Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

An Analysis of Government Intervention in Traditional Land Markets in Ghana

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

An Analysis of Government Intervention in Traditional Land Markets in Ghana

Article excerpt


In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), it is well documented (see for example, Abdulai, 2010; Payne, 1997) that state landownership systems operate alongside traditional systems. Thus, a dual landownership system exists. Consequently, there are two main types of land markets - state or public and private markets. In the private land markets, traditional landowners (communities represented by chiefs or family heads) are the primary (first level) land suppliers - the allodial interest in land1 is vested in them.

Regarding state land markets, the state is the primary supplier of land, which it has acquired from the traditional or private land markets. The essential attribute of public land is that it is vested in the state on trust for the citizenry.

In Ghana, this is vividly captured in Article 162(1) of the 1992 Constitution: "All public lands in Ghana shall be vested in the President on behalf of and in trust for the people of Ghana".

It is common knowledge that in the sub-continent, the traditional landownership systems are perceived as not being responsive to market stimuli, which has informed land policy formulation and enactment of laws. Such a perception is premised on the well known assertions that: (a) the traditional landownership systems are communal landholding, which does not permit individual ownership; (b) traditional land is regarded as deities that are worshipped and cannot therefore be traded; and (c) land rights emanating from the systems are insecure as they are not registered in a central system controlled by the state.

Relying heavily on secondary data and using Ghana as a case study, the aim of this paper is to examine state intervention (via legislation) in traditional land markets and its impacts on agents in such markets. The paper continues with an overview of colonisation and its legacy in SSA.

This is followed by a description of Ghana's traditional landownership systems. Legislative framework for state intervention in Ghana is critically analysed in the penultimate section whilst the last section deals with concluding remarks.


This section provides a historical overview of the laws that have been used to intervene in the operation of traditional land markets. The review is necessary as it offers a better understanding of what currently exists. Such laws trace their origins back to the colonial era.

2.1. Colonial Encounter

Colonisation of countries in SSA commenced effectively between 1876 and 1912 through what is commonly referred to as "Scramble and Partition of Africa" or "Race for Africa" - a period when European imperialist politics and diplomacy intervened massively in African affairs among rivalry European countries like Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Belgium (Mostert 1992; Fage 1978).

Britain, for example, colonised at least 16 countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda whilst France colonised at least 12 including Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin. With the establishment of imperial rule, the concepts of property law of these European nations were imported into Africa - the colonial authorities assumed control of land rights and all existing traditional land laws were subordinated to their land laws often referred to as "received" law (McAuslan 2000).

As McAuslan (2000) notes, for British dependencies, the received law was the common law and the law of equity as they operated in England. Generally, during the colonial era there were four perceptions about the traditional landownership systems: (a) the systems were considered as communal landholding, which did not permit individual ownership; (b) land rights emanating from the systems were insecure due to non-registration; (c) traditional land law held no precedents for urban planning laws that would permit the orderly development of towns and cities; and (d) traditionally, land was considered as deities that could not be traded (Ssekandi 2002; McAuslan 2000; Shivji 1998). …

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