Point of Beginning

On the Level

June 1, 2006


The International Federation of Surveyors, known as FIG, organizes regional conferences in order to bring the Federation to members who cannot ordinarily participate in its activities.

In March this year we visited Accra, Ghana in West Africa for the 5th Regional Conference Promoting Land Administration and Good Governance. The conference attracted 650 surveyors from 50 countries including 20 African countries, and demonstrated the rich variety of activities and expertise contained within the surveying discipline.

Several African chiefs attended the opening ceremony of the Accra conference. Photo courtesy of FIG.

Ghana is a country about twice the area of Pennsylvania, lying on the Gulf of Guinea between Guinea, Liberia and Cote D'Voire on the west and Togo, Benin and Nigeria to the east. One hundred and nineteen attendees at the conference came by bus from Nigeria, traversing two countries (over roads of uncertain conditions, I can attest) in the process. This is evidence of the dedication of the African surveyor in his or her profession. Conference subject tracks give an idea of the technical and professional interests of the African surveyors:
  • Capacity building in Africa
  • Customary title and informal settlements
  • Ecological and environmental issues
  • Hydrography
  • Land administration and good governance
  • Land administration and spatial data infrastructure
  • Land management using GNSS and GIS
  • Mine issues
  • Marine and coastal zone management - environmental planning issues
  • Need for institutional change and land administration
  • New cadastral domains
  • Planning and administration applied to disaster management
  • Planning and development in governance: urban and rural environments
  • Positioning and measurement in practice
  • Professional education in Africa
  • Professional practice - enhancing professionalism
  • Spatial data applications
  • Valuation and quantity surveying
The American surveyor may be surprised to see so much concentration on land administration and land management, but in other parts of the world that is what surveying is all about. There is not much talk elsewhere about mortgage plot plans (a source of major concern and irritation in nearly every U.S. state) or measuring technique and instrumentation; proficiency in those subjects is taken for granted by these "third world" professionals.

Approximately 650 people from 50 countries attended the conference. Photo courtesty of FIG.

The other half of the conference title, Good Governance, appeared in several of the technical papers and was also a matter of interest to keynote speakers.

"Our humanity will be decided by the fate of Africa," said German President Prof. H. Kohler, in a clear call for good governance. His Excellency J.A. Kufour, president of Ghana, said in a message to the conference, "Those of you who are responsible for managing our physical environment are also involved in resolving the most profound moral problems of contemporary human existence." Perhaps the most challenging statement was made by FIG President Prof. Holger Magel: "Good governance is mainly based on good land administration and needs both civil society and committed professionals."

As a delegate to FIG Commission 9 on Valuation and Management of Real Estate, I was eager to attend the session on valuation and quantity surveying. In this track I heard presentations on "Property Valuation in Ghana," "Assessing Depreciation for Valuation Purposes - A Decompositional Approach," "The Valuation Profession - Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice in Ghana," "Value Inventors or Assessors?" and "Spatial Variation of Residential Land Value Determinants in Lagos, Nigeria." All of these papers were written and presented by African surveyors. The room was packed to overflowing with African surveyors obviously savvy to the subject and highly motivated to learn more.

In my years with FIG I have visited surveying associations in more than 20 nations. I am always pleased and encouraged to see the pride that practitioners of surveying have in themselves and their profession. In Ghana especially, there is an obvious enthusiasm for professional participation the likes of which we rarely see in the United States. On our final evening of the event, the FIG participants were joined by the Ghana Institution of Surveyors for its annual awards dinner where we heard (very long) speeches introducing surveyor/dignitaries, surveyor/educators, surveyors of notable performance, entry level surveyors and student surveyors. These introductions proved that in Ghana there is a past, present and future for the surveying profession. All the elements sought for a professional association were there: pride of profession, fellowship, social interaction, gestures of appreciation. Are those elements still present in our state surveying associations? I hope so.