Customary land rights in Africa: a survey and selected case studies from East Africa

  • D Aredo Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Addis Ababa University
  • T Regassa Assistant Professor, Kotebe College of Teacher Education


Land right, particularly in the context of Africa, is inextricably linked with the right to food and other basic necessities. However, an aspect of land rights, i.e., customary land rights, has remained little understood, misconceived, and largely neglected by researchers and development actors. In the conventional literature, customary rights are often associated with the so-called “tragedy of the common” and with inefficiency in the uses of agricultural land. This paper critically investigates the conventional concept of customary rights, discusses alternative approaches to our understanding of these rights, and reviews the dynamism and resilience of customary institutions under pressure from internal and external forces of change. The survey reinforces the argument that customary land laws be recognized and scaled up so that they operate side-by-side with statutory laws. What emerges from the survey is that legal pluralism be put in place to accommodate the diverse interests of marginalized peoples, minorities, and the poor.

Ethiopian Journal of Development Research Vol. 27 (2) 2005: pp. 1-46

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eISSN: 0378-0813