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Land corruption in West Africa

Despite the progress recorded over the years, corruption in Africa remains a major challenge to the continent’s economic, social and political aspirations. The average regional score of Sub-Saharan Africa in Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was 33 out of 100, and the region’s consistently poor performance has persisted for many years. While corruption cuts across various sectors, the land sector is particularly vulnerable to corrupt practices. All over West Africa, women and men from poor communities see their lands taken over by powerful politicians and international investors – yet relevant actors, such as governments, business, and civil society, put forward few ideas for how to protect vulnerable populations.

Research by Transparency International shows that nearly four out of five people in low-income countries consider corruption in the land sector a serious problem. Rural and poor women are especially vulnerable to land corruption and are also disproportionately exposed to other forms of corruption, such as sextortion, that are enabled by gender and social norms feeding inequality.

Corruption in the land sector can materialise at three levels: in the management of state-owned land, in land administration and in land-use planning. Given that most land on the continent is held customarily with little documentation, African land governance is neither resilient against corruption, nor strong enough to confront and handle the global demand for land. Only 1 per cent of land in Sub-Saharan Africa is registered in a cadastre, heightening corruption risks in the sector.

This policy paper presents an overview of land corruption in West Africa and provides recommendations for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to address this issue.