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The influence of inheritance on land information updating in customary tenure

Student:Zaid Abubakari
Timeline:August 2016 - 31 July 2020

Land registration is important for many reasons. Studies (Besley, 1995, De Soto, 2000, Feder and Nishio, 1998, Feder and Noronha, 1987, Platteau, 1996) have shown that it can increase tenure security, facilitate property market operations, enhance credit accessibility for land holders, and support land revenue generation and planning. The realization of these benefits however, requires that the information contained in land registers is current and regularly updated (Binns and Peter, 1995). Ideally, such information needs to reflect the different types of relationships between people and land, that is information about who (subject) is related (rights) to what (object) at any point in time.   To maintain up-to-date land registers, changes in land ownership and land use rights need to be promptly and regularly reported (Binns and Peter, 1995, Biraro et al., 2015). In practice, this is often not the case, the reporting of changes in land holding status is often hindered by some obstacles (Barnes and Griffith-Charles, 2007, Biraro et al., 2015, Deininger et al., 2010). On the one hand, studies by (Biraro et al., 2015, Chimhamhiwa et al., 2009, Enemark et al., 2014, Cotula, Toulmin, and Quan, 2006, Zevenbergen et al., 2012) have shown that these obstacles arise from bottlenecks within the formal land registration organization. Such obstacles become manifest when people get involved in land registration processes. On the other hand, there are some other obstacles which relate to socio-cultural norms that regulate people-land relationship. In combination, these obstacles have encouraged informal property dealings outside the official land register creating a mismatch between the land rights contained in it and those in reality. This sometimes generate conflicts and litigations over access to land, thereby undermining the function of land registration systems in supporting tenure security and (Deininger et al., 2010).  Existing scientific literature (Binns and Peter, 1995, Williamson, 1996, Zevenbergen, 2002, Deininger et al., 2010,   Biraro et al., 2015) studied these obstacles largely from the angle of land registration systems per se by focusing on their processes and elements that hinder access to land registration services, such as high transaction costs, complicated bureaucracies, complex procedures, long transaction time and distance to land registration offices. Accordingly, practical attempts at the development and maintenance of land registration systems have largely centered on streamlining these systems in organizational, procedural, and technical terms. However, looking at the complexity that encompasses customary land tenure relations, it is essential to have dynamic systems of land registration that respond well to such complexities. From modern organisational theories such as the Socio-Technical Systems theory, it is argued that an organisation is made up of not only its technical subsystems but a combination of technical and social subsystems (Bostrom and Heinen, 1977, Jelinek, 1977, Pasmore, 1988, Whitworth, 2009, Eason, 2013). The theory posits that the proper integration of the technical subsystem (design and procedures) and social subsystems (internal and external environments) defines organisational success within any given environment.     In comparison, relatively, little attention has been paid to socio-cultural norms and practices that govern the interactions between people and land and how these interactions affect the development and maintenance of the land registration systems. One important element that is largely influenced by socio-cultural norms and practices in people-land relationship is real property inheritance. Like other social practices, inheritance is governed by plural legal orders (customary law, state law and other forms of law like religious laws) which create diversity in the norms that guide inheritance practices. Inheritance practices are therefore important to understand in terms of their influence on the processes of updating information in formal land registration systems.    Studies in the Caribbean (St. Lucia), Kenya and Ghana ( Platteau, 1996, Barnes and Griffith-Charles, 2007) suggest that indigenous inheritance practices exhibit a reverse effect on land tenure registration due to non-registration of inheritance transfers. In some cases, registered properties devolve through subsequent generations without formal records of transfer rendering the hitherto up-to-date land information outdated in the long-run. The reasons for this occurrence are not yet known. The diversity and dynamics of inheritance practices therefore play an important role in the success or failure of not only setting up formal land registration systems, but in their maintenance and thus usefulness in the long-run. Though many countries face this problem, the case of Ghana is particularly important as inheritance is one of the major sources of land ownership (Abubakari et al., 2016) and customary tenure institutions own and control about 80% of the total land area according to customary law (Kasanga and Kotey, 2001).    Therefore, this study will contribute to research on inheritance and land information updating by understanding the drivers for reporting or non-reporting of inheritance transfers from the angle of socio- cultural practices and the laws that underpin such practices in the African context for the case of Ghana.

Meet the team

Z. Abubakari (Zaid)
Graduate Student J.A. Zevenbergen (Jaap)
Research theme
People, Land and Urban Systems

In PLUS research, people are our focus. Everyone is included, from societal thought-leaders, to government policy makers, to high-level civil society advocates – through to entrepreneurs and citizens, including the disenfranchised. These people are our collaborators, our participants, our beneficiaries, our users. PLUS focuses on understanding the spatial information needs of society and responding to those needs in responsible ways – as tools, as systems, as infrastructure, or as ways of thinking. Our work sits at the nexus of urbanization, land tenure, governance, climate change, and transportation – and the grand challenges of sustainability and social equity in the age of the anthropocene.

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