Allocating and Enforcing Property Rights in Land: Informal versus Formal Mechanisms in Subsaharan Africa
The standard view of economists is that formalisation of private rights in land is a prerequisite of economic growth, especially so in conditions of acute population pressure and agricultutal commercialisation. That stage has been reached in many regions of the African continent, hence the recommendation that land rights be duly registered by a central authority acting on behalf of the state. An alternative view, more prevalent among social scientists, claims that, far from being bypassed by evolving scarcity circumstances, the informal (customary) land tenure system is capable of adjusting itself to the needs of a modern agriculture while at the same time ensuring a more equitable access to land for those whose livelihood narrowly depends upon it. This paper aims at assessing these two views by carefully looking at the arguments advanced by their respective upholders as well as by taking stock of the most recent empirical evidence available to test their validity. It will be shown that the first view is not as solidly grounded as it may seem at first sight, yet the second view must be duly qualified to allow for serious inter-community failures of the 'indigenous order' solution.