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Structures and Strategems: Making Decentralization of Authority over Land in Africa Cost-Effective

By: John W. Bruce, Anna Knox

Community-led land tenure reform requires specification of ‘‘the community,” and this raises long-standing issues concerning the balance between civil and traditional local authorities in Africa. Recent experience with decentralization of authority over land suggests that the cost of creating new local land administration capacities is high. A less costly option is reliance at least in part upon traditional authorities, who de facto retain considerable popular legitimacy and still control land in much of rural Africa, and experience suggests opportunities for creative institutional amalgams of civil and traditional local authority. There are very considerable differences among traditional authority structures in Africa, and so the potential of this approach will vary from case to case. In developing such decentralized systems, the interests of transparency and accountability will best be served by creating checks and balances between the different levels of land administration.
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