Poor African land registration

Sub-Saharan Africa is rapidly becoming urbanised, but land registration remains an issue. Paul van Asperen conducted research into several newly developed registration instruments.

Even in urban areas in Africa, 60 to70 percent of the land owners do not have property deeds. This causes problems when a municipality or developer shows an interest in the property. The inhabitants can be ruthlessly ejected from their land. Without property deeds, they are in a weak position when dealing with inheritance matters or land-grab operations carried out by Western investors. “As a result nobody invests in their homes,” says Paul Van Asperen who defended his thesis ‘Evaluation of innovative land tools in sub-Saharan Africa’ on the 17th of September at the faculty of Architecture (research institute OTB).

Van Asperen, who studied planning and administrative geodesy in Delft in the eighties, works as an geoinformatics expert at the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and environment. He decided to combine his job with part time PhD research into African land registration when he was traveling in Namibia in 2005. “While visiting Windhoek Dr. Klaus Deininger’s standard work on ‘Land policies for poverty reduction’ caught my eye. I learned that the challenges in land administration that had been pointed out to me during my studies in Delft proved to be persistent.”

Land registration systems do exist, but each has its disadvantages. Western instruments from the colonial era have proven to be too expensive for most people, because they require accurate surveying and comprehensive registration on paper. More traditional systems, which involve a ruling made by the tribal chief, work in rural areas, but not in cities. Moreover, the coexistence of different systems can lead to a tangle of claims.

Van Asperen compared the new forms of legal protection developed for the benefit of poor landowners in urban areas in Lusaka (Zambia), Oshakati (Namibia) and Gaborone (Botswana). Simple legal rules were established in those places, whereby the municipality provides the landowners with a certificate for use. Van Asperen considers this a leap forward, although he still has plenty of concerns. Municipalities have made little progress in implementing the rules. The development of legislation and the issuing of certificates can sometimes take more than ten years. The most significant problem is the high cost of a certificate. A certificate often costs hundreds of dollars. For an African, this can be the equivalent of one or two monthly salaries.

Editor Redactie

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