Why De Soto’s land-tenure ideas of formalized property rights fail to benefit Africa’s poor
by Marcel Rutten, African Studies Centre
The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development noted in 1989 that “land availability was not a major problem in the context of most African countries” (WCARRD 1998: 17). Since then, however, some of the continent’s most serious conflicts (e.g. in Rwanda and Ivory Coast) have been linked to problems related to land
availability and ownership. Access to land is becoming problematic in many African countries as land use and tenure frontiers shift. Three major land policies prevailed in Africa in the early 1980s. In some countries, there was a shift towards the socialization of land through cooperatives and state farms (e.g. in Mozambique). In others, privatization and individualization of land ownership was initiated or continued (e.g. in Malawi and Kenya). And yet other countries adapted existing tenures to modify relations between tribal chiefs and the state (e.g. in the Gambia and Lesotho). A move towards the second type (i.e. individualization and privatization) seems currently to be the most popular.
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