This article profiles how land scarcity, the commoditization of land, and a rise in monetary land transactions (a common set of conditions in much of sub-Saharan Africa) have impacted local smallholders as well as formal and customary institutions in western Burkina Faso. The author demonstrates how increasing demand for land from urban investors and wealthy foreigners and the market economy’s penetration into rural areas has resulted in a sizable increase in land transactions. Under traditional law and custom in the study area selling land as a commodity is viewed as socially illegitimate. Therefore, transactions are either hidden from the vendor’s family and community or disguised by invoking customary terminology and traditions. Since neither customary authorities nor formal land administrations have the capacity to tackle the emerging market and ambiguous transactions, an institutional void is created and exploited by the wealthiest members of societies. Those with resources and know-how are best equipped to make use of ill-defined and unregulated markets, while the poor, lacking in power and awareness, are increasingly vulnerable to dispossession.
Keywords: emerging land markets, customary landholding systems, commoditization of land, elite capture.
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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