Informal land delivery processes in African cities

Informal land delivery processes in African cities

Does informal housing land delivery work for urban poor people in Africa?

Informal systems for land delivery, which have in many cases evolved from earlier customary practices, still account for over half the land supplied for housing in African cities and are a particularly important channel for the poor. This study examines how informal systems of housing land delivery operate in six African cities discussing how they are evolving and how they interact with formal land administration systems. A series of working papers and policy briefings are presented based on studies of the following cities: Eldoret (Kenya), Enugu (Nigeria), Gaborone (Botswana), Kampala (Uganda), Lusaka (Zambia) and Maseru (Lesotho).

The study finds that:

  • formal land delivery systems provide only a limited supply of plots and are rarely accessible to poor people
  • non-customary informal land administration practices are often a direct response to the failures of the formal tenure and administration systems
  • in the past informal systems enabled all but the poorest people to access land for self-managed house construction. Today, non-commercial channels for obtaining land are restricted and access to land, therefore, is restricted mainly to middle and upper income households who can afford the purchase price
  • most women members of indigenous groups only obtain access to land through men, but women with means can buy informally subdivided land
  • informal land delivery processes are often effective in delivering land for housing because they are accessible and socially legitimate. However, urban growth increases the pressure on existing social rules and practices used to regulate transactions and resolve disputes in land. Some have been able to adapt, often copying and borrowing from formal rules, but others have weakened and broken down.

The research concludes that informal land delivery systems are playing a significant and effective role in urban residential land delivery and should continue to do so. However some shortcomings need to be addressed:

  • tenure security:
    • governments should provide short-term security to residents in informal settlements and, in the vast majority of cases, cease to evict settlers and demolish houses
    • increased tenure security will encourage investment in housing
    • security and formal land administration can be enhanced by public sector agencies accepting innovations emerging from informal systems
  • poor layouts and services:
    • can be addressed by recognising such areas, paving the way for working with subdividers to improve layouts and enable the early provision of basic services
    • registering occupiers enables governments to generate tax revenues and charge users for services
  • decentralisation formal land administration should be decentralised, in particular to provide for local registration of land rights and transactions
  • compensation to deter informal subdivision, revised compensation provisions are needed, requiring government to pay adequate compensation when it expropriates land from private or customary rights holders.
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