Land guards are unlicensed/unregulated individuals employed by one or more parties to act as ‘site security’ for lands which may be under ownership contention. Individuals may legitimately acquire land from their original owners but following an extended period of inactivity or development, find themselves being harassed by land guards. Land guards often aim to intimidate with their appearance thus their mode of dressing, tone and facial expressions when speaking to other people.
People hire land guards to protect their interests in potential land disputes in a system where tracing documents can be difficult, or when landowners refuse to register their lands. Land guards became popular after Ghana returned to constitutional governance in 1992. This time saw market liberalisation, increased economic growth opportunities, and improved financial access. This resulted in a rise in property acquisition as potential investors sought real estate investment opportunities and ordinary individuals felt safe investing in land.
Increased interest in property acquisition led to a rise in land value, particularly in Accra, where some unscrupulous landowners sold the same plots to different people. In such situations, all those claiming ownership of the land rely on land guards with the aim of acquiring full ownership within the shortest possible time. Although land disputes can best be settled by the authorities, the process can be lengthy which perpetuates fear of losing the piece of the land to an opposing party following a court rule. This encourages "Landguardism".
“Landguardism” the phenomenon of employing constituted groups of mainly young persons who engage in the use of illegitimate force to protect land and landed property in exchange for remuneration in cash or in kind, has been on the rise in Accra. As a result, in situations where two or more groups of land guards clash on a piece of land, each group tries to assert themselves, often leading to violence.
In 2018, two groups of land guards clashed on a piece of land at Santeo in the Kpone Katamanso District. They fought and left each other with serious wounds due to lack of dialogue and unwillingness to compromise.
Aside from the fact that land guards frighten and intimidate people from lands; they also create fear and panic in the wider community especially when conflict breaks out between two or more groups of land guards over a particular piece of land. In some cases, the community is reduced to a ghost town as people go into hiding.
There have been several occasions where land guard related stories have been reported by many news agencies. The Ghanaian Times reported an event where police arrested 11 notorious land guards at Danfa on 27th day of August 2020. Graphic Online also published a similar story on 4th June 2020 with the heading “Fourteen suspected land guards arrested”.
Again, on the 26th of January 2022, the Ghanaian Times published a story with the headline “Ghana: Nmai Dzorn, Adjiringano Residents Decry Harassment by Land Guards”. According to this story, the land guards worked for an alleged estate developer who harassed residents and demolished buildings to take over their lands.
“Notorious land guard grabbed for terrorising residents, landowners at Teacher Mante” was a headline story published by Modern Ghana, an online news portal, on 29th November 2021. This story explains that the targeted land guard was arrested at Kyebi police station when he went there to post bail for one of his aides who had previously been arrested for attacking a site.
Thus, in developing communities and peri-urban areas including Accra, many customers have been victims of multiple land sales and had to seek remedy through the courts. However, the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining justice in general, and land litigation, have hindered individuals from engaging in formal judicial processes. Some people use both systems simultaneously, employing land guards on-site to deter competitors and encroachers while also pursuing their land ownership rights through the formal court systems. (Abbosey,2022)
The activities of land guards affect the building industry in several ways. In some land guard prone areas, people feel unsafe residing there not to mention establishing businesses. Such areas are controlled by people who claim to be estate developers but in reality, are third parties, who engage the services of land guards. As a result, the fake developers take advantage and set up temporary/ inadequate structures. These structures are usually not up to standard since the main aim is to make as much profit as possible from the business.
In terms of how they operate, land guards usually travel via motorbike which makes them swift and able to move around easily. Land guards operate in groups of two or more to ensure their own safety and provide confidence when dealing with land disputes. They carry weapons such as machetes, firearms or small jack knives which can be used during conflicts and confrontations and are very prominent in developing areas where there is a lot of unoccupied land. Due to their mode of operation and demeanour, they are sometimes regarded as armed robbers and suspected to be drug addicts.
In summary, here are 5 main effects of land guards on the building industry in Ghana
Delayed construction projects: Construction projects are often delayed due to the interference of land guards who take over land by force, preventing builders and contractors from accessing the site and carrying out construction work.
Increased construction costs: Land guards frequently demand money or compensation before allowing builders and contractors access to the land. This leads to an increase in construction costs, which can be financially burdensome, especially for small builders and contractors.
Reduced investor confidence: The presence of land guards in a neighbourhood has a negative impact on investor confidence in the local construction industry. Investors are concerned about the potential loss or disruption of their investment due to the illegal activities of land guards.
Legal disputes and court cases: Land guards often engage in illegal activities, leading to legal disputes and court cases between the land's rightful owners and the land guards. This process can be time-consuming and costly, negatively affecting the construction industry.
Safety concerns: Land guards use violent and aggressive tactics to intimidate or harm the land's rightful owners, which endangers the safety of builders, contractors, and anyone else involved in the construction industry in the affected areas.