Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 1

– in need of reform, or simply a more nuanced understanding?

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Affordable housing is an emerging priority in Africa. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing fundamental and profound changes in demographics as the 21st century moves towards its second decade. In 1983, just 21% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population of 400 million was urban, by 2003, 36% of its 700 million people lived in cities and towns. From 1990-2003 urban growth rates increased by 4.6% per annum, almost twice as much as overall population growth rates, (Stephen Giddings, 2007). At this rate of urbanization, urban managers in Africa have huge problems to grapple with; one of the most pressing being the provision of adequate affordable housing. Most analyses conclude that the development of adequate affordable houses at scale in Sub-Saharan Arica is hindered in three main categories: policy and regulatory, physical and technological and housing finance.

In my experience, the absence of clean and clear title impedes the assembling of large tracks of land at the scale require for massive housing developments. Land Tenure in most sub-Saharan Africa is Customary.  Customary land is land which is owned by Indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs and traditions. For example, in Ghana traditional land-owning authorities (stool chiefs, clan heads and skins) hold allodial (absolute ownership) title to land on behalf of their people. Thus outright ownership of land is still a rare form of land tenure in Ghana (Asumadu, Kwame Dr. May 2003).

Land in Kenya is slightly more complex, and is owned by four different kinds of groups: the government, county councils, individuals and groups (Kameri-Mbote, Patricia Dr. 2005).

In Southern Africa, the two principal forms of land tenure systems are customary and statutory tenure (ECA/SA/EGM. Land/2003/2). None of these forms of tenure allows clean and clear title for ownership.

Question for thought: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

Continued in Part 2 next week

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.

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3 thoughts on “Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 2 | AHI Global Blog

  2. Leonard Dikobe

    Forms of title may vary from country to country but what is essential is the ability to act as credit-substitute. Lack of “responsible” credit is a huge impediment in poverty reduction. Lack of Building Standards in Low Income Areas is also an impediment and a self-destructive feature of the residents. Poor people need building standards more than the rich. Every brick to them represents an opportunity to step out of poverty.

    With such a live investment a secure land title assures the next generation of a decent house that has a price in the property market. The direction of the spiral changes instantly from downward into more poverty to upward. She can take her son to college through a loan taken against the house to study Property Law, for example!

    Reply
  3. poczta

    I tend not to drop a bunch of responses, however I read a few of the
    responses on Land title and affordable housing development in
    Africa – Part 1 | Affordable Housing Institute – Global Blog.
    I actually do have 2 questions for you if you tend not to mind.
    Could it be only me or does it appear like a few of the remarks
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    Reply

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