Machiavelli, the classical political theorist, once said "take a man's life and people will forget it because they can't bring him back to life, but take a man's property and they will fight you to the end in the hope of getting the property back". Land ownership all over the world is a very contentious issue.
As we have seen in Zimbabwe and other places people fight hard for their land - even centuries after it was stolen from them. The Mau Mau in Kenya was in fact formally known as The Land and Freedom Army.
We have to be careful how we dispossess people of their land. It is very important to follow the traditional systems of land ownership in The Gambia and to respect that traditional system if we are to avoid social discord. We have seen the horrors of what can happen if people feel that injustice has been done with respect to their rightful ownership of land. We must avoid this sense of injustice at any cost.
In The Gambia we have laws which allow the authorities to take land for useful community purposes. For example, if the government feels that someone's land is in a good position for a school or a hospital the government can take the land and will offer the owner compensation in monetary terms or another land. So good laws for good community possession of someone's land are in place within the law.
But there are no laws which allow any government official or businessman to grab people's land. Such behaviour is dangerous as it can lead to social discord and alienation from authority.
In The Gambia today the only wealth ordinary people have is their land. Many of these people, mainly in the villages, are poor but proud because they have land to leave to their children. It is not fair if the only thing they have got, their land, is taken from them through unscrupulous means by people in authority, and by those who can bribe those in authority.
The government's role, first and foremost,is to look after the weak and vulnerable in society. With the revelation that a new lands commission will be inaugurated soon is a clear indication that the government is indeed taking steps to discourage land grabbers especially in villages in the Kombos.