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Gender and Land Rights Database


Prevailing systems of land tenure

- About 46 to 56 percent of the country’s land area is permanent pasture, while 20 percent is classified as forest. Approximately 13 percent is suitable for cultivation. However, it is not currently used since it is in need of investments. The remaining land is not economically exploitable (11).


- Because of weak enforcement of the law, large disparities have appeared between customary tenure systems and statutory law, engendering illicit appropriation on the part of those most powerful and exacerbating the clan divisions. As a consequence of the prolonged absence of a clear central government authority and the subsequent erosion of legal systems, land and property have been subject to illegal occupation and land grabbing; this remains the main source of violent conflict (11).


- In the rainfed agricultural areas in the central and southern parts of the country, local farmers continue to rely on customary land tenure. Community elders and clan leaders have the authority to allocate plots of land to individual households and households enjoy rights over land they have historically owned.
Land disputes within villages are less common today, partly because of the partial depopulation of rural areas due to high displacement caused by the civil war.


- The pastoral rangeland remains a commons area, where claims on water and grazing areas are seen as very communal and are possessed by clans and not by individuals. However, in some pastoral areas, private claims of land ownership are being made. This is common in Somaliland, Puntland and in central parts of the country where the wealthier and more powerful pastoral households want to reserve good grazing areas for the dry season for their exported livestock (24). In many areas, clan presence and territorial ownership do not exactly match. In areas dominated by pastoralists, there is a general convergence between clan and territory, though over time this ownership may change (24).


- Deegaan plays an important role in the dynamics of communal clan tenure. Deegaan is the exclusive control by a group sharing similar language, identity or clan affiliation over a land area and the natural resources found there. The process of acquiring deegaan is complex and involves continuous negotiation among subclans and groups. Such interaction sequences typically include several factors such as transhumant grazing, trading activities between two subclans and intermarriages that eventually blur group identities and claims to own particular deegaan.

Deegaan is acquired by various means ranging from peaceful bargaining to actual military conquest, although it more often results in conflicts between different claimants of the land. Occupancy and defence of uninhabited land was considered a legitimate way to claim deegaan historically. Similarly, if a clan has inhabited a particular area for generations, then their rights to ownership of land are stronger.

Another way of gaining access to land and resources was to become sheegad, a client of a land-owning clan, i.e. affiliated with a clan other than that into which one was born. Becoming sheegad is still a common strategy to secure land and resource rights today, particularly among weaker clans. Force is also used to stake new claims to deegaan and to protect historic claims; heavily armed and powerful groups and subclans have formed a number of alliances to claim deegaan (14).


- Local leaders of brotherhoods, tariigas, customarily asked lineage heads in the areas in which they wished to settle for permission to build their mosques and communities. A piece of land was usually freely given; often it was an area between two clans or one in which nomads had access to a river. The presence of a jamaat provided a buffer zone between two hostile groups. Tenure was a matter of charity.

No statistics were available in 1990 on the number of such settlements, but in the 1950s there were more than 90 in the south, with a total of about 35 000 members. Most were in the Bakool, Gedo and Bay regions or along the middle and lower Shabeelle River. There were few jamaat in other regions because the climate and soil did not encourage agricultural settlements (12).

These settlements, ranging in size from a few hundred to 8 000 members, were models of land tenure and social political relations that provided an alternative to the dominant, clan model. They also provided security and access to resources for displaced, low-status people who could not easily obtain resources (14).

National and local institutions enforcing land regulations

- There are no land laws under development. No institutions exist at a regional level. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Land and Air Transport are not clear. The Transitional Federal Government has stated that it will engage directly in land reform as soon as it has established a seat in the country, using land records remaining from the pre-war time as a basis, together with traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms (14).

- The Hargeisa Land Department is in charge of land regulation (14).
- The legal framework for the land administration institutions remains unclear. The Ministry of Local Government seems to be the national authority responsible for land (14).

Land administration institutions and women quotas

- At the local level, land management decisions are made as the need arises by authorization of the controlling group or governor or between competing informal authorities. In some areas in Mogadishu, land allocation for public purposes is managed at the neighbourhood level, focusing on negotiations among the community members themselves. (14).

- Almost nothing is known about the status or location of the land registration records that once existed in the southern central part of the country at the district or regional levels and in Mogadishu (14).


- In Somaliland and Puntland, land ownership is currently recorded by municipal staff using a manual, paper-based system. In both regions, the registration system has been largely destroyed and operates on a very basic model (14).


- In Hargeisa, the municipality has a land department which is in charge of land regulation and allocation, a second section which is in charge of ownership transfers and building permit registration and a third, independent department that is responsible for issuing title deeds. The building permit is a compulsory document that is evidence of an owner’s permission to develop and construct a building, but it is not compulsory to register the title to the building or land.
All private land transactions are subject to notification and registration with a public notary (14).

- Registration is manual and the link between the registration office and the mapping section is very weak. The mapping section employs two staff to develop basic maps of Hargeisa; however, very little information appears on the maps (14).


- The local government structures of the district have been empowered to deal with land management. The mayor, with the approval of the municipal council, has the authority to grant permanent ownership over land and this authority can be delegated to a committee appointed by the mayor. A technical committee also assists the local government; it is the committee’s responsibility to analyse and make recommendations on the general town plan, construction layout and all other relevant issues concerning the land for settlement (14).

- In Bossaso, the land department is in charge of land allocation, planning, land regulation and other such activities. The land department includes: a land section, in charge of land allocation, registration and records keeping; a planning section; and a monitoring section to check compliance with the regulations. The department reportedly uses previously existing land laws as a basis for operation and by 2006 had registered approximately 6 000 plots (14).

- The registration office has the authority to register ownership, land taxation and rehabilitation authorization documents, building permits and inheritance certificates, but this is not a compulsory process. Land information collected by the different registration offices is not shared among them. Each office must transfer land information to the district responsible for updating information. When updating is not done, it leads to mistakes about the identity of the owner.

The Islamic Court in Bossaso is also authorized to register the same legal documents and this is commonly done to ensure recognition of people’s rights under the Islamic law.

Before the civil wars, there were also deed archives or title registers at municipalities and other government offices, but these were looted (14).


Funding provisions to guarantee women’s land transactions

- Women have established informal credit groups which involve 10 to 15 women who contribute small sums of money on a weekly basis. The money is then given to one woman each week on rotation to meet her needs (20).


- Microcredit facilities are provided to vulnerable households by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP Employment Generation for Early Recovery in South Central Somalia project provides microcredit and start-up grants to beneficiaries (21).


- A microcredit programme run by the non-governmental organization SAACID, or say-eed, meaning to help, provides funding for women with a minimal service charge on loans.
The credit programme started in 1996, with an initial loan of US$200 for each of 200 women. Those women who receive the loans also become part of solidarity groups aimed at common problem solving; they serve as a safety net for short-term, individual financial difficulties (26).

Other factors influencing gender differentiated land rights

- Community-based tenure provides women who would not otherwise have access to land with a means of supporting themselves, whereas the legal system of tenure hampers the rights of women by allowing only one concession holder per household, since titles were almost always issued in the husband’s name (13).


- Women are not aware of their legal rights and are not involved in the justice system (20). For instance, in traditional forms of mediation over property, disputes typically favour the male relatives because women cannot be part of the panel of elders (14).


- Due to the breakdown of the economy and the spread of poverty, girls are not attending school as much as boys. In vulnerable families, parents are investing in sons more often than in daughters, because they think that the sons have a better chance of helping them out (9).
The war aggravated the situation in terms of lack of educational opportunities, particularly in rural and nomadic areas. The adult female literacy rate for rural and nomadic areas is as low as 6.7 percent. (9).


- Women’s access to productive resources, education and health is most limited in the pastoral sector, while the greatest opportunities for economic independence are in the settled urban sector; agro-pastoralists are somewhere in the middle (14).
In general terms, although women are active in the local market and have been supporting their families since the civil war, they are not active in the areas of the economy where hard currency is obtained. This is primarily in the area of exports and imports, which continues to be dominated by men. In livestock export and in the fishing industries, women are hardly represented (22).


- Although comparative figures are not available for the pre-war period, there seems to be an upward trend in women’s participation in economic activities. In 2002, about 21 percent of households reported that women were working regularly on family farms and herding, 11 percent reported that women were running a shop or kiosk and 8 percent reported that women were undertaking wage employment (9).


- The position of women with regards to land and property ownership has been weakened by both conflicts and the ensuing reconstruction process. Breakdowns in social stability and in law and order have compromised traditional and customary laws for women, their social support systems and their access to land and property (14).


- Women have been playing an increasing role in supporting their families during the post-civil war period. Twelve percent of all households are headed by women, 80 percent of whom are either widows or divorcees (9).


- Polygamy has also contributed to the increasing number of female breadwinners. The Islamic tradition allows men to marry up to four wives, provided that they are able to support them. When a man marries several women, his wives are often forced to take up an economic activity to sustain their families, since the man is generally not able to support them all (25).


- Divorce is also on the rise, contributing to the increase in the number of female-headed households. Husbands are able to divorce their wives easily and women rarely receive a fair hearing in a judicial system (25).


- Many women are forced to provide for their families because most men consume khat, a plant whose leaves or buds are either chewed or brewed as a drink, which can become addictive and stop users from being productive (25).


- Although the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country is comparatively low – around 1 percent in adults – there is still the potential for this to become an issue in terms of women’s rights to land.
Land grabbing by male relatives following the HIV/AIDS-related death of a husband/father is reported. Indeed, widows rarely inherit land under customary norms and they are often deprived of access to their husband’s land if they have no children. On the other hand, orphans may be too young to inherit. Land is therefore vested in trusteeship with uncles and other male relatives and inherited by children when they become of age (14).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography