Land grabbing and formalization in Africa : a critical inquiry

TitleLand grabbing and formalization in Africa : a critical inquiry
Publication TypeOther
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsH. Stein, and S. Cunningham
Series titleASC working paper
Pagination - 22
Date Published2015///
PublisherAfrican Studies Centre
Place PublishedLeiden
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsAfrica, eviction, land acquisition, property rights

Two developments in Africa have generated an extensive literature. The first focuses on investment and land grabbing and the second on the formalization of rural property rights. Less has been written on the impact of formalization on land grabbing and of land grabbing on formalization. Recently, formalization has been put forward to protect the rights of pastoralists and farmers. Leaders in Tanzania have argued that it will free up land for investors that is unused by villages and generate new jobs and improved livelihoods through contract farming while minimizing land grabbing through greater transparency. Others argue that formalization is being promoted to facilitate land grabbing with state-imposed boundaries evicting villagers off land formerly under village control for sale to investors. Proponents assume that securing individual property rights will allow villagers to determine how to best use or dispose of their property. However, this implied notion of voluntarism can deny the hegemonic forces that can be embedded in markets. Unequal power dynamics in market transactions can transform formalization from a protective force into a means of dispossession. These power dynamics operate through various channels, such as juridical capture or influence, control of national and local discourse regarding land use and users, influence or control of land allocation and demarcation process, alienation of smallholders' control over rights of land use, and strategies that promote forced sales of land by the poor. Along these lines, dispossession may not simply be the physical loss of land but the loss of certain rights to land, or in other words, not to land grabbing but what some have termed "control grabbing" or "labor grabbing. Proponents of land titling therefore promote unproblematic visions of customary tenure systems, which ignore both unequal power dynamics due to unequal initial endowments (of power in the form of influence, access, and assets) and the result of such dynamics: formalization converted to an instrument for dispossession.

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Citation Key7516