - if he insists, we show him the legal documents of the rightful owner.
Q. What role do you envisage the international community playing in solving land disputes in Somalia?
A. We need the international community, because we want them to give us experts and personalities who are well qualified in land-mapping to draw technical surveys of Somalia.
Q. Do you foresee any change in legislation regarding lands and settlements?
A. We foresee a change in the legislation because the previous system was the one left by the colonialists. We have to invent a new method of issuing and registering the land.
Q. So there will be some form of land reform?
A. Exactly, we will have land reform in the future.
Q. Can you give the broad features of this reform?
A. For the time being we have not established them yet, but we are in the process of drafting it with engineers, experts and people who are qualified in this area, and who will assist the ministry.
Q. Any last comments?
A. I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the international community and the friendly countries that helped Somalia to restore peace and stability. Without the international community, we couldn't have reached the agreement we signed in Kenya, which established a government of national unity in Somalia.
The same gratitude goes to the government of Kenya, for hosting the recently ended Somali national reconciliation conference, and members of IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, comprising Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda] who also played an important role during the reconciliation process.
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