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The East African : May 19th 2014
28 Why issuing land titles will not reduce poverty levels in Africa By ARTHUR OKWEMBA Special Correspondent T he high costs and bureaucratic processes associated with ac- quiring a title deed are driving the poor deeper into poverty. Policy experts, meeting in Wash- ington DC for the annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty recently, warned that the landtitling programmes in developing countries are not sufficient to reduce poverty. Land ownership among the poor is one of the new tools for fighting global poverty. But experts say that the land registration programmes in most of sub-Saharan Africa may not bring about the kind of transformation that was hoped for. In his address to the delegates at the Washington DC conference, Stefan Dercon, chief economist of the UK’s Department for International Development, said some of the programmes designed to secure land rights for the poor may end up as white elephants. “Are we building sustainable, transparent systems that support growth, job creation, poverty reduction and equal opportunities?” Mr Dercon asked. Hernando de Soto, the acclaimed Peruvian economist, is credited with formulating the idea of issuing land titles as a way of empowering the poor. In his book, The Mystery of Capi- tal: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Mr de Soto argues that poor people in the developing world have failed to benefit from capitalism because they hold “dead capital.” This is property that is not officially rec- ognised and can be in the form of land, houses and businesses. In his calculations, the econo- mist estimates that “dead capital” held by the poor in the developing world is worth about $9.3 trillion. Mr de Soto’s idea that formal recognition of property held by the poor can help reduce poverty has appealed to many governments and international development agencies. With proper titles, the poor can use their land as collateral to access credit, which they can then invest in productive areas to increase incomes. This idea has inspired govern- ments in East Africa to issue titles to the poor as a strategy to radically reduce poverty. However, many studies now show that these land-titling programmes are having little, if any, effect on the lives of the poor. One of the biggest obstacles poor people face when trying to acquire titles is the cost and the amount of bureaucracy involved. In Kenya, one has to go through 14 stages before acquiring a title. The whole process costs about $300, a huge amount for the majority in a country where the minimum wage is $140. It gets even tougher for those who try to formalise land rights in the rural areas. In much of rural Kenya, land ownership is governed by customary tenure, and the current land-titling programmes seek to replace this with individual titles — something that has torn many families apart. Family members whose claims to land are based on customary tenure have often been overlooked by The EastAfrican OUTLOOK MAY 17-23,2014 A farmer, who owns a greenhouse, tends to her vegetables. Picture: File the courts in favour of the holder of the title. Dr Muhammed Swazuri, chair- There are areas where the commission can help, but survey fees may be beyond us.” Dr Muhammed Swazuri man of the National Land Commission, says that these are some of the challenges his office is trying to address. “We are seriously looking into this matter. There are areas where the commission, together with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, can help, but costs such as survey fees may be beyond us,” Mr Swazuri said. These bottlenecks may explain why only 5.6 per cent of Kenyans have managed to get title deeds in the past 50 years. One of the central arguments for handing titles to the poor is that they will be able to access credit and therefore improve their productivity. Obtain loans But even for those who success- fully acquire titles, their lives have not necessarily become better. Many studies show that poor people with titles are no more likely to obtain loans than those without. A survey done in South Nyanza district in Western Kenya found that only 3 per cent of the 896 titles issued there had been used to secure credit seven years after they were given out. Without a title, even those who potentially qualify for credit cannot transact with formal financial institutions. In Tanzania, Mr Dercon said the use of titles to empower poor people has not worked well, with only a handful having received the documents since the enactment of the Land Act in 1999. The process of acquiring titles is riddled with prohibitive co bureaucracy. Poor Tanzani ing on less than two dollar may find it a challenge to ra $200 to get a title. “In Tanzania, 15 years of ing the poor people with t tificate of Right of Occupan not worked, with only 3 per those in the unplanned settl having titles,” he said. amendment credit acres, In 2003, Tanzania pas to the Land make it easier for title hol an access credit from the ba commercial banks will n less t to holders of leaving out the majo small-scale farmers. In Uganda, the situation worse, with only half a millio citizens having acquired titl since the country gained Ind G≥abbing, poo≥ administ≥ation of customa≥y tenu≥e sys By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent IN MANY places in the world, a title is the only evidence of land ownership, but for a majority of Ugandans, it is not proof they can provide in a land dispute or as security for a bank loan. About 20 per cent or 500,000 pieces of land are registered in the entire country, according to the Ministry of Lands. The rest of the land is held under customary tenure, one of four systems under which land in Uganda is owned. The others are freehold, mailo, and leasehold. Customary tenure is seen as com- plex because ownership is passed on to different people who hold dissimilar rights and responsibilities over it, according to the Land Equity Movement of Uganda (Lemu), an organisation that seeks to make land work for the poor. According to Lemu, eight districts in the Lango sub-region in northern Uganda do not have a Registrar of Titles. In this region, more than 90 per cent of the land is communally owned. “These registrars are of para- mount importance in the formation of Communal Land Associations because they are the ones to officiate community-wide meetings and approve the survey and application process. Unavailability of district registrars means no CLAs formed and no lands registered,” said Jeremy Akin of Lemu’s Community Land Protection Programme. A CLA is the first step in the process of acquiring a certificate of ownership for land held under customary tenure. In the few areas where the CLAs exist, they have been found to be weak and lacking money and competent people. And they rely on traditional leaders, who reserve natural rights over management of communal lands, for their legitimacy. The failure to streamline and sup- port this tenure system has fuelled endless conflicts. Human Rights Watch (HRW) cit- ed this in a February report on the impact of mining on human rights in Karamoja, an underdeveloped region in northeastern Uganda, which is on the cusp of a mining boom because it has economically viable deposits of more than 50 minerals. In the Lango, Teso and Acholi regions, 70 to 80 per cent of the crimes reported to police stations and cases filed in magistrates’ courts are land-related, according to a report by Northern Uganda Land Platform (NULP), a coalition of 40 organisations that focus on land matters. “Most of these land disputes originate from customary lands. If we ignore the gaps in administration of customary land tenure, we lose an opportunity to address the majority of crimes reported and court cases filed in the courts,” Mr Akin said. The absence of land ownership documents is more pronounced in areas where Uganda has recently discovered oil or other minerals, according to the 2013 National Land Policy. In West Nile, the discovery of oil has worsened a 16-year-old land conflict that has defied solution to date, between the Acholi and Alur. Much of the contested land is across Pakwach Bridge on the Acholi side, in an elephant corridor in Purongo sub-county.
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