Deeply held mistrust of property rights in Africa
I just read Gregg Zachary’s most interesting article in PERC Reports (Winter 2011) about property rights in Uganda. I’ve been based here in Kenya for some 45 years and now research mainly economic impacts of property rights.
What never ceases to amaze me is the deeply held mistrust of secure, private property rights throughout Africa by African academics and politicians, to the extent that you read claims that private property rights are “inappropriate” for Africans.
Here in Kenya there is a strong move to undermine the value of all property rights. In the new constitution, for example, all pastoral property rights are to be confiscated, with no compensation, and transferred to a non-accountable, politically appointed National Land Bureau. When you cut through all the political hype, the reason for this move is that there are hopes of finding oil and gas in the pastoral lands to which the elite want easy access. And the pastoral members of Parliament, far from looking after their constituents’ welfare, are fully in favor of the change as they, as members of the elite, will also be able to indulge in takings.
A twisted tale
Thank you to Dan Benjamin for his insight into the development of barbed wire fencing—a great invention with so many uses! As he brings attention to in “Barbed Wire Entrepreneurship,” the invention and availability of barbed wire fencing played a significant role in the agricultural development of our arid great plains and elsewhere. Please consider addressing this integrally related topic in a future piece: Thomas Jefferson’s Yeoman Farmer strategy aka Manifest Destiny and the parcelization of the dryland West. Fence technology, in isolation, is interesting, but looking at it through the lens of agriculture, aridity, ecology and economy is even more interesting and considerably more complex.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it
In Zachary’s article, “Mud People and Super Farmers,” Ken and Jessica Sakwa sound like they are straight out of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. I hope things end better for them.
I am not sure that anything is “broken” here that needs to be “fixed.” The ownership of land titles opens the door to selling something that can sustain a family in exchange for short-term gain. Even worse, getting into debt using your land as collateral is a very risky proposition.
Constitutional protections for property rights, if enforced properly, can protect vulnerable communities and advance environmental justice.