Blogs: Is Land Titling the Best Way to Secure Tenure Rights in Tanzania? Godfrey Massay

On 13th to 17th of May 2019, I attended Theory Workshop on the Character of the Agrarian Question in Contemporary Africa organize by the Young African Researchers in Agriculture Network (YARA) and hosted by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of Western Cape in Cape Town –South Africa. The workshop was facilitated by four prominent scholars of land and agrarian studies namely; Prof. Issa Shivji, Prof. Kojo Amanor, Prof. Ruth Hall and Prof. Ben Cousins.  It covered diverse range of topics in four thematic areas; the political economy of agrarian question, the modes of agrarian changes – from agricultural modernization to neoliberal theories, agro-food regimes in contemporary capitalism, and property rights in modes of production- a historical perspectives.

The workshop was theoretically very informative and academically stimulating. It enhanced my understanding of the political economy of the agrarian question in Africa. I was particularly interested on land titling and its critics and would like to reflect on it in this blog by shading the light with experience from Tanzania.

Land Titling and its Critics

In Africa, land titling was imposed by colonialists as a tool to secure land tenure rights of the colonial projects. The natives were allowed to own land customarily with no any documents of ownership so that, the colonialists can take away their land at will to advance colonial interest without having to face legal dispute.

In East Africa, the East African Royal Commission in the 1950s recommended individualization, titling and registration as these countries approached independence (Shivji, 2008). The argument was based on the alleged inefficiency of peasant production. Individualization and titling would enable land to be used as collateral thus enabling investment in land. It would facilitate transfer of land from inefficient to efficient farmers. It would penalize the lazy and the indolent while acting as an incentive to the hardworking. Tanzania rejected the recommendation and Kenye took it. The Mau Mau upraising and post-election violence of 2007 are liked to impacts of land consolidations which Kenya adopted in the 1950s (Ibid.)

Over 50 years after the East African Royal Commission, Peruvian neo-liberal economist Hernando De Soto, according to Issa Shivji, came with new edition of the commission’s argument. His thesis “The Mystery of Capital” argues that the poor hold assets worth trillions of dollars, but not as formal property and hold informal property rights which are ‘extra-legal’. Because these assets are not recorded, they are ‘dead capital’ and cannot create additional value. The solution, he argues, is to integrate the extra-legal and the formal into one property system (as happened in the West) and provide universal title ownership through individual freehold systems (De Soto, 2002). Thus, the primary purpose of land titling is to enable capitalization of property of poor in the form of credit.

De Soto’s core argument is on property and market. It asserts that formal property can be turned into cash. It assumes a market for such property which increases the supply of credit by mobilizing willing lenders. The critics to this argument are that, formal rights are insufficient to generate a land markets because customary systems prohibitions on sales and people with houses value secure occupation over other functions. Without a land market, the credit supply effect will not occur and even when property markets do emerge, the credit effect can fail to materialize when prices are too low.

Experience in Blantyre urban area in Malawi shows that titling did not yield any significant impact. For instance, only two of the 25 respondents went on to have the transfer registered with the Blantyre Land Registrar and of the 117 individual titles issued in the settlement, none show a bank loan (Chrome and McCall 2005)

Vast amount of empirical evidence from many countries are showing the similar situation: Colombia (Gilbert 2002); Peru (Calderon 2001; Turkey (Ozueken 1998); Kenya (Carter al 1993); Malawi (Chrone and McCall 2005); South Africa (Rust 2007; Tomlinson 2007). I will discuss the experience from Tanzania in the following part.

Experience from Tanzania

Like many other countries in Africa, massive land titling in Tanzania were influenced by De Soto’s work. In Tanzania, Property and Business Formalization Programme (MKURABITA) was designed and implemented in collaboration with De Soto’s own organization in early 2000s. The program, among other things, envisages a country-wide plan to impart entrepreneurship skills to owners of customary land certificates[1].

Studies that have been conducted to assess the formalization projects have presented mixed findings all of which are showing unpromising results. Challenges in accessing credit from financial institutions, very little credit provided in agriculture (Stein et al[2]), and worse- how these projects have facilitated land grabbing[3] and further dispossession of land users[4]. Thus, showing completely deferent results than those advocated for the projects.

That notwithstanding, in the last three years, the government of Tanzania in collaboration with SIDA, DFID and DANIDA implemented a big land titling project of village lands in three districts (Malinyi, Kilombero, and Ulanga) in Morogoro Region[5]. The program planned to issue 300,000 Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancies (CCROs) by June 2019. So far, more than 250,000 CCROs have been issued to landholders. Another similar project which have implemented land titling and issued thousands of CCROs in the country is Feed the Future Land Tenure Assistance project funded by the USAID[6]. Moreover, there is currently ongoing negotiation between the Government of Tanzania and the World Bank to get a loan of over 100$ million dollars to support land formalization in urban and rural areas.

There is no comprehensive research which has investigated the benefits and livelihood improvements for those landholders with CCROs. Although, according to the Government, more than 1.4 Billion Tanzanian Shillings have been released to landholders who used their CCROs as collateral by NMB and CRDB banks as of April 2018, I am not sure if this has improved their lives and still secured their tenure rights on land.


What has become clear is that, under neo-liberalism, new predatory finance capital is heralding a new wave of commodification and expropriation of land. The African peasantry is proving too resistant of titling projects which is why is envisaged market aspirations are not working.

It would, in my view, help to understand the meaning of “property” and “land rights” in the African context as well articulated by the late Prof. Okoth- Ogendo (1998) and explore other forms of tenure security such as communal or social tenure systems that are more sociality inclusive and reflective of realities of customary land tenure.