In memory of Robin Palmer | Land Portal

Robin Palmer passed away on Sunday 19 February. Robin was a pro-poor land activist who worked tirelessly as an academic and practitioner in the land rights sector for more than five decades. He was the initiator and editor of the Land Rights in Africa website, first created in 2000 whilst Robin worked with Oxfam, continuing to curate the site after it moved to Mokoro in 2012. Robin joined Mokoro as a Principal Consultant in 2007, and since retiring he has continued to be closely involved with the company. With his strong personal commitment to equitable land rights, he has sought to inspire a similar interest amongst the next generation of academics, practitioners and activists, through his curation of seminars on land, his years of active management of the Land Rights in Africa site, and his never-failing belief in social justice. He will be sorely missed.

Messages of condolence can be sent to Mokoro if  (via Jim Grabham, these messages will be shared with Robin’s family.’

Alternatively, please share your thoughts, memories and experiences with Robin in the comments section below.


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Huge loss to the land rights community. Robin has supported and cheered my work on land rights more than 20 years ago when I started with ActionAid. His commitment and knowledge served as a guide to so many in this field. My sincere condolences to Robin's family and friends.

I was saddened to receive news of Robin Palmer’s death. 

Robin was a scholar and historian who witnessed southern Africa’s independence movements and liberation struggles at first hand. He later became a tireless researcher, networker and campaigner for progressive land reforms, and the rights and livelihoods of the downtrodden and dispossessed and an advocate for legal and policy change, working with Oxfam over many years,  later joining Mokoro. Robin maintained an African land rights data base actively, a unique resource that pre-dated the Internet and today’s Land Portal, widely utilised by people in government, academia, and civil society, and likely to remain an important historical source.  Robin was a mentor for many advocacy organisations, fellow researchers, and activists, including myself. Reliably critical of corporate and government power, Robin was always keen to promote critical debate, engage constructively with anybody, irrespective of personal and political views, and to remind us all of the lessons and context of history.


I will remember Robin very fondly.

We are deeply saddened to hear about Robin’s passing. Robin Palmer was the father of land rights work at Oxfam. He worked with Oxfam for over 20 years. In 2005, he wrote a paper critically reflecting on the role of International NGOs seeking to work globally on land rights. Robin’s vision has guided Oxfam’s land rights work over the decades. Robin remained an undisputed global resource of expertise on land rights, throughout many Oxfam developments. Oxfam’s land rights community across countries, regions and affiliates are grateful for Robin’s pioneering work on land and we continue to carry his legacy. May he Rest in Peace. 

Robin was a generous spirit. He promoted land issues and supported many. I valued his advice and encouragement. Beyond land, in the development sector he also stood for an approach to development rooted in genuine solidarity between people, that recognised that it needed to be tranformatory and needed committed people more than metrics of success and logframes. In academia he believed in and did his best to link academic work and research with real world struggles.


RIP Robin Palmer

Although Robin Palmer passed away, his contributions to societal well being will always stay in moving on to his steps. May Robin’s family stay safe, strong and proud of him.

Beautiful tributes to Robin from across the global land rights community are testament to his impact through his work, but also, perhaps above all, as a person who genuinely cared. I will not forget his warmth and sense of humour,  as well as his mentoring over the past 25 years. He is much missed. 

This is very sad news indeed. We still take a moment to reflect on the live of Robin and how it contributed immensely to my life journey. I was perhaps a late primary beneficiary of Ribon’s gifting of his intellectual life to an ordinary young Zimbabwean. There was a context to what I regard, a rich intellectual encounter with a global land guru. 


My intellectual life was largely associated and built by the late Sam Moyo (May his soul Rest In Peace). In the process of working with and for Sam, I read a lot on land tenure and it became my passion. I dug a lot of literature on land, and Robins work on land tenure in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was rich, radical and on-point. His works on land tenure, particularly his book “Land and Racial Domination” (1977), shaped and sharpened my intellectual interventions and desire to see land inequalities addressed. 


Throughout my intellectual journey and working life, it became the basis of my desire to see Zimbabwe’s land question(s) solved. Yet, I never had the opportunity to interrogate it outside the larger than life character, of Sam Moyo. Robin followed my progress with keen interest. He was a radical fellow, and made many a contribution to Zimbabwe’s liberation. In my life, I did spend lots of hours conversing on this history. I regarded him as a truly Zimbabwean and a hero for identifying land tenure as a basis for Zimbabwe’s inequalities that had strong racial undertones that he never liked. 


Sometime in November of 2003, Robin called me for a meeting. He was straight to the point, “what do you want to do to take your intellectual life forward?”. It was a time, I had left the Sam Moyo stable, and wanted to move on. He was with the Oxfam Global Land Programme, which largely gave him a convinient vantage to advance Zimbabwe’s land tenure and issues. 


I accepted his support, and he mobilised for my engagement and sustanace of a new exciting intellectual journey. After my fellowship at Brown University in the US, I came back home and engaged. In the process, I started building a land and agrarian network, underpinned by new interests in livelihoods and addressing the gross poverty and inequalities of our communities. 


He would spend a lot of time in Zimbabwe, engaging me and my network, and pushing us in the frontiers of knowledge. I used this as a basis for advancing science and policy on land in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. I took him to Mazowe, Shamva, Mangwe, Bulilima to engage with communities. Around me were a lot of youngmen and women that I was equally gifting with my knowledge work. I shared a journey with many friends in the process, included some who became my students. Robin was happy, and wanted a more push of land knowledge. 


In November of 2010, I organized a land and agrarian conference to draw academia across the spectrum. I brought 75 academics from 42 countries at a 5 day conference at Miekles in Harare. Yes, all my mentors came and Robin was on fire that week. He could not take negativity from anyone. Sam Moyo, Kjell Havenvik, Lionel Cliffe (May his soul rest in peace), Ian Scoones, Edward Sadomba, Ruth Hall, Ben Cousins, and a lot others anchored the conference. Many land practioners, Policy makers, students came to what was one of my most fulfilling life dialogue and encounter. Books were launched, intellectual networks grown, and new research frontiers identified. Ruzivo Trust that I had founded, had a strong entry into the national and international research arena. 


Always hot-wired, Robin invited me to England for a conference. I was denied a visa by the UK authorities. I told Robin that it was no big deal, and I will stay in MY Zimbabwe. He could not have none of it, and he went to Foreign affairs to deal with what he described as their nonsense. He write a pertition signed by academia, and armed with it he confronted them. I was to get the visa very quickly over a cup of coffee at the British Embassy in Harare. This was truly Robin, and I celebrate his life contribution to my work, that of Zimbabwe, the world and to society that were oppressed and denied their land. 


I want to promise my mentor! That the game is not over and I have taken it to another level! I will live to my beliefs, shaped by Robin that no one will give land for nothing! It must be taken and given to the people. For that I am forever greatful.



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