Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(Opinion) lack of property rights in Africa: cause of conflict?

If you ask people from countries in the west and beyond what's the world greatest invention,the internet, the wheel or the iPod will usually come, up but what should come up more is the invention of property rights. while property rights may not inspire as much wonder as internet or the iPod and has a very bad reputation
(at least in Marxist and Anarchist circles where it has reached swear word status)but without it, capitalism  cannot work as anyone can claim ownership of land, leading infinite disputes among a unknown number of parties.

Property rights avoids this conflict by simply ensuring the right of the individual to own a commodity ( land or property for the purpose of this short essay) and can keep or use the said commodity as the rightful owner sees fit.When such a system does not exist where land or property can be bought and owned by the individual,or the there is no system in place that can clearly attribute land or property to an owner, this almost ensures an  Hobbesian nightmare begins to take shape.

Without property rights guaranteed and protected by law or neutral arbiter, the abuse of power become the norm as other actors can claim, with force, ownership over a given property. This problem is rife within the global south , particularly in Africa as many states on the continent have little or no discernible property rights system to show who owns what in relation to land.

 in this legal black-hole, it is left to the state to manage the county's real estate,  the problem with this is the majority of states in Africa are no guarantors of economic rights. In knowledge of this, it is no wonder why economic  development in many African states has failed to take off as the lack property rights means that African find it difficult to acquire credit as they have little else to offer as collateral.

Added to this already trying mix is the rapidly growing trend of African states selling land to multinational corporations regardless of whether people occupy it or not. land disputes lead into many of problems  in Africa such as conflict as dispossessed individuals look for other means to survive as land is of great importance in economies still dominated by the agricultural sector.

In sum, property rights is not catch-all solution for problems in Africa or anywhere else with similar problems  but represents a step in the right direction. The codification and enforcement of property rights will help attenuate land disputes, which has served as a focal point of many conflicts in Africa thrown in the mix of predatory governments and rival militias, very often split along tribal lines.


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