Statutory recognition of customary land rights in Africa

March 2011
Rachel S. Knight (FAO Legislative Study 105)

Argues that protecting and enforcing the land rights of rural Africans may be best done by passing laws that elevate existing customary land rights into formal legal frameworks and making them equal to documented land claims. Investigates over-arching issues on the statutory recognition of customary land rights. Land laws in Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique are analysed extensively in content and implementation, concluding with recommendations and practical considerations on how to write a land law that recognizes and formalizes customary land rights. Cautions lawmakers that even excellent laws may, in their implementation, fall prey to political manipulation and suggests mechanisms that might ensure that the law is properly implemented and the land claims of rural communities are protected.