Socially Embedded Property Rights in Africa

William Andrew Kidd Gochberg. 2020. "Socially Embedded Property Rights in Africa"

These three essays explore the politics of property rights to land in Africa. The first essay asks why some farmers title their land while others do not. I argue that, beyond the costs typically associated with this process, there are social costs to titling as well. These social costs originate from the system of customary law that governs multiple domains of social life, including land. The second essay investigates whether customary land tenure incentivizes ethnic group-based conflict, and if so, how. I propose a mechanism linking land rights and conflict, but also suggest why this relationship should occur rarely in practice. The third essay examines how customary land tenure rules can produce counterintuitive land use decisions, a question of special importance in the context of an oil boom. I also document how the structure and enforcement of land rights can vary within a single customary community. All three essays employ original data collected in Uganda in 2018. These data include a survey of landholders, and several interviews with local officials, clan heads, government bureaucrats, and landholders themselves. I also rely on secondary literature, as well as public opinion data from across the continent. Together, these essays contribute to our understanding of why customary institutions persist in Africa, why ethnic violence over land remains relatively rare, and why some communities thrive in the context of economic change while others struggle.

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