This study outlines the main contemporary debates on land within Africa, and the frameworks and contexts that influence the framing and reform of land policy. The land question is placed within a historical context, which examines the changing frameworks of land administration across the continent and the influences of past policies on the present. This helps in identifying the economic, political, and social factors that have shaped the land question in different sub-regions. It also shows the evolution of debates and their often circular nature; recurring debates include customary versus statutory tenure, user rights, historical claims on land, individual property rights, and the need to create land markets for productive investments, as well as the relative efficiency of smallholder versus large estate agriculture and the need to protect livelihood interests of poor rural people.
Beginning with customary land tenure systems in the pre-colonial era, the study charts the evolution of land tenure and governance in different countries and regions during colonialism, independence, and the economic liberalism and structural adjustment policies of the late twentieth century. It examines the barriers to land access faced by groups such as women, pastoralists, tenants, and migrants, and questions the role of land titling in improving access to land. It also examines contemporary phenomena such as the upsurge in foreign investment and “land grabbing” for the production of food crops and biofuels, and for investment and speculation.
Recent initiatives in attempting to implement pro-poor land reforms have resulted in an increased awareness of the dynamics of customary land management, their political implications, and the need to create innovative institutions that facilitate dialogue among multiple interest groups. These are major achievements that need to guide future developments of land forums, policy debates, and new policy initiatives.
About the author
Kojo Amanor is Associate Professor at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. His main research is on land tenure and forest resource tenure, agribusiness food chains and the commodification of agriculture, conceptions of community and civil society in Africa, indigenous farming practices, including soil management and seed productions systems, and long-term environmental history. Recent publications on land include Contesting Land and Custom in Ghana: State, Chief and Citizen (2008), co-edited with Janine Ubink and Land and Sustainable Development in Africa (2008), co-edited with Sam Moyo. His article “Family Values, Land Sales and Agricultural Commodification in South-eastern Ghana”, Africa 80 (1): 2010, 104-125 won the Gerti Hesseling prize for 2011.