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The effectiveness of womens right to own land in Cameroon

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Land titles are the only legal means of land holdings rights. In the early 2000s, however, less than 2% of the land in Cameroon was registered or titled according to the Ministry of State Property and Land Tenure (MINDAS)[1]. In Cameroon, it is important to distinguish between public property and private property. Public property on the one hand refers to all personal or real property which by nature or intended purposes is set apart either for the direct use of the public or for public services.[2] On the other hand, private land is land which can be owned by individual’s corporate entities, groups or the State[3]. In order to be deemed private, the land must be titled and registered. Today, most lands are still held informally and managed through local tenure agreement. These local agreements are a combination of statutory and customary tenure rules1. This formed a complex; locally specific and sometimes malleable set of rules that creates uncertainty fosters land conflict and hampers local development.[4] In Cameroon as in many African Countries, women daily endure practices that could be considered discriminatory in various areas of society, and especially related to land ownership. Since the president of Cameroon announced the launch of reforms at the Agro pastoral assembly on January 17 2011, the issue of land tenure has been at the center of debate in Cameroon. Even more central is the issue of women’s access and ownership of lands in Cameroon. It is necessary to clear up this situation.

In this chapter, we are going to examine the background to this study, and then move to the statement of the problem in which we will be looking at why this research was being carried out. We will move further to examine the research questions, objectives of the study, the methodology used to carry out the research, some books reviewed, the justification, significant, theoretical framework and scope of the study, as well as some brief definition of key concepts used in this research work.


The traditional system of unregistered conveyance had no national record of the ownership of the property other than the deeds themselves. Indeed, early transfer of properties where not even allowed to be made in writing. The system was clearly open to fraud and misuse. Documentation could always become lost or damaged. These problems where soon recognized and over a period of 300 years, attempt where made to regulate the system of recording ownership of land. The first successful piece of legislation introducing the principle of registered title was passed in 1862, but the first meaningful legislation was the Land Transferred Act of 1875 which introduced the idea of a single land register.  The idea was to have a system of registering title to land’s in England which has two features; the title to land will be guaranteed by the state and It could be relied on by all prospective purchasers as prove of ownership of properties.[5]

Following the era of German rule in Cameroon, in 1884, the Gronland Act of 1896 was passed by the German administration which established that, all lands except those occupied by the chiefs and their communities where declared herrenloss lands and so, assimilated as part of the German’s oversees dominion. By this therefore, the government appropriated all lands not so defined as private or native land which they did not own hither to decree, into Kronland. All these appropriated lands buy German governments where sold to German planters.

The Kronland Act of 1896 has always been regarded as a fore runner of the 1974 Land Tenure Ordinance. This is so because it set the stage for land registration in Cameroon with the introduction of the Grunbush. It provided certainty of title; an insurance which the chiefs could not provide.

Land as a resource is very vital in Cameroon, especially as over 80% of the population and more particularly 80-85% of women depend on it for their livelihood[6]. It is equally the only resource that could offer direct returns to peasants both in urban and rural areas. Land as a resource is limited in terms of supply, quality and accesses due to nature of its acquisition/exploitation and ownership in Anglophone Cameroon.

Institutional (government legal policy) implementation and traditional policies render its access and ownership by women difficult. The situation is more precarious in some divisions like in Fako, where concessions were obtained by plantation companies over a greater part of the southeastern, southern and south western slopes of the Cameroon Mountain, leaving very limited land for indigenous population.[7] Currently, some of the land is being conceded to indigenous population, but statistics reveal that over 90% of of the lands is held by the males, leaving the females with no such resource from which direct benefit can be reaped.

The dominant literature on women and land in sub-Saharan Africa merely dismisses any possibilities of women owning land through inheritance. The complexity of land tenure in Nigeria is the result of the co-existence of several systems, none of which is completely dominant.[8] This legal pluralism causes a degree of uncertainty about land rights, particularly for vulnerable groups, like women. In most of Anglophone Cameroon, there are basically two ways in which women can acquire land: either through family bond (users’ right) or through transactions (purchase, lease, rent). In the current context of land scarcity, population mobility, urbanization and land reforms, the competitive demand for land has not only generated a diversity of struggles over land but has further complicated the prospects of women accessing land in a predominantly patriarchal setting.[9]

In Anglophone Cameroon, the majority of women does not own land or have the right to inherit land where statutory laws and customary practices co-exist. A customary wife is regarded as property of her husband once bride-price has been paid. As such, women cannot lay claims to property upon divorce or death of their husband no matter what their financial contributions has been towards the acquisition of such immovable property, as customary law does not countenance the sharing of matrimonial property[10].

Historically, when Britain and France took over the administration of Cameroon in 1922, Britain prompted to rule her own part of Cameroon through Nigeria and so, the land tenure legislation in Nigeria then was applied in Cameroon. The Land and Native Rights Ordinance No 1, 1996 was rendered applicable to southern Cameroon in 1927 by the British Cameroon Administration Ordinance No 1, 1927. In applying this law, Britain occupancy: a system that rendered all lands in the mandate territory as native lands over which native’s excised only rights of occupancy and not ownership. The ordinance was intended to assure, protect and preserve the interest of customary rights and defined the rights and obligations of governments and other persons claiming to have an interest in land in the territory[11].

No occupation or use of such land was valid without the Governors concern. Therefore, non-natives who bought lands with the Governors concern where given certificates of occupancy. These certificates were treated as documents of titles. This led the natives to believe that this was more secured than their rights and so cause a lot of them to seek the certificate of occupancy.


Questions of unequal access to land are age-old in Cameroon ranging from the pre-colonial period till date. Since no effective mechanism has been instituted to specifically address issues of unequal access to land in the country, local traditions continue to influence land acquisition in the country. This has created the problem of a warped pattern of accessing land resulting in a land distribution pattern heavily tilted in favour of males to the disadvantage of women.[12] The present research seeks to investigate this phenomenon with the view to ensuring that discrimination against women with regards to access to land in the country particularly in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon is curtailed in all dimensions.                                                

Cameroon is a heterogeneous country with over 250 ethnic groups with their different cultural practices. In spite of these cultural diversities, there is uniformity with regards to issues of women and customary land tenure.[13]Under most of these cultures, women are regarded as property with the result that their right to own land is circumscribed. Under these rules women’s access to land is only derivative,[14] and many share the perception that the country’s legislative and administrative practices have legitimated these customary discriminatory rules of land ownership. This problem has been highlighted by the obviously gendered disputes over land at the family and community levels in the Anglophone regions as exemplified in Achu v Achu.[15] The Achu’s case also illustrates another facet of the discrimination problem specifically relating to the fact that some judges regard women as minors and inheritable chattel incapable of owning and controlling property on equal basis with men.

Although the 1974 Land Ordinance and the Cameroon Constitution of 2008, guarantee all Cameroonians the right to access land, a review of property holdings in Cameroon shows that land is predominantly in the hands of men. This lopsided land distribution in favour of men carries profound negative consequences on women for the additional reasons that women are the ones who as a practical matter need and use land for farming in the country.[16] The research also examines this issue of skewed land distribution to the disadvantage of women in relation to the impact on the financial status of women (poverty). 

Currently, the 1974 Land Ordinance, one of the main legislations that directly deals with issues relating to land ownership in Cameroon asserts that, ‘the state guarantees to all natural persons and corporate bodies having landed property the right to freely enjoy and dispose of such lands’.[17] However, in spite of this provision, as has been indicated earlier, the bulk of the land remains in the hands of males. Despite the gender neutrality in the law, land holding is still skewed to the disadvantage of rural women. This issue raises the question whether this apparently gender neutral provision is an appropriate response to the circumstances of people with peculiar difficulties such as women.                   


The main research question on this work is, what are the legal measures put in place to ensure women’s right to own land in Cameroon?

The specific research questions are as follows;

  • What is the legal framework put in place to ensure ensure the rights of women to own land in Cameroon?
  • What are the challenges faced by women regarding land ownership in Cameroon?
  • What proposals can be submitted as a means to curb the problems of women regarding the obtaining of land certificate and ownership of land?


This research has a man objective and specific objectives.

Main objective

The main objective of this research is to examine of the effectiveness of women’s right to own land in Cameroon.

1.4.2 Specific objectives

The specific objectives of this work are as follows;

  • To examine the evolution of land tenure in Cameroon and its impact on women’s property right
  • To analyze the measures put in place to secure women’s right to land ownership in Cameroon.
  • To analyze the challenges faced by women regarding land ownership in Cameroon
  • To bring out policy recommendations necessary to curb the problems of women regarding the obtaining of land certificate and ownership of lands in Cameroon.


Land registration in Cameroon: prospects and challenges
Land Tenure System in Cameroon

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