Former African presidents call for land reform at Berlin talks

Former African presidents call for land reform at Berlin talks Berlin  - A group of ten former African presidents agreed Wednesday to a communique calling for land reform, at an event in Berlin marking 125 years since Europe's colonial powers set off the "scramble for Africa".

Former presidents of Tanzania, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Benin and Botswana signed the statement at the end of a two-day conference at Berlin's Humboldt University, more than a century after Africa had been carved up at a meeting convened by then-chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1884.

"Future formulas for land distribution, redistribution and ownership can not continue to reflect or perpetuate the legacy of colonialism," the final communiqué read.

The document described land reform as "one of Africa's most daunting challenges," which was "potentially volatile at every level."

The round table, convened by Boston University's African research centre, agreed to a broad range of solutions, calling on African governments to "initiate transparent national conversations" aimed at reforming land ownership.

Western governments were called on to provide financial aid to the land reform process.

"Why can't the... former colonialist countries come in to help us to compensate the owners so we can go on with the land reforms? asked former Mauritian president, Karl Offmann, at a press conference ending the talks.

Other proposals included the provision of financial tools to aid development, the role of religious institutions to foster a "culture of work, sacrifice and savings," and a call for the media to remain "vigilant and true" in reporting African development.

Former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings said the fundamental problem was a "lack of integrity" in countries like his own, which meant the local chiefs in charge of land did not always look after it responsibly. As a result, Rawlings said, commonly used land was often sold for personal gain.

Rawlings said much of the blame lay with African leaders, who did not always govern responsibly.

"We seem to lose the capacity to be able to empathise with people, but most of all we lack the courage," the former Ghanaian president later told German Press Agency dpa.

Tanzania's former president Ali Mwinyi said, in his country land was the property of the government and could be used by anyone for a given purpose, as long as they kept to the use they had applied for.

On the situation in Zimbabwe, where land reform involved the expropriation of white farmers, Rawlings said although many leaders were not happy about the way President Robert Mugabe had carried out his reforms, he did also command respect across the continent.

"Mugabe is one person who enjoys the respect of Africans because he stands up to these colonial masters who have humiliated us and keep humiliating us, while others grovel and kowtow to them, Rawlings said.

In the closing words, the signatories said there was a "crying need for equitable land reform, in such a way that it becomes useable for development," and expressed their hope that the communiqué would "serve as a framework for the kind of national dialogue that needs to take place" to resolve land issues.

Signatories to the communiqué also included former presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Aristide Pereira from Cape Verde, Nicephore Soglo of Benin and Festus Mogae from Botswana. (dpa)

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