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Land tenure support in post-conflict Angola

P. Groppo, L. Longhi, A. di Grazia, E. Kollozaj and E. Ghigi
Paolo Groppo is Land Tenure System Analysis Officer and Lorenza Longhi, Alberto di Grazia, Edlira
Kollozaj and Elena Ghigi are Consultants in the FAO Land Tenure Service, Rural Development Division

Since the end of the 1990s the FAO Land Tenure Service has worked in close collaboration with the National Directorate of Rural Development of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Angola. The country has recently gone through an intensive period of transformation and development, and has been confronted with a number of difficult issues, including the consolidation of peace, the recovery process, impact assessments after such a lengthy period of conflict and the definition of priorities in such critical conditions. In this uncertain context, discussions about land began throughout the nation. In 1999, for example, initial FAO support activities had two main objectives: (i) to solve a land conflict problem in the Luanda area, and (ii) to initiate a reflection on the land issue in the country. This article reproduces ongoing reflections based on recent experiences that are still in a state of change. At the beginning of FAO activities, the law governing access, use and management of the land was Land Law 21C/92 and its related regulations. The Angolan Parliament is now working towards improving this act, through an innovative process in the country that includes a consultative debate with civil society organizations. All these facts demonstrate that social change and development require dynamic structural changes.


Land is the most important production factor for supporting the Angolan rural population to satisfy its daily needs and ensure its long-term sustenance. By using a simple formula that relates the total population to the total available land, it has often been shown that this resource exists in abundance for all.

However, the colonial inheritance and the succession of post-independence events have created a situation where access to land, especially arable land, is very disturbed. It will be difficult to achieve social stability in rural areas in the absence of a more equitable access to land, combined with a minimum level of security for the rights and responsibilities of property for the rural communities and, within them, vulnerable families.

Access to land in Angola is governed by Land Law 21C/92 and its regulations (decree 32/95). This legal framework demonstrates a genuine interest in the protection of the land rights of rural communities, although in a defensive and to a certain extent paternalistic manner (articles 4 and 15 of Law 21C/92). This mechanism provides rural residents with a space to live and produce, but for subsistence purposes only (chapter XI of decree 32/95), and does not recognize the commercial nature of rural life strategies, nor the community right to expand its rural business on the lands acquired by it through occupation history. This situation might intensify under the present political conditions, i.e. the massive return of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, combined with an initial search for investment possibilities in the agriculture sector on the part of private investors.

One realistic way to take these conditions into account is to promote negotiations that include the resident communities, the IDPs and newcomers from outside a given area, both public and private investors. The involvement of all possible parties around a common negotiating table would not only reduce the causes of land conflicts, but also promote a partnership between the rural families sector and the private commercial sector. This could equally encourage private investment in the development of the land (including on the communities’ land).

At this time, the national land situation is being exacerbated by the massive return of IDPs and refugees to their areas of origin. It is necessary to resolve in a participatory way the case of those who do not wish to return and would rather settle where they were "camped" for years. At the same time, an adequate legal and institutional framework should be prepared and a common vision be developed for a general land policy.


In 1999, at the request of the Government of Angola, the FAO Land Tenure Service began a series of activities in close collaboration with the National Directorate of Rural Organization of the Ministry of Agriculture. The objectives of these activities were (i) to solve a land conflict problem in the Luanda area and (ii) to initiate a reflection on the land issue in the country.

Through a number of field activities aimed at the recognition of the historic rights of the local communities and through meetings and debates, it was possible to demonstrate the importance of a coherent approach to the land issue. It was concluded that it was necessary (i) to find measures to ensure access to land; (ii) to regulate land issues (i.e. a legal framework, an information system on land and judiciary capacity building); and (iii) to develop complementary strategies for the use/management of natural resources.

Pilot activities were developed in two provinces (Huíla and Bengo), while other provinces are still at an early stage of development (e.g. Huambo) with initial sessions of negotiated territory delimitations and conflict resolution, and also training in ArcView/GIS (geographic information system). The result of these activities, carried out in collaboration with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was that various communities were able to establish their territorial rights according to the existing law. Thus it was demonstrated that it is possible to work under the current legal and institutional framework. The public debates and the meetings helped in the launching of the Land Forum in Huíla.

The priorities selected by Huíla province were the peaceful resettlement of IDPs, particularly in the northern part of the province, and the integration of livestock management practices into the future legal framework.


According to a report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) dated July 2003, the situation in Angola is gradually evolving but the country is still considered to be in a critical phase. Despite steady improvements in humanitarian conditions since the beginning of 2003, there are still small areas that have critical status, particularly areas that are inaccessible to humanitarian organizations and where large numbers of IDPs are returning without adequate assistance or access to basic services.[38] Even though the situation is still difficult, the number of people in critical need has declined from a high of approximately 500 000 at the end of January to fewer than 100 000. OCHA partners continue to conduct assessments and expand access to these populations. Conditions also remain serious for IDPs awaiting onward transport to their areas of origin. The rapid pace of return continues and, according to government authorities, more than 2.34 million people have returned to their areas of origin since the end of hostilities in April 2002. This number increased rapidly following the end of seasonal rains in April and May and populations are expected to continue returning in coming months.

In August 2003, the Vulnerability Analysis and Food Aid Working Group presented the results of the vulnerability assessment conducted in 12 provinces from November 2002 to April 2003. The study concluded that 2 657 000 Angolans were vulnerable and required food or other types of assistance or may require assistance in the short term.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that, to date, the return of IDPs and refugees has been occurring less traumatically than expected. This does not mean that it is no longer problematic; it still represents a major source of potential land conflict throughout the country. The risk, in fact, is still intense under the current political and economic conditions, i.e. the return or settling of IDPs and refugees[39] (especially in pastoral and transhumance areas) combined with a growing search for investment possibilities in the agriculture sector, mainly by private investors. This is particularly the case of Bengo and Huíla provinces, where the influx of IDPs has further increased demographic pressures (above all in urban and semi-urban zones) and where most arable parcels of lands are located. In addition to these economic interests, the government also plays an important part in maintaining a certain level of uncertainty. Several actions and initial steps towards a more responsive attitude demonstrate that the government is increasingly aware of the complexity of land issues and is committed to addressing them in a more systematic way. However, there are still serious consequences due to weak government institutions and their poor capacity of policy implementation. The government's current land management policy is outdated and disorganized, and is based on a confused legal framework. Problems related to land do not only stem from the unfair implementation of the existing law (which is still barely known), but are also due to a lack of planning and definition of strategic objectives for the medium and long term.

The government's increased awareness of land issues has been acknowledged within the international community. Major interest in land-related issues was particularly evident at the end of 2003, following the recent approval by the Council of Ministers of the new Land Law. At that stage, several representatives of the international community clearly demonstrated their willingness to work together with the government on regulatory guidelines and implementation mechanisms of this new legal framework (as elaborated below).

For all these reasons, Angola finds itself at a crucial point in establishing its national land policy and in finally setting up strategies for developing the agriculture sector as a whole. With the peace consolidation, production will inevitably grow, as will national demand. Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that Angola’s population remains mostly rural in tradition. In order to prevent grievances, it will become necessary to work within the legal framework and with local institutions. This condition must be met if Angola wishes to implement good governance policies to improve the quality of life of the population.


As mentioned above, the national land situation in Angola is presently characterized in part by a large return of IDPs and refugees to their area of origin, or their ultimate settling in areas where they were camped for years, and also by the growing pressure for investments. Independently of the return of IDPs and refugees, it is essential to work on improving the conditions to make land accessible and on developing strategies to reactivate the agriculture sector. Otherwise, these factors combined with the current weak legal framework may develop into dangerous ground for land conflicts.

Given this complex situation, FAO has focused its land tenure-related activities on two extremely important and interconnected issues. First, it has set up land delimitation and negotiation activities with communities, the government and NGOs. This also implies disseminating information and experiences from other countries on land tenure-related matters and in providing training in negotiated and participatory land delimitation methodology as well as in GIS mapping systems and other new technologies.

Second, FAO has provided support to the government and its respective responsible institutions in developing a national land policy as well as legal and regulatory guidelines. This activity has been carried out not only by providing information and technical expertise on specific related issues, but also by enlarging the public arena in order to promote an open debate among all social actors. The high-level seminar "Land as a Source of Socioeconomic Stability and Development", which took place on 30 October 2003, and the support to the provincial land fora in Huíla, Huambo and Bengo are concrete outcomes of these efforts.

The reason for using the negotiated and participatory land delimitation methodology was based on the need to involve several social actors with multiple interests in order to achieve a lasting solution for such a complex situation. Indeed, a large part of the challenge was to include those that had previously been excluded from decision-making processes.

For that reason, the strategy adopted was to promote negotiations that would include the resident communities, the IDPs and newcomers from outside a given area, and both public and private investors. Furthermore, in the Angolan case, the involvement of all possible parties around a common negotiating table would help reduce the causes of land conflicts and could also promote a partnership between the rural families sector and the private commercial sector. This could equally encourage private investment in the development of the land (including the communities’ land).

As a result, the activities reported below had as their objectives not only to solve the immediate problems and clashes concerning land that had occurred in the three provinces, but mainly to reinforce a legal and institutional framework (at the central and provincial levels) to enable it to respond better to future needs and requirements for the development of Angola.

Huíla and Bengo provinces

FAO land-related activities in Huíla and Bengo began in early 1999 at the request of the government. In collaboration with the National Directorate of Rural Development (DNDR, formerly known as the National Directorate of Rural Organization) the initial activities had the direct objectives of solving a land conflict problem in Bengo and of initiating a broad reflection on the land issue in the country.

Therefore, subsequent activities within these two provinces have benefited from being supported by a more solid structure both in terms of physical and human resources. The latter is particularly evident in a greater sensitivity to land questions among government, NGO and civil society personnel.

During 2003 in Huíla province, field activities were concentrated in the areas of Caconda and Chipindo municipalities. Both interventions were accomplished in collaboration with two NGOs: the Angolan NGO ADRA and the Dutch NGO ZOA. These are particularly critical zones because of potential land conflicts arising due to the excellent fertility of soil, lack of public knowledge on the existing land law and the growing return of former landowners and tenants after the peace consolidation. Again, it is clear that the present legal framework further contributes to increasing the ambiguous state of rights.

Besides being one of the most critical areas in terms of land problems, Huíla also has the highest national level of awareness on land issues. Its provincial department for rural development has the highest number of employees dedicated to land issues, compared with those in other provinces, and their activities extended to all surrounding municipalities. This is partly explained by previous FAO projects that had already focused on capacity building, especially through training sessions in negotiated and participatory territorial delimitation methodology. These activities have clearly contributed a great deal to the positive outcomes obtained so far. In addition, Huíla created the first Land Forum, which is the main arena for discussion among all concerned stakeholders, i.e. members of government institutions, NGOs, civil society and international community representatives.

Indeed, the work of the various NGO teams in the communes where land conflict negotiation work has been carried out has been very satisfactory. At the same time, the NGO forum and debate on the subject of land tenure have been much strengthened by the activities of this project, as has public understanding.

Huambo province

FAO field activities began in Huambo province in 2003. Since early September of that year, a Land Office has been supported by an international junior consultant. The office is part of an FAO Emergency Coordination Unit administrative workplace located within the premises of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER), together with major government and NGO offices. FAO’s field activities in Huambo are facilitated by positive collaboration between MINADER and the Cadastre Institute (under the responsibility of the Ministry of Urbanism). Huambo is a particularly important location on account of its wealth (in land and natural resources) and the critical massive return of IDPs. The province has strategic importance at the national level and is also important for land-related activities. At the moment, most international and national NGOs present in the country, as well as several United Nations agencies, are carrying out field activities in diverse sectors, including the Ajuda de Desenvolvimento de Povo para Povo (ADPP), the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA-I), Development Workshop, Movimondo, the Portuguese Cooperation and Development Organization (OIKOS), Oxfam, World Vision, the International Organization for Migration, OCHA, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme.

Initial field activities on land delimitation started in the nearby community of Lepi and on-the-job training sessions were provided for government and NGO staff. A two-week GIS and cartography training course for staff from the provincial department of agriculture (DPA) and the Instituto de Geodesia e Cartografia de Angola (IGCA) began on 22 September 2003. Therefore the initial work of raising awareness has already started and has produced satisfactory results.

Finally, in Bengo, the support given at the central level was primarily composed of facilitating and ensuring activities for communities’ land delimitation processes. The FAO national consultants responsible for the Bom Jesus area now have solid experience in applying the methodology and in the administrative procedures of titling processes within the national organizations responsible.


The FAO land programme has been considered since its initiation as a multidimensional set of interventions ranging from technical assistance at the national level (in revising land law and in providing certain elements required for a comprehensive land policy) to concrete field interventions where methodologies were tested and improved, and local training was provided in participatory methodologies targeting the improvement of the joint working capacities of staff from the government, NGOs and civil society organizations. To link these activities, it was also necessary to carry out complementary (although minimal) training activities at the central level in order to start improving the land administration capacity (e.g. cadastres and registry) and to stimulate a debate about the institutional framework in which those institutions are requested to intervene. These activities were necessary because of the fragmentation of different government institutions and their weak and sometimes unclear mandates concerning land-related issues.

Consequently, GIS and database training courses were developed in 2003 for MINADER (both the national directorate [DNDR] and the provincial department of rural development) and IGCA staff. Courses were developed as on-the-job training sessions in order to guarantee a better assimilation of the new information and technology. Additionally, five training sessions were carried out in Luanda and Huambo:

Furthermore, in addition to the equipment delivered to DNDR, it was also possible, through additional funds, to contribute some technical material to IGCA. Together with capacity-building activities, FAO also initiated the important task of digitalizing existing land titles. Most of these documents had been stored in inappropriate conditions, which put all the data at risk. In this activity, as in others, members of government institutions clearly demonstrated their commitment and willingness to contribute.


From mid-August to October 2003, a large amount of time was spent organizing the high-level seminar "Land as a Source of Socio-economic Stability and Development". The overall objective of the seminar was to contribute to opening the debate on the imminent new land law. FAO support for this included bringing into the country international specialists with relevant experience in land issues in order to enlarge the discussion before the approval of the new law. The topics discussed were addressed mainly to parliamentarians and provincial government representatives.

An interdepartmental committee made up of representatives from MINADER, the Cadastre Institute and other interested ministries was formed in order to establish the first steps for the seminar. FAO supported the organization of the event, including elaborating the topics to be presented and bringing international experts as participants. These included Mr Soares Sambu, Vice President of the National Assembly of Guinea-Bissau, Mr Agostinho de Rosário, Ambassador of the Government of Mozambique to the Government of India, Professor Marcel Mazoyer, Professor and Director of the Agriculture Department of the Institut d’étude du développement économique et social (University of Paris 1 - Panthéon-Sorbonne) and Mr Marcos Lins, former President of INCRA (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária), Brazil, and former chief of the FAO Land Tenure Service.

This interdepartmental committee met weekly and discussed details relating to the topics to be presented, the agenda and the international speakers who should be invited. Initially, the seminar was planned for two days but, after discussion, it was decided that a one-day event would be more suitable because most of the participants would be coming from outside Luanda.

Presentations were as follows:

Overall, the seminar obtained extremely positive feedback, particularly from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

More than 200 people attended the seminar, including parliamentarians, and representatives of provincial government and the international community (e.g. the European Union, embassies, technical cooperation agencies and NGOs).

The topics selected were extremely pertinent to the current discussion of the new land law; parliamentarians showed particular interest because the speakers referred to their own national experiences. Certain countries represented (Brazil, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique) have first-hand experience of similar land issues, which further increased the interest of the audience.


Angola’s current phase is of the utmost importance in determining the course of the country’s development, especially with regard to land policy. Furthermore, being a predominantly rural nation, land assumes a critical role in determining how the entire population will satisfy their daily needs. FAO has been working on land issues in Angola since 1999 and has been providing technical support in order to contribute to the establishment of a more equal and just society.

At the beginning of activities, the area of intervention was very restricted and debate about land issues was limited. The FAO Representative in Angola emphasized precisely these factors in her opening speech at the high-level seminar to illustrate how the context has dynamically changed over the last few years. Never before has there been so much willingness and commitment from the government to reorganize and resolve national land issues in a sustainable way. The government is aware that access to and use of land are essential issues that need to be resolved. As mentioned earlier in this article, this proactive attitude has also been acknowledged within the international community, particularly after the recent approval of the new land law.

In post-conflict Angola, FAO has been part of the process of building mutual respect and trust between central government, local authorities and civil society organizations. In technical terms, FAO has been a partner in successful work related to land in Angola, particularly in the contexts of community land delimitation, capacity building and dissemination of knowledge. These positive outcomes, combined with an encouraging phase of mobilization of additional resources to resolve the country’s urgent land issues, will be an important contribution to creating a more stable and equitable society.

Additionally, the approval of the new land law opens pioneering opportunities for the country' s development. In order to implement this law effectively, it is necessary to establish an innovative regulatory system. Such a step towards proper legal implementation should result from an accurate and constructive debate involving all social actors. FAO’s critical functions as a facilitator, making information more accessible and supplying technical expertise, are essential factors needed to produce a dynamic debate.

In all of the post-conflict countries in which FAO is working, there is a clear need for a special focus on building institutional capacity in the land sector. National and local institutions are typically still weak, lacking human and financial resources and organized strategies of intervention. Building capacity in the land sector, through exchanging information, supporting the development of expertise and capacities in the country, and strengthening local resources, is the only sure foundation to enable countries to develop appropriate land policies that foster stable and equitable societies, providing opportunities for growth through effective access to land.

Appui aux régimes fonciers dans l’Angola de l’après-guerre

Depuis la fin des années 90, le Service des régimes fonciers de la FAO travaille en étroite collaboration avec la Direction nationale du développement rural du Ministère de l’Agriculture et du développement rural de l’Angola. Ces derniers temps, le pays traverse une période de profonds bouleversements et de développement et fait face à plusieurs problèmes délicats, comme la consolidation de la paix, le processus de retour à la normale, l’évaluation des impacts après de nombreuses années de conflit et la définition des priorités dans des conditions particulièrement précaires. Dans ce contexte d’incertitudes, des débats relatifs à la terre ont été amorcés à l’échelle du pays. En 1999, par exemple, les premières activités d’appui entreprises par la FAO avaient deux grands objectifs(i) trouver une solution au problème des conflits liés à la terre dans la région de Luanda; et (ii) amorcer une réflexion sur les questions foncières dans le pays. Cet article fait état des réflexions en cours concernant les expériences récentes, dont l’évolution se poursuit. Lorsque la FAO a démarré ses activités, l’accès, l’utilisation et la gestion des terres étaient régis par la Loi foncière 21C/92 et les réglementations y afférentes. Le Parlement angolais s’est attelé au perfectionnement de cette loi, grâce à un processus novateur pour le pays, qui comprend notamment des consultations avec les organisations de la société civile. Tous ces éléments montrent que les changements de nature sociale et le développement ne peuvent se faire sans bouleversement structurel dynamique.

Apoyo a la tenencia de la tierra en Angola después del conflicto

Desde finales de la década de 1990, el Grupo de Tenencia y Colonización de Tierras de la FAO ha colaborado estrechamente con la Dirección Nacional de Desarrollo Rural del Ministerio de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural de Angola. Recientemente, el país ha experimentado un intenso período de transformación y desarrollo y se ha enfrentado a una serie de cuestiones difíciles, como la consolidación de la paz, el proceso de recuperación, las evaluaciones de las repercusiones de un largo período de conflicto y la definición de las prioridades en tales condiciones críticas. En dicho contexto incierto se entablaron debates sobre la cuestión de la tierra en toda la nación. En 1999, por ejemplo, las actividades iniciales de apoyo de la FAO tenían dos objetivos principales: i) resolver un conflicto relacionado con la tierra en la zona de Luanda; y ii) iniciar la reflexión sobre la cuestión de la tierra en el país. En este artículo se reproducen las reflexiones en curso, basadas en experiencias recientes, que todavía están evolucionando. Al comienzo de las actividades de la FAO, la ley que regulaba el acceso, la utilización y la ordenación de la tierra era la Ley Agraria 21C/92 y la reglamentación correspondiente. Actualmente el Parlamento de Angola está tratando de mejorar dicha ley, por medio de un proceso innovador en el país, que incluye también un debate consultivo con las organizaciones de la sociedad civil. Esto demuestra que el desarrollo y el cambio sociales requieren cambios estructurales dinámicos.

[38] According to the government, 1 389 589 people remain internally displaced in Angola. Provinces with the largest concentrations of IDPs include Kuando Kubango, Moxico, Malanje and Huíla.
[39] Approximately 130 000 refugees have returned to Angola from neighbouring countries of asylum since April 2002.

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