Parliament in Sierra Leone passes legislation on land rights
Earlier this week, the parliament in Sierra Leone passed new laws designed to strengthen the land rights of local people and protect them from land grabs by large mining and agricultural corporations. Until now, the majority of the population has had little say over the approval of projects by companies. The two laws passed on Monday, Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission Act, therefore require the prior and explicit consent of landowners when leasing and using land. Sierra Leone has often struggled with conflicts between local communities and foreign companies that have claimed land for palm oil and sugar cane plantations in recent years. The commercial and intensive agricultural use of these lands has been accompanied by environmental damage, loss of livelihoods and inadequate compensation for local people. Now, however, local landowners can negotiate the value of their land with investors. Both laws are complemented by another, approved by the parliament on Tuesday and aimed at protecting communities against mining activities. Women are also explicitly included in the new legislation: In addition to the non-discriminatory exercise of land rights, the legislation provides for greater involvement of women in the management of communal land areas and the resolution of disputes. In addition, one of the laws abolishes a legal provision from the West African nation’s colonial era that prevented the descendants of freed slaves from owning land outside the capital Freetown. Both local people and numerous activists praised the passing of the new laws, which are expected to be signed by the president next week. When compared internationally, they are considered particularly protective of the environment as well as human rights and, with the exception of the capital and its surrounding suburbs, apply to all areas of the West African country. However, some companies criticized this move by the parliament and warned about a decrease in investments and projects. The Minister of Lands, Country Planning and Environment, Turad Senessie, on the other hand, spoke of a win-win situation for both companies and local communities, pointing to the potential of the new laws to boost investment.
Presidential elections in Kenya
Following the election of the Kenyan President on Tuesday, a head-to-head race between the two main candidates, Raila Odinga (77) and William Ruto (55), for the succession of the outgoing incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta (60) is emerging. The elections, which also determined representatives to local as well as national offices, are considered to set the trend for the development of stability in the country as well as the region. Two of the past three elections were overshadowed by violence following disputes over the election results and allegations of manipulation. East Africa’s largest economy is suffering from the most intense drought of the past 40 years. In addition, the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and the consequences of the Ukraine war are endangering the food security and economic situation of the population. After losing four previous elections, Raila Odinga challenged the previous vice president, William Ruto. For a long time, Ruto was regarded as a safe successor to outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, who, however, pledged his support to Odinga after a dispute with Ruto. What unites both candidates is the intention to reduce dependence on food imports and to lower the prices of gasoline and fertilizer. In addition, domestic production of cotton and leather is to be reactivated. Despite divergent biographies and backgrounds, both candidates are considered brainchild of the political elite. The resulting distrust of the citizenry, as well as existential threats and fear of renewed violence, led to a 65 percent voter turnout, according to current estimates. Despite riots that killed more than 1,100 people in the wake of the 2007 election, voter turnout reached 80 percent five years ago. The latest projections by two major private Kenyan media groups see a narrow lead for either Odinga or Ruto. The electoral commission, which is given a one-week deadline to announce results, has not yet indicated an early end to counting and vote validation.
In other news
While the weather in large parts of Europe is dominated by heat and drought, Lesotho’s ski resort Afriski is currently in high season. The tiny mountain kingdom, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, is the only country on earth that lies entirely at an altitude of over 1000 metres and thus has perfect winter sports conditions. Afriski in the Maluti Mountains is Africa’s only ski resort south of the equator and lies at an altitude of 3000 metres. The Kapoko Snow Park there, a freestyle snow park with artificially created obstacles, is unique in all of Africa and was the venue for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle snowboard and ski competition last month. Currently, as every year from June to August, many visitors make their first experiences with snow, tobogganing, skiing, and snowboarding in the exotic winter sports area.