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December 2006

Announcement of a publication

Making rights a reality

Participation in practice and lessons learned in Mozambique

Livelihood Support Programme Working Paper 27


In the last decade, several important and innovative policies and laws have been passed in Mozambique, designed in part to enhance rural livelihoods by strengthening rights of people – especially the rural poor – to natural resources. The most notable of these are the Land Policy and Law (1997) and the Forestry and Wildlife Policy and Law (1999), all of which contain provisions to protect existing local rights on the one side, and promote local level participation in resource management on the other. The 1997 Environment Law also explicitly calls for local participation in its implementation, and creates new “diffuse rights” that apply to social groupings and which can be collectively exercised and defended. Key instruments such as the Environmental Impact regulations insist on full consultative processes involving all stakeholders and including local people.

There have been notable “success stories” where these instruments have been used in a way that has genuinely benefited local people. Overall however, it must be said that these cases are limited in number, and that to date these new laws have not lived up to their promise in terms of poverty impact and greater local participation in resource management decisions. These questions take on added significance in Mozambique today, when the newly elected government is developing new strategies for rural development and food security, in which resource management and local participation issues are central areas of concern.

Why is this and what can be done about it? There are many possible answers concerning causes. Some observers point to conceptual weaknesses and ambiguities in the laws themselves. Others emphasise a lack of political will and financial resources to actually implement the laws. Institutional incapacity to implement worthy but impractical social principles is also often cited – if the laws cannot be made to work, then they should be changed or replaced by laws which more closely reflect the real capacity of the country to implement them.

These are no doubt valid observations, and merit serious and sustained attention. But it is equally true to say that they are only valid if sufficient attention has indeed been given to addressing weaknesses in the capacities of a wide diversity of stakeholders to understand, use and/or administer the new laws. It is quickly evident from field reports and visits to rural areas that the understanding of rights and responsibilities, and what they could mean for their lives, is weak among large segments of the rural population. Intended beneficiaries also lack the skills, tools and confidence to assert their rights or to assess the risks and benefits of different courses of action. Neither of these points however implies that efforts to implement the law should be abandoned – we need to see if understanding can be improved, and skills transferred to those who stand to benefit from the wider implementation of the new legal framework.

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