Tanzania Journal of Development Studies

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Fetishizing the formal: institutional pluralism and land titling in Tanzania

Kathryn E. Owens, Kelly Askew, Rie Odgaard, Howard Stein, Faustin Maganga


Formal individual land titling is often posed as a foundational ingredient to economic and social development in Africa. Many have questioned this proposition with evidence from across the region. Our paper goes one step further in suggesting that an international community of actors created a fetish around land title that engenders chaos and conflict. We document the emergence of crowded field of land formalization efforts focused on technocratic solutions in Tanzania. The result is a pluralistic landscape with competing procedures and technologies, different justifications, and disparate outcomes. Despite the large allocations of funds support these efforts only 3% of all rural parcels have been surveyed since 2004. We use a mixed methods approach that includes analyses of government policies and project documents; interviews with government officials, project implementers and NGO staff; and rural household surveys in districts with and without titling. We argue that it is time to re-orient efforts by returning to a broader, integrated approach to rural development and abandon this myopic obsession with formalization, which has failed to fulfill its touted benefits. Our findings have relevance beyond land titling to other areas where duplicative efforts implemented in the name of progress might be counterproductive to achieving economic and social development goals.

Keywords: formalization, property rights, land titling, land conflicts, Tanzania, World Bank

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