– 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.