Zaire Table of Contents
A national system of land law exists in Zaire. However, it is based on a legal dichotomy, and its system of land registration is reported to be highly ineffective and insecure. The Zairian land law system was established by national legislation and is based legally and in practice on the legacy of Belgian colonialism as well as the Zairian customary system of land tenure. The European principle of individual ownership of land was unknown in Zaire's indigenous system. Instead, historically, land was the property of a lineage or descent group (see Glossary). In this system, a "land chief" exercised authority over land allocation in a village, and cultivators held usufruct rights to the land, which was farmed through shifting cultivation.
This indigenous system was transformed by the colonial legacy of the Congo Free State (1885-1908) and the Belgian Congo (1908- 60), during which the land law system was established to favor the exploitation of the country's natural resources by the Belgian authorities. "Vacant lands" were decreed to belong to the state, with the lands "occupied by the native population, under the authority of their chiefs" continuing to be governed by the customary laws and customs of the lineage groups. However, the notion of "vacant land" was never clearly defined, and in practice land that lay fallow was considered "vacant," even though it was meant to be used eventually by indigenous cultivators. Moreover, the state completely ignored hunting and gathering rights, which were well-defined and governed by customary law.
Another element in this system favoring the colonial authorities was the introduction of land registration, with any lands coming under the state's domain ceasing to be governed by customary law and thus eligible to be granted by the state to individuals and enterprises. It was estimated that by 1944, Europeans controlled approximately 12 million hectares of land, out of a total land area of 234 hectares in the Belgian Congo.
The colonial period's land law system remained in force following independence in 1960, at which time four broad categories of land-holding existed: state-owned lands, lands owned by individuals and companies, concessions, and lands occupied by indigenous populations covered by customary law. The newly independent state now had to resolve inherent conflicts, in particular the status of preindependence lands controlled by foreign interests as well as lands controlled by Congolese under customary law, and the applicability of the land registration system in determining the rights of nationals.
The Bakajika Law, enacted in June 1966, was the first in a series of laws designed to ensure government control of the land and its riches. It gave ownership of all wealth above and below the ground to the state, thus ensuring that the government could claim all public mineral rights. On December 31, 1971, the enactment of a constitutional amendment and promulgation of a law empowered the state to repossess all rights to the land. In July 1973, the General Property Law was enacted to organize the country's new land law system. With the enactment of the 1971 and 1973 laws, all lands now belonged to the state, with individual land rights derived from either concessions by the state or indigenous customary law. The new laws did not abrogate preexisting customary land rights, but they left unclear the future concessionary status of these lands.
Another problem confronting practical application of these early 1970s laws is the fact that very little privately owned land is registered in Zaire, causing tenure to be precarious. Lack of clear title prevents land from being offered as collateral for a loan and discourages individual farmers from making the capital investment in land improvement needed to raise output. The situation is exacerbated both by the limited government resources available to embark on a large-scale land registration and the practice by concessionaires of bribing local officials to postpone indefinitely investigations of further development activities on the concession. Political interference has also obstructed the resolution of land disputes. The theft of documents and files relating to land disputes is another common practice. The irresolution of these problems has led to an increase in the number of land disputes in Zaire.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents