Sierra Leone has endured years of political and economic instability as a direct consequence of the civil war that lasted more than 10 years. During the war, many people left the country, much of the infrastructure was destroyed and institutions nearly disappeared. The country’s GDP is largely based on agriculture, amounting to 43% of the total GDP; 62% of rural population is rural, and the majority works in agriculture or mining sectors.
The Constitution grants the right to property but does not specify who owns the country’s land. Several land related laws were passed before the civil war. Statutory laws recognize private freehold land in some areas (specifically in Freetown and the Western Area), while customary laws govern land tenure in the rest of the country. The 2004 Local Government Act grants local councils the right to acquire and hold land, and it gives them the responsibility to create development plans. The Chieftaincy Act of 2009 establishes that the paramount chiefs are responsible for tax collection and for the promotion of improved land governance aimed at ensuring development at the regional level. In 2005, the government agreed on the principles guiding land tenure in the country; the 2005 National Land Policy promotes the protection of national and communal land and calls for the protection of existing rights of private ownership and the engagement of the private sector as the engine for the growth and development of the country.
The primary reasons for land disputes in Sierra Leone are related to lack of consent to land transfer, multiple interests on the same property, erroneous surveys, conflicts between families over land rights and the activities of the paramount chief. Land disputes are generally resolved by the chieftaincy, local courts or native administration courts. In general, courts have demonstrated to be inefficient due to the low standard of justice that they provide and high costs that limit their accessibility.