The ‘new’ African customary land tenure. Characteristic, features and policy implications of a new paradigm

The ‘new’ African customary land tenure. Characteristic, features and policy implications of a new paradigm

Most of the land in sub-Saharan Africa is governed under various forms of customary tenure. Over the past three decades a quiet paradigm shift has been taking place transforming the way such landl is governed. Driven in part by adaptations to changing context but also accelerated by neo-liberal reforms, this shift has created a ‘new’ customary tenure in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper reviews some of the evidence and analyses the ways in which this neo-liberalisation of customary tenure has been transforming relations of production and how land is governed in sub-Saharan Africa. 

It identifies how core neo-liberalisation processes such as privatisation of rights, commoditisation, de-regulation; re-regulation and flanking have led to a formal reconfiguration of the way people relate to land. It presents a characterisation of the ‘new’-African customary tenure before sketching out evidence of outcomes associated with neo-liberalisation of customary tenure. The paper identifies five outcomes marking out the new customary tenure’s legacy. These are: creating new class dynamics (those with registered rights and those without), altered institutional power relations (extending statutory governance), local rank order change (replacing the traditional ‘big men’ of rural Africa with ‘new’ big shots), miniaturisation of smallholder farming and the growth in medium scale farms, growing inequality and potential social differentiation.
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