Re-Distribution from Above: The Politics of Land Rights and Squatting in Coastal Kenya

Re-Distribution from Above: The Politics of Land Rights and Squatting in Coastal Kenya

Re-Distribution from Above: The Politics of Land Rights and Squatting in Coastal Kenya

Re-Distribution from Above: The Politics of Land Rights and Squatting in Coastal Kenya

Synopsis

Using empirical evidence from the coastal district of Kenya, an area with a long history of private land owner-ship, this report challenges the key assumptions of the proponents of land individualization. The author points to the many dysfunctionalities associated with land privatization, and reinforces the growing critique that customary land tenure is far more complex and flexible than its critics are prepared to concede.

Excerpt

Until recently, there has been little systematic discussion of the socio-political conditions that shape the Land Question. This is particularly so when it comes to the issues of the control and ownership of land in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the academic interest that has been shown in the Land Question has been concentrated on tenure reform and agriculture production. Especially debated is the issue of whether to transform Africa's customary tenure systems or not. Some of these discussions, especially those that were published from the 1980s onwards, have been linked to efforts at mitigating the continent's agrarian crisis. They, therefore, tended to focus more on the interrelationships between tenure changes/regimes and agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa (see Migot-Adholla and Bruce, 1994).

Interest in issues of governance that began to dominate policy and political discourses from the late 1980s in the context of Africa's deepening economic and political crisis also side-stepped questions of access to and control of land in spite of the fact that access to land is an important component of economics and politics on the continent. Even then, where access and control are discussed, there are clear overtones of “economic reductionism” which seem to becloud the quest for useful insights. in this regard, discussion is particularly focused on the connections between agricultural production and changes in land tenure systems in the framework of the conventional wisdom that the “communal” land tenure systems that are prevalent in much of sub-Saharan Africa are an obstacle to increasing agricultural production.

Economic reductionism has resulted in some observers arguing that the transformation of land tenure systems through the introduction of land individualization and titling will “provide investment security” which is necessary for increased agricultural output. This thinking has been reflected, not surprisingly, in the World Bank's sectoral work and in the structural adjustment programmes it has supported across Africa. the Bank has been supporting titling efforts on the assumption that this will “ensure secure land rights, activate markets and increase agricultural production” (World Bank, 1989; also Platteau, 1992 for a critique of the Bank's position). Experience has, however, led to a revision of this thinking, with attention shifting to support for naturally-evolving tenure systems rather than interventions for the imposition of individualization even in communities with low demands for individualization (see Platteau 1992; 1996; Bruce, 1993).

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