The Great Wall

Land litigation is almost a way of life for some folks in Ghana. Even when one is not looking for a quarrel, disputes seem almost inevitable for anyone who has land holdings in the country. My wife and I have experienced our share of these challenges, beginning almost the first week in 2001 that we began building our hotel. One of the parishioners from the community tried (unsuccessfully) to question the boundary which we share with the Methodist Church.

That encounter was short lived. Fortunately, Comfort had been given some excellent advice three years earlier when we purchased the land. Before she and our daughter returned to Canada that year, she had a cement block wall constructed around the perimeter. The wall was only eighteen inches tall but that was enough to prevent anyone from encroaching and then using the excuse that they did not know where the boundary was supposed to go.

Our experiences since that time would fill several blog entries, and for Ghanaians who are versed on the subject, these entries would begin to sound too much like déjà vu. They include encroachment by road contractors and by municipal authorities. On more than one occasion, the person who sold the land has continued to occupy and use the land, or attempt to use the land, almost as if they had forgotten that they no longer owned it. Land that has been held in families and subsequently sold by one member is also up for debate when a different person in the family decides that they had not agreed to the sale.

Most recently, and perhaps most distressingly, we have found ourselves in a situation where a portion of family land held for three generations, with a site plan stamped and signed by the chief, has been sold to another party by the very chief who signed the earlier document. By tradition, a chief has the right to re-enter land which has been leased to someone, however Ghanaian law has set out the correct procedure for this re-entry and for compensation to be made to the party who loses the land.

Unfortunately, this procedure is often not followed, and land is taken without consultation or compensation. These actions are rarely challenged, often out of ignorance of the law or fear of the traditional authority or a combination of these. Occupation is the best defence, and that requires that a structure be built. In our situation, we already have a house built on the property in question and that should satisfy the requirement that it be developed. Our lawyer has advised that in addition we construct a concrete wall around the perimeter – not an insignificant expense, considering the distance. Now that we have some idea of the legal costs of protecting the property in the court, this seems to be a less expensive option.

There is an old adage that tells us when it comes to litigation the only winner is the lawyer involved and we can attest to that!! There is another old adage, one which American poet Robert Frost expressed when he told us that “good walls make good neighbours.” Wise words indeed.