Customary tenure has been associated with absence of individual ownership, inadequate security of tenure, weak institutions, causing environmental degradation, and discriminating against women. These perceptions are re-looked at in the light of personal experience and observations, and literature review in the context of Zambia.
Zambia uses a dual system of tenure consisting of statutory, leasehold, tenure on one hand and customary tenure on the other. This is a legacy from the colonial days. Some of the perceptions have roots in that era but have permeated even current official thinking. Since the liberation struggles purportedly were about fighting injustices inclusive of land issues, logically one would expect that the post-independence governments would have seriously relooked and rethought the whole land tenure and land administration issue in country. Instead what we find is a perpetuation of leasehold tenure, a system that we are failing to sustain for all kinds of reasons. From all successive land laws and practices, the intention is clear – gradually replace customary tenure. One may hasten ask therefore that why eliminate a system that is legitimate, well understood, and widespread?
Given this background, the paper therefore reflects on the five identified perceptions used as justifications for perpetuating leasehold tenure pointing mainly local examples supported in some cases by outside studies. The conclusion is that these perceptions are in some cases just incorrect, or over generalised, whilst in others the problems are not inherent, specific, nor limited to customary tenure. The observations also suggest that security of tenure does not arise from title, recording, nor from boundary demarcation but from the perception supported by legitimate and capable institutions. If so, it is justifiable to advocate for a tenure system that is founded on the culture and norms of society and provides for universal entitlement to land.
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