The ownership of land is an emotive subject. We do not have to go far to encounter land problems which have led to war and civil strife. Right now land disputes have led to fights and loss of lives in some regions. The ownership of land should, therefore, be carefully determined and its administration carefully conducted.
A Ghanaian leader once asked “who brought land into Ghana?” The question was brushed aside as a typical outburst. But it was pertinent and meant to bring thinking to bear on emotions.
In general our people assimilated or got rid of those they met on this land which was appropriated by various groups who found it safe and convenient to place their acquisition under the tribal group or stool. In some areas the stool became the owner of land and members or nationals acquired portions for farming, settlement or other economic activity. Sometimes, as in La, later settlers were allocated part of the land while they looked after the rest for the tribe or group.
For modern development, land ownership should not be complicated. The colonial administration tried to vest all land in the government but the people led by the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society opposed the move. The administration later adopted an acceptable way of acquiring land for development. The land required is appropriately determined and valued. The purpose for which the land is required is then stated. Compulsory acquisition then proceeds for the stated purpose and compensation paid.
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The acquisition did not encourage corruption. If government no longer needed the land for the stated purpose it was given back to the original owners if they agreed to take it back and surrender the compensation paid. Unfortunately, fairly recently, while many of us slept, government proceeded to take any piece of land “for the public good” without any of the former safeguards. What makes this legislation crisis infested is that it would be used chiefly for the environs of the capital Accra and tribal tension would thereby be enhanced.
It is to be hoped that successive governments would not go in for corruption-prone acquisitions but would invoke the powers they already have over land use to promote the health and economic wellbeing of the people. Recent incidents do not put our governments in good light. The Constitution vests in the President on behalf of the people “Every mineral in its natural state in, under, or upon any land in Ghana, rivers, streams, watercourses throughout Ghana”. Why then did the President, Lands Commission and other agencies allow Galamsey to flourish?
To go back to the ownership of land, to the best of my knowledge the land in Ghana is vested in the people and held in trust by the leader or chief. In the southern parts they are known as stool lands. And the Constitution vests all stool lands in Ghana “in the appropriate stool on behalf of, and in trust for the subjects of the stool in accordance with customary law and usage”.
Despite problems now and again, the practice is maintained in many areas especially in the major kingdoms like Ashanti. Where the concept of chieftainship is not well established like in the Ga state problems occur and will continue to occur until governments go by the rule of law and do not favour a particular controversial chief for parochial gains.
The problem arises because Ga states were theocracies and the only real rulers were the priests. British or colonial concepts were made to dominate practice and “chiefdoms” were created without the checks and balances up country. But problems will arise if government invests chiefs of Accra with non-traditional powers. In particular, chiefs cannot take money and give land away for development, however good the project may appear to be. Unease may spread and lead to unnecessary strife of the youth in the capital. Unemployment and its attendant problems greatly prevail in Accra. The problems should not be resolved by measures erroneously meant to create employment and economic development. Naturally, much of the land needed for economic development has been taken from the Ga-Dangme State. That should make the states involved prosperous. Tension and resentment however prevail and there is a tendency of authority to give a mess of potage to some chiefs to acquire land.
We read history without much understanding of events – how they occurred and how tensions and hatred escalated. Years later people fight for say the Irish nation without understanding or appreciation of how the country had travelled thus far. We should not allow the airport area and Cantonments to be potential areas for future unrest. The Ga State may be difficult to manage. But as in other areas chiefs do not own land. They cannot dispose of land as they wish. Normal customary usage should prevail. The Constitution should be respected. Stool and similar lands cannot be disposed of by the caretakers and custodians.