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Land and Political Corruption in Sub-Sharan Africa

In the Framework of a Campus for Transparency Project, students from the London School of Economics (LSE) conducted a study for Transparency International on the following question: “What is the role of political corruption in illegitimate land acquisitions and allocations in Sub‑Saharan Africa?”

Over the past decade, growing pressures on land for investment and patronage purposes have created incentives for political corruption, posing a challenge to safeguarding tenure and livelihoods of local communities. This paper investigates the role of political corruption in land acquisition and allocation for private or political gain in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana, by means of a case study approach using academic literature and policy documents.

Officials’ ability to engage in these illegitimate land practices is closely related to land tenure regimes, which are the rules that guide allocation and acquisition of land. Three factors related to land tenure regimes seem to cause variation in the manifestation of illegitimate land acquisitions and allocation across African countries: a) Type and recognition of land tenure regimes, b) rules and processes and c) accountability mechanisms. In addition, the analysis accounts for the role of human agency in circumventing these rules and processes.

The type and recognition of land tenure types has implications for the manifestation of political corruption. In Ghana, the dominance and recognition of customary land has allowed legal manipulation to occur at a local level amongst chiefs. In Zambia, the conversion clause puts pressure on land to be converted from customary into state land, leading to legal manipulation by investors, national officials and chiefs. In Kenya, the centralized discretion of the president over public lands has resulted in abuse for private and political gain.

In all three cases, officials have abused clauses that obliged them to act in the community and public interest when allocating land. This happened at a national level in Kenya and Zambia and at the local level in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana. In addition, investors in Zambia have reversed due process by sidestepping chiefs and applying directly at the national level, whilst investors in Ghana ignored the Lands Commission and turned directly to local chiefs Bribery by investors has been used to motivate chiefs to neglect the rules inland.

In terms of accountability, Kenya strengthened the independence of its judiciary at the national level and reduced public land by converting it into community land. Conversely, Kenya as well as Zambia and Ghana fail to provide local communities with mechanisms that allow them to hold councils and chiefs accountable, such that they act in the community’s interest.

We conclude that corruption in African land sectors is part of a more complex playground of land tenure regimes that experience pressure by high demands for investment. An understanding of tenure regimes and their use is therefore crucial in understanding the role of corruption in African land sectors. This analysis shows that political corruption has facilitated land acquisitions and allocations for private gain. Hence, a legal base that protects communities and individual households from illegitimate land appropriations is a first step towards tenure security, but insufficient in a context where legal manipulation occurs. A strong legal base needs to be accompanied by mechanisms that hold officials or chiefs with discretion over land accountable to their constituencies, which currently lack in the African land sectors studied here.

The full report is available here.

The students also wrote a blog on their findings for the ACRN and one on their experience for the LSE website.

Author : T. Owen, M. Vanmulken & G. Duale

02 Nov 2015


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