About two thirds or 2.2 billion hectares of all cultivated land in sub-Saharan Africa are thought to be under customary tenure.
Photo: Kolle Visser/Shutterstock


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Most of the land in sub-Saharan Africa is governed under various forms of customary tenure. Over the past three decades a quiet paradigm shift has been taking place transforming the way such land is governed.

Notwithstanding the African Union (AU)’s 2009 Framework and Guidance on Land Policy in Africa that advocates a leading role for customary tenure in land governance, an almost irreversible process that can possibly be best described as ‘neo-liberalisation of customary tenure’ has been quietly working its way across much of sub-Saharan Africa. After almost two decades of sustained but predominantly localised and almost imperceptible change, there has emerged what can only usefully be characterised as a ‘new’-African customary tenure regime.

In a new study, Admos Chinhowu of the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester in the UK, reviews some of the evidence and analyses the ways in which this neo-liberalisation of customary tenure has been transforming relations of production and how land is governed today in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study identifies how core neo-liberalisation processes such as privatisation of rights, commoditisation, de-regulation; re-regulation and flanking have led to a formal reconfiguration of the way people relate to land.

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