Sierra Leone passes new laws to strengthen landowners’ rights

FREETOWN, Aug 8 (Reuters) – Sierra Leone’s parliament passed two laws on Monday that lawyers say will help strengthen the rights of rural landlords and women against land grabbing by big mining and agribusiness.

The West African country has a history of sometimes deadly conflicts between local communities and foreign companies that have cleared huge tracts of land for palm oil and sugar cane plantations in recent years.

Residents complained of environmental damage, loss of livelihoods and not being fairly compensated for their land. Under the current system, landowners receive an annual rent of $2.5 per acre, which has been determined by the state.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

The Customary Land Rights Act and the Land Commission Act, both signed into law on Monday, allow local landowners to negotiate the value of their land with investors and prevent it from being rented out without their express consent.

Activists and residents hailed the move, while a palm oil company executive said it would spell the end of the investment.

“To our knowledge, there is no legal regime, in either hemisphere, that grants such strong rights to communities facing harm,” said Eleanor Thompson of Namati, an international advocacy group.

A director of SOCFIN, Sierra Leone’s largest agribusiness, called it “an NGO’s dream”.

“Certainly it will block any investment… It makes things very expensive and we are all subject to huge blackmail from various communities,” added Gerben Haringsma.

The Luxembourg company has invested more than $150 million in palm oil cultivation in Sierra Leone. He also frequently clashed with local landowners.

Lands Minister Turad Senessie said the new laws would encourage investment by ensuring peace and order.

“It’s a win-win situation for businesses and Sierra Leoneans, including rural landlords,” he told Reuters.

One of the laws will also end a colonial-era provision that bars descendants of freed slaves from owning land outside the capital, Freetown.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Nellie Peyton and John Stonestreet

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

About Michael Murphy

Check Also

US appeals court rejects big tech’s right to regulate online speech

The Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. …