Hernando de Soto, advocate of central registers of land rights, raised the possibility of Africans being culturally unsuited to property rights. This article argues that sub-Saharan Africa's high proportion of tribal/communal land (as distinguished from private and public/state land) results from a combination of geography, history, and population distribution. External colonial rule created a dual system of land tenure that restrained private property rights in the tribal/communal land areas. The research draws upon archival evidence from the colonial land tenure panel chaired by Lord Hailey (1945–50). The finding is not that Africans are inherently culturally unsuited to property ownership, but that colonialism reinforced pluralistic forms of property rights, which create particular challenges to land law reform.