Breathing Life into Dead Theories about Property Rights: de Soto and Land Relations in Rural Africa

October 2006
Celestine Nyamu-Musembi (IDS Sussex Working Paper 272)

Argues that there are 5 shortcomings in both the old (World Bank) and contemporary (Hernando de Soto) arguments for formalisation of land title. First, legality is constructed narrowly to mean only formal legality. Therefore legal pluralism is equated with extra-legality. Second, there is an underlying social-evolutionist bias that presumes inevitability of the transition to private (conflated with individual) ownership as the destiny of all societies. Third, the presumed link between formal title and access to credit facilities has not been borne out by empirical evidence. Fourth, markets in land are understood narrowly to refer only to ‘formal markets’. Fifth, the arguments in favour of formalisation of title as the means to secure tenure ignore the fact that formal title could also generate insecurity.