This week’s featured resource is Legal Empowerment of the Poor through Property Rights Reform: Tensions and Trade-offs of Land Registration and Titling in Sub-Saharan Africa that comes to us from the Journal of Development Studies, 2019 Vol. 55, No. 3, 384–400.
This resource explores the different visions of advocates and the tradeoffs required in land registration and titling in Africa which could influence practitioner’s understanding of their initiatives to empower people.
Land registration and titling in Africa is often advocated as a pro-poor legal empowerment strategy. Advocates have put forth different visions of the substantive goals this is to achieve. Some see registration and titling as a way to protect smallholders’ rights of access to land. Others frame land registration as part of community-protection or ethno-justice agendas. Still others see legal empowerment in the market-enhancing commodification of property rights. This paper contrasts these different visions, showing that each entails tensions and trade-offs. The analysis helps explain why land law reforms aiming at legal empowerment may be controversial or divisive in African countries.
This paper argues that in fact, titling almost always involves a transformation and redistribution of rights. Almost inevitably, this produces shifts in the nature and locus of control over property, creating winners and losers, new risks and tensions, and trade-offs. Despite apparent overlaps in some policy discourse, the different visions of legal empowerment through registration and titling that are sketched out above – commodifying land through registration and titling (à la de Soto, 2000), shoring up farmers’ and pastoralists’ rights, and institutionalising ethnic entitlements – are very different visions of how existing rights and control to land should be transformed, and for the benefit of whom.
Drawing out these differences in the African context reveals tensions and trade-offs associated with legal empowerment via land registration and titling.
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The Featured Resource is a short profile of a key resource found in the resource library of the Global Legal Empowerment Network. These resources can be older or brand new, but they all touch on important themes within legal empowerment. If you have a resource you would like to profile with the network, upload it directly at this link or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org