The New State Lands Bill could not have come at a better time. With the increasing number of land disputes making the news in recent times, the situation on the ground was reaching crisis level. There are a number of issues that we hope have been considered. Firstly there is the issue of fertile, affordable land being available to all Gambians, and second there is the issue of careful and controlled development for foreign investors.
In seconding the motion, Hon. Adama Cham, member for Kombo North constituency, described the bill as “a straightforward piece of legislation which seeks to protect our already existing lands, lands which if they were not grabbed, could have been used effectively for agricultural and other development purposes.” We must be careful about the use of emotive language such as “grabbed”.
We must avoid blaming any one group of people for the crisis as it currently exists. It is a complicated situation with many contributing factors. Hopefully, each of these will be addressed in the bill.
It is beginning to be generally accepted that we need to increase our agricultural production in a very significant way if we are to become food self-sufficient. For this reason all available lands must be farmed. On the other hand we depend very heavily on tourists. So in certain areas, land should be set aside for development in the form of houses which can be bought by foreign investors. There is no reason why these two interests cannot sit easily side by side if there is stringent regulation.
The people who come from other lands, fall in love with The Gambia and its people and wish to set up home here, must be welcomed. They bring diversity to our community and also much-needed investment. For their sake also, stringent legislation is needed so as to avoid any nasty legal entanglements.
For our own people we must ensure that their land needs are met and that the increasing price of land that comes with the aforementioned development is not allowed to encroach on their right to self-sufficiency. We as a nation are facing a food crisis so it must be established exactly who owns what land and who is allowed to sell to whom and in what areas. There is no doubt that along the coast some of the local people have sold to foreign investors and thus contributed to the hardship of their neighbours. If the government designates certain areas for foreign investment and others for our local communities, then we should be able to avoid problems of this kind in the future.
What we must ensure is that land conflicts become a thing of the past and we fervently hope that the new State Lands Bill will be the first step in ensuring this is the case.