Sharing the Land is a peacekeeping initiative started by the Christian Bilingual University of Congo in January 2015. Funded by Texas A&M University’s Center for Conflict and Development (ConDev) and USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, the organization has made enormous strides in peacefully settling land disputes in one of Beni’s 30 quarters in eastern Congo.
Sharing the Land uses GIS and GPS mapping technology to compile land claim and conflict data as well as road names, neighborhood boundaries, geographic features and points of interest. Data comes from household surveys and government records. The maps are already being used to settle land disputes between individuals, families and large companies in Beni.
Archip Lobo, Sharing the Land’s project leader, grew up in eastern Congo amidst violence and severe abuse of human rights, much of which revolved around land disputes. Though the country has a tragic and ongoing history of violence, Lobo felt that land disputes were preventable and not a grounds for continued, unhindered violence.
Rampant conflicts over land began when King Leopold of Belgium usurped much of the land from Congolese chiefs and initiated a tyrannous rule over eastern Congo in the late 1800s. With a new form of governance entangled in the traditional ways of land management, violence became prevalent.
In the years since Congo gained its independence from Belgium on Jun. 30, 1960, the country has endured great instability, insecurity, corruption and pervasive violation of human rights. Removing land disputes as a cause for violence is a step in the right direction for bringing Congo towards a peaceful future.
Sharing the Land provides Beni with data-driven land management practices instead of relying on differing traditions or interpretations of inheritance rights. While the project aims to bring peace through nonviolent land dispute resolutions, it is also reducing disputes in the first place by making the information publicly available and educating all those involved in urban planning.
According to Texas A&M, 85 percent of court cases in Beni relate to land disputes. The Sharing the Land initiative is already making progress to reduce this statistic in Beni.
This project has two immediate benefits. First, official maps using government data help to standardize the land purchasing process. It also enables land managers to continue to add and update data on the stable ArcGIS platform so that land ownership can be accurately and reliably documented.
Aside from using GIS software to map the land, the Sharing the Land project is encouraging community leaders, government professionals, civil society organization representatives, lawyers and the greater community to collaborate in understanding the origins and consequences of land conflict and together engineer viable solutions.
To date, with the help of ConDev and USAID, Sharing the Land has mapped 531 land parcels and documented 29 conflicts. This year, the organization will collaborate with UN-Habitat to provide land management training to government officials in several Congo provinces in an effort to strengthen and standardize urban planning.
Sharing the Land envisions that this new aspect of the project will position a new generation of government officials to enforce and continue to develop peaceful and sustainable land management practices.
– Mary Furth