April 2013 - In 1959, just prior to independence, the Territorial Assembly of Cameroon legally recognized customary tenure systems, potentially increasing rural people’s secure rights to land. However, in 1963, the new government of Cameroon repealed that measure. Perceiving land titles as more modern than traditional undocumented systems, it made land titles and leases the only legal means of holding property rights to land.
Cameroon’s land tenure regime remains based on those and subsequent laws, including some that addressed land titling. Nonetheless, most land is still managed informally through local arrangements, whose malleable rules create uncertainty, foster land conflicts, and hamper local development.
Formally, most land today is considered National Land, administered by the State for the “public good.” National Lands include untitled lands occupied or used by rural communities. The State can evict communities from these lands and reallocate them to guarantee the lands’ “effective exploitation.”
Rural communities can title their customary land, and titles are the only protection against such evictions. But communities can only title land that was used and occupied prior to 1974. Neither land occupied after 1974 nor unoccupied non-farm land can be titled, even if it is vital to the community. Despite the law’s intent to encourage land titling, and, by the early 2000s, less than 2 percent of Cameroon’s land was registered or titled.
Land reform in 2005 simplified land titling by reducing the number of steps and departments involved, and cut the time needed to obtain a land title from several years to less than one. Yet, it failed to address significant hurdles including contradictory laws, poor record keeping, and reliance on traditional authorities to allocate land rights. And, titles still could not be granted for land occupied after 1974 or deemed vacant or ineffectively used.
Today, as the government, urban elites, agro-industrial companies, and powerful traditional leaders acquire more land, neither legal processes nor customary tenure systems provide people with adequate security over their land.
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