This is Part Two of a two-part Land Portal blog series investigating the data and analysis around tenure (in)security. In Part One, we asked Rick de Satge to explore the provenance and impact of the common statistic about tenure insecurity that “two-thirds of the world’s population have no access to secure land tenure.” In Part Two he examines the intersections between the original 70/30 narrative and contemporary data from the Prindex survey on global perceptions of tenure insecurity. He focuses on sub-Saharan Africa to explore the links between the Prindex data and the IOM World migration report for 2022. The persistence of political and economic instability exacerbated by climate change questions the longstanding assumption that the formalisation of land rights will be a reliable guarantee of tenure security.
Tenure insecurity: No quick fix
By Rick de Satgé
It has been commonly assumed that if land and property rights are off register then they must be insecure. Hence the formalisation and documentation of land rights must strengthen tenure security. But is this actually the case?
The need for strengthened tenure security features prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG Indicator 1.4.2 proposes two types of measurement for tenure security:
the proportion of adults with legally documented property rights,
the proportion of adults who perceive their rights to land to be secure.
As we examined in Part One there is still a lack of hard data about the extent of legally documented property rights globally. However, even if we had reliable figures about documented land rights these would not tell the whole story about security of land rights. In the global South research suggests that there is often a substantial gap between the information on the title deed or land rights certificate and the rights recognised on the ground. Rights and systems are in constant flux. Even in countries where there has been substantial investment in land rights formalisation, subsequent transactions may revert to the informal. For example, in Rwanda which was the first country in Africa to complete country wide first-time registration of land rights, recent data suggests that five years later 87% of rural land transactions remain informal. In South Africa research into how the poor hold, trade and access land in informal settlements suggests that multiple factors influence how people perceive their tenure security and that formally recorded rights are not necessarily regarded as significant.
Globally, the most wide-ranging analysis of individual perceptions about tenure security has been provided by Prindex, an NGO measuring global perceptions of land and property rights. The Prindex survey is regarded by many as the most authoritative contemporary source of global data – one which is based on the perceptions of over 90,000 women and 78,400 men surveyed on tenure security in 140 countries worldwide.
The Prindex chart below reveals how perceived rates of insecurity vary widely around the world.
Prindex findings reveal how the type of measure employed – the existence of legally documented land rights or individual perceptions on the relative security of their tenure – results in vastly different overall assessments of the numbers of people whose tenure is insecure.
In Part One we explored the origins of the assertion that the tenure rights of 70% were insecure because they were not formally recorded. Just how many people this 70% estimate referred to was not clear. Some cited this figure as a representation of global tenure insecurity. Others indexed the figure to the population of countries in the ‘developing world’. Irrespective of which interpretations we choose, 70% of global or developing country populations would completely dwarf the not insignificant 960 million people identified by the Prindex survey, who perceive their tenure to be insecure worldwide.
In sub-Saharan Africa Prindex reports that 26% (121 million people) regard their tenure to be insecure. However, if we invert the numbers an argument could be made that 74% of people in sub-Saharan Africa understand their tenure to be relatively secure. So how can two such very different stories reaching fundamentally different conclusions exist side by side?
The uncomfortable juxtaposition of these two estimates raises important questions about how data on tenure insecurity is conceptualised and aggregated. Ultimately it asks a bigger question about what tenure insecurity actually means and how we can measure this.
When we drill down further into the Prindex findings, data from Sub-Saharan Africa tells an interesting story. This region is widely regarded to be amongst the most politically insecure and economically precarious regions in the world, most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Despite this, as the Prindex infographic reveals below, perceptions of insecurity vary widely from country to country.
Source: Prindex – Six infographics on land and property rights in Sub-Saharan Africa
Clearly however expressing tenure insecurity in percentage terms does not tell the full story and may even be misleading. The aggregated 26% perception of tenure insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa needs to be assessed in relation to the band of unsurveyed countries, shaded grey on the map above. These include Angola, the DRC, the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia – all of which have histories of protracted conflict which have major implications for the relative security of land rights. It would be reasonable to assume that if these countries were included in the survey, the percentage of the population regarding their tenure as insecure could rise significantly.
All of this reminds us that data analysis and the conclusions derived reflect how surveys are designed, the sampling methodology employed and the depth of the dataset. It also underlines the importance of grounding data in context and the need to draw on multiple data sources to better assess the drivers of tenure insecurity in space and place.
For example, if the Prindex findings are read in conjunction with the 2022 World Migration report produced by the International Organisation for Migration, fresh insights can be obtained on the dynamic relationships between conflict, climate related disasters and land rights insecurity.
Conflict creates refugees and asylum seekers. Populations are forced to move both across borders and internally within countries. Forced migration has enormous implications for tenure insecurity, pressure on land and natural resources. Of the top 20 countries with the largest populations of internally displaced people, 50% are in Africa. In 2020 some 2.2 million people were internally displaced in the DRC alone.
Top 10 African countries by total refugees and asylum seekers. Source: World Migration Report 2022
Conflict and forced migration results in conflicting and overlapping rights in land. These have the potential to trigger further conflict cycles, both in the areas or countries to which people are displaced and subsequently back home, when refugees and IDPs return to find their land occupied by others. The impacts of the longstanding conflict and displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and across the Great Lakes region illustrates this well. The DRC only trails Syria with respect to the number of displaced people.
with respect to the number of displaced people.
Top 20 countries with the largest populations of internally displaced persons by conflict and violence at the end of 2020 (millions). Source: World Migration Report 2022.
The interplay between IOM and Prindex data reveal the dynamic and increasingly precarious nature of the political and socio-economic context across much of sub-Saharan Africa. This reinforces one of the most illuminating Prindex findings that having a documented land right in Sub-Saharan Africa is not perceived to automatically guarantee tenure security. In fact, it may even cement the dispossession of those displaced by conflict as new certificates are issued to legitimate the appropriation of land and property.
Source: Prindex – Six infographics on land and property rights in Sub-Saharan Africa
This leads Prindex to conclude that “formalising land rights may not be a blanket solution to insecurity”.
This conclusion is of fundamental importance. It demands that we ask hard questions about the core assumption underpinning the original 70/30 narrative – namely that titling and land rights recordal would go a long way to guarantee tenure security and in so doing magically transform ‘dead capital’ into ‘fungible assets’. It suggests that we need to look elsewhere for solutions to tenure insecurity and address its primary causes.
Overall, the value of the Prindex and related data resides much more in providing a window into particular countries and regional settings, and less in the aggregated findings and the computation of the overall numbers.
What the original 70/30 story concealed is that tenure insecurity remains context specific and stubbornly immune to a quick fix. Formalisation and documentation of land rights do not in themselves guarantee tenure security and may even facilitate elite capture. People’s relations to the land are shaped by varied histories of land dispossession and acquisition. They are determined by the complex interplay between social values, customary and statutory law, politics, poverty, relative power, conflict and climate vulnerability. They reflect the ways these relationships play out in time and place. It is these factors to which we must attend if we are to make progress in securing equitable land rights for all.
Adzawla, W., M. Sawaneh and A. M. Yusuf (2019). "Greenhouse gasses emission and economic growth nexus of sub-Saharan Africa." Scientific African 3: e00065.
Ali, D. A., K. Deininger, G. Mahofa and R. Nyakulama (2021). "Sustaining land registration benefits by addressing the challenges of reversion to informality in Rwanda." Land Use Policy 110: 104317.
De Soto, H. (2000). The mystery of capital. London, Bantam Press.
Kingwill, R. (2018). "Title deeds for all: It isn't that simple." Retrieved 11 November, 2018, from https://www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/title-deeds-for-all-it-isnt-that-simple.
Marx, C., L. Royston and U. LandMark (2007). "How the poor access, hold and trade land." Urban Land Markets, Research by Isandla Institute, Stephen Berrisford Consulting with Progressus Research and Development, London (http://www. urbanlandmark. org. za/downloads/OOM_booklet_v5ss. pdf).
McAuliffe, M. and A. Triandafyllidou, Eds. (2021). World Migration Report 2022. Geneva, International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Prindex (2021). Six infographics on land and property rights in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Photo from Hervé Simon on Flickr.