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Centre of African Studies: Research


Realising Justice? Land Reform in Southern Africa

The project consists of a series of workshops, research and training, addressing the critical issues of land rights and reform in southern Africa. A collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh, Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe, the project aims to examine the impact of land tenure systems and the effects of land reform on livelihoods. The project is led by Anne Griffiths from Edinburgh’s School of Law and Faustin Kalabamu from the University of Botswana, with Gerhard Anders from the Centre of African Studies. The first workshop took place in June 2015 at the University of Botswana in Gaborone and the project is funded by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.

A Second Workshop in Year 2 was held in Edinburgh on 16 May 2016 on the theme, Realising Justice? Negotiating Land Reform in Southern Africa: Engaging with Global Perspectives.  This brought together an interdisciplinary team of international lawyers and humanities scholars working on the Professor of Global Environment, Professor Morgera’s Benelex Research project. They presented during the first part of the workshop on Realising Justice through International Law; Concept of Fair and Equitable Benefit Sharing? Along with a panel on Opportunities and Challenges for Realizing Justice in Relation to Land through International Law. The framework of international law and its role in relation to land was then contextualized in the context of case studies on the ground from Botswana and Zimbabwe on the theme Opportunities and Challenges in Dealing with Land Reform in Southern Africa. The workshop discussed global challenges facing land reform and how these play out in regional, national and local contexts, integrating both theoreticl and empirical perspectives on law.

The colleagues from Botswana and Zimbabwe, Professor Kalambamu and Professor Stewart.  who were visiting Edinburgh for the week, also visited Bridgend Farm (18th May) to experience first hand a new Scottish Land Tenure initiative. This is aimed at enabling communities in Edinburgh to  buy land collectively to provide their local members with educational, training and employment opportunities. They also participated in the Governance Forum on Land Reform organized by the Scotland-Malawi Partnership (SMP) in Edinburgh City Chambers on the 19th May. The Governance Forum was followed by a public meeting that where governance attendees had the opportunity to mix with the broader public in exchanging ideas about projects linking Scotland with Malawi and other African countries.

Anne Griffiths visited Botswana as part of the BA grant to collaborate with colleagues in law, civil engineering, architecture and town planning and History. As part of the visit she helped organize and run a workshop with her colleagues for the Ministry of Lands and Housing on 6 October 2017. This was on The New Botswana Land Policy: Current Challenges and Future Opportunities and was aimed at discussing the National Land Policy that was approved by Parliament in 2015.

This subject matter also formed a round table workshop for the public that was hosted by the Botswana Society and the Department of History at the University of Botswana on 8 November 2017.

Launch, University of Botswana, June 2015

Why examine land reform now?

Contestations over access to and use of land have recently gained considerable urgency in southern Africa. As such, land reform is firmly on the agenda in accord with international, regional and national debates on economic, social, ecological/environmental planning, development and sustainability. A key resource for livelihoods at the local level, land has generated much deliberation in the broader context of nation-building and development. It relates to questions of material deprivation but also of political marginalisation due to a lack of access to justice. The research will critically assess international land reform initiatives, which often ignore southern perspectives as well as informal systems of land regulation.

How and where does the project work?

The project aims to:

• compare law’s role in land reform and access to justice in the region;

• create a framework for building and sustaining local scholarship capacity;

• publish joint results in academic and public journals and media;

• create a regional database on land regulation that can be expanded by others.

The database will be essential to assess international land initiatives but also to build research capacity. By taking account of traditional or informal systems involving customary law, the project adds multiple dimensions of the regulatory structure of land disputes, 80% of which are adjudicated by customary courts in southern Africa. As such, the project is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on socio-legal studies and social anthropology to understand fully the challenges and potentials of land reform.


British Academy

Launch, University of Botswana, June 2015