The Politics of Land Reform in Africa: From Communal Tenure to Free Markets

By Omosa, Eileen | African Studies Review, December 2011 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Land Reform in Africa: From Communal Tenure to Free Markets


Omosa, Eileen, African Studies Review


ECONOMICS AND DEVELOPMENT Ambreena Manji. The Politics of Land Reform in Africa: From Communal Tenure to Free Markets. London: Zed Books Ltd., 2006. vii + 149 pp. Notes. Index. $31.95. Paper.

In this book Ambreena Manji explores the revival of interest in the role of law in bringing about development in fledgling economies. The author examines the trend in Africa since the 1980s of replacing customary land tenure with a Western type of legal registration process, and focuses on the on-going debate on land law reform and the implications of the new legislative changes for land tenure relations.

Neoliberals, echoing Hernado de Sato in The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books, 2003) , argue that the poor have remained poor because they have not registered land, while formalized land is bankable property, and therefore a source of capital. The advocates recommend formalization of land ownership as the only way to incorporate the poor into the legal system and enable them to participate in the free market where wealth is created.

Manji dismisses the neoliberal position on land law reform, and from her informed standpoint, argues that liberalization will have serious consequences by changing the way in which people relate to and perceive of land and their fellow landholders. Land law reform cannot succeed, for it has neglected critical issues of the difficulty of distributional choices that are entailed in any debate about land, especially in determining who gets what. Manji raises the questions of "what constitutes law," especially when neoliberals have characterized communal land tenure and informal tenure arrangements as passive, defective, and extralegal. To the author, the rule of law being promoted is an attempt to create a "universal template," which will impede economic, social, and political development since it ignores the workings of informal agreements and existing social controls.

Manji places the current situation in context by providing a synopsis of contemporary land reforms in Africa with a focus on historical processes through which law has come to prominence as a solution to developmental problems. …

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