Engaging parliamentarians on large scale land investments in Africa

The conference was the fourth and final one in a process that has taken place in the four sub regional parliaments of West, East, Southern and Central Africa African parliaments respectively.

The Pan African Parliamentarians were appraised of the achievements by the Pan African parliament since it launched a campaign to raise awareness against of Large Scale Land investments in 2010 by the researchers, community members and policy making institutions. Parliamentarians were provided with evidence based stories of ongoing research on the phenomenon through academic papers, policy briefs, video evidence and testimonies from affected women and civil society organizations that work with these communities. The video recorded by the Zambian Land Alliance highlighted tangible experiences of the affected communities to the Pan African Parliamentarians.

The presentations echoed the lack of transparency in contract negotiations; disproportionate livelihood loss, unsustainable business models and consistent weak governance and poor oversight and lack of readiness on the part of the African continent to negotiate effective contracts.  The few positive cases were still experimental, few and far between.  Legislators were challenged to reflect on the current investment models and provoked through the presentation of alternatives and different ways of thinking about large scale land based investments.  Although the campaign to engage regional parliamentarians in the debate on large scale land investments was a success, the PAP proposed measures have not yet implemented at the national levels.

Parliamentarians’ response showed their increased appreciation of the dynamic of large scale land based investments in their countries.  They also singularly and collectively decried their weak oversight ascribed to, among other clauses in the investment contracts which prohibited public disclosure of contracts. The turnover of parliamentarians linked to their five year term of office was also cited as another factor that undermines their capacity to exercise their mandate and sustain the momentum.  The Pan African Parliament has 10 committees and yet member countries second five parliamentarians to PAP. The result is that some countries are not represented on five committees. This further undermines the reach and effectiveness of the Pan Africa Parliament and its resolutions. The Pan African Parliament lacks resources to invest in the knowledge production for parliamentarians. This was attributed to the failure to pay subscriptions by member states.  The legislators also cited limited resources, lack of information and the failure by their member states to ratify and uphold regional and international instruments that they ratify.

Parliamentarians also cited their limited powers to enforce regulations and resolutions on national governments as another challenge. It was also clear that parliamentarians do not share a common understanding of the issues raised and challenges posed by large scale land based investments. This was evidenced by the type of clarifications that they MPs seek from the participating experts. The lack of a common language also posed some barriers in debates and sharing and dissemination of information among members of the PAP.

Here are suggestions to improve the effectiveness of Pan African Parliamentarians’ role in improving the governance of large scale land transactions in Africa:

  • Continuous supply of evidence based knowledge on the large scale land based investment and their impacts in Africa
  • Technical secretariats to support committees with skills, knowledge and continuity of debates throughout the parliamentary cycles. The same secretariat would also monitor and evaluate progress on land based investments
  • Sub regional engagement on the subject through regional and national parliaments
  • Parliamentarians need to demonstrate and motivate political will at the highest levels of the government to address the staggering public investments in agriculture.