Land and corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa

Land is a vital resource that sustains livelihoods across Sub-Saharan Africa, but also one that is heavily prone to corruption. Every second citizen in Africa has been affected by land corruption in recent years, according to a study by Transparency International.

Whether it’s an opaque deal between private investors and local authorities, citizens having to pay bribes during land administration processes, or customary laws that deny women their land rights, land corruption hits the poor and marginalised hardest. For young people, land corruption in rural areas can sap entrepreneurial spirit and restrict access to employment, driving migration to overcrowded urban centres. The consequences are food insecurity, an increased risk of conflict and a threat to traditional ways of life. Land corruption eats away at national economies and stands in the way of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

For citizens, limited access to information, complex laws and procedures regulating land ownership, and insufficient access to justice are some of the driving forces behind land corruption in Africa, while insufficient capacity in local land offices and traditional institutions makes it more difficult for officials to support good governance practices. In addition, rapid urbanisation has led to unaccountable land management and urban planning in many of Africa’s cities. Limited anti-corruption oversight by independent bodies, and a perceived lack of consequences for abusing power means the corrupt often get away with their crimes.

Goals

Launched in 2014, our Land and Corruption in Africa Programme is addressing these land corruption risks by:

  • Sharing information on how land corruption manifests and what its effects are.
  • Ensuring that land corruption and actions to fight it are put on the agendas of governments and international bodies like the African Union.
  • Raising the importance of combating land corruption in the global land governance debate.
  • Educating citizens about their land rights and how to defend them.
  • Working with governments, traditional authorities, the private sector and civil society to find solutions to combat land corruption.
  • Ensuring intergovernmental organisations, governments and business have procedures in place to sanction offenders and bring about justice for affected citizens.
  • Pushing for solutions to land corruption that are responsive to the needs of women, young people and other marginalised citizens.

Activities

Our key outputs include:

  • Country-by-country research on land corruption risks and the impact on citizens across 10 countries in Africa: Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • Surveys on citizens’ perceptions of land corruption and how it impacts their land tenure security and economic empowerment, especially among women and young people.
  • A web platform to map hotspots of land corruption on the continent, house dedicated research publications on the topic and promote information-sharing among the Transparency International movement and related partners.
  • Advocacy and education materials that give practical advice on how to combat land corruption.
  • Empowering citizens to raise their voices against land corruption and demand integrity from their leaders.

Our achievements

Cameroon: We produced a study on land governance challenges in Cameroon and held a training session to equip journalists to investigate and report on land corruption, which included a field trip to Kribi in the south of the country. Journalists compiled a report on land corruption in the region, which was published in a special edition magazine.

Ghana: We worked on a participatory video project with 10 widowed women from Kulbia Village in the eastern part of the country so women could document land issues affecting them, push for change in traditional practices and, ultimately, put an end to the corruption and abuse they face. We also produced a training guide for paralegals to assist in land corruption cases.

Kenya: We worked with communities to identify and capture school property boundaries online, educated school management committees about the process of applying for a land title and offered support in tracking the title application process. In addition, we partnered with Germany’s Humboldt University to produce a handbook on how to map land corruption risks in sub-Saharan Africa.

Madagascar: We partnered with the government, surveyors and citizens to pilot an inclusive land demarcation campaign to ensure communities know their land ownership status.  

South Africa: We partnered with journalists to investigate a questionable land deal and hosted a workshop for young people from Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe to brainstorm innovative solutions to combat land corruption affecting their communities. The top four ideas were awarded seed grants to be developed further.

Uganda: Collusive land deals that force local communities off their land are highly prevalent in Uganda. We have partnered with local media to expose the wrongdoing and will use the findings to launch a campaign to call for change.

Zimbabwe: We have exposed how women are forced to provide sexual favours to males in positions of power in order to access land, and documented the rise of illegal housing cooperatives that are undermining good urban land governance.

Increasing our impact

Between now and 2019, we hope to broaden the scope of our work by:

  • Carrying out in-depth research to develop gender-sensitive anti-corruption solutions.
  • Ensuring that women are included in land governance projects across the continent.
  • Forming strong partnerships with other civil society organisations to find joint solutions to land corruption and land rights violations.
  • Developing solutions to land corruption and ensure these are published widely.
  • Taking part in regional and international land advocacy events to build stronger networks of partners and draw the world’s attention to how land corruption undermines sustainability and development in Africa.
  • Scaling up our work with the private sector to ensure land investments happen in a transparent, fair and sustainable way that benefit a country’s economy as well as its people.

We've also recently posted to the Land Portal: 

More

Read our resolution calling for corruption-free land governance worldwide, which was unanimously adopted by more than 110 Transparency International chapters in Panama City, November 2016.

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Country / Territory - Cameroon   |   Ghana   |   Kenya   |   Liberia   |   Madagascar   |   Sierra Leone   |   South Africa   |   Uganda   |   Zambia   |   Zimbabwe   
Region - Sub-Saharan Africa   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Gender   |   Human rights   |   Land   |   Poverty and development   
Tags - Land management   |   Land titles   |   Urban affairs   |   Land rights   |   Land registration   |   Gender sensitivity   |   Rural communities   |   Gender responsiveness   

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