Some Outstanding Issues in the Debate on External Promotion of Land Privatisation


  • The 1992/3 empirical research reported was conducted as part of the ODA ESCOR-funded project ‘Rural Livelihood Systems and Farm/Non-farm Linkages in Lower Embu, Kenya 1972-4 to 1992-3” (Research Scheme R4816). This support, as well as the contribution of Martin Walsh, anthropologist, who joined the project for part of its duration, and comments on previous drafts by Michael Lipton, Judith Heyer, Martin Upton and Pauline Peters as well as by participants at seminars at Oxford, Imperial College, London and Reading Universities are gratefully acknowledged, as also are computational advice from David Hitchin, Sussex University, and help from Kenya Government officals and the people of Mbeere and Tharaka-Nithi, particularly Simon Karengi, Silas Kibweci, Mwalimu Kirege, Justus Runji, Nicasio Ireri and Josek Iguna Nyaga. Responsibility for any outstanding errors and omissions rests with the author.


Since the early 1990s, the dominant consensus in the debate on land rights reform in sub-Saharan Africa has been that external interventions to privatise land rights are usually inappropriate and likely to remain so. This article suggests that two elements in the debate – the scope for varying adjudication criteria, procedures and support systems in order to enhance equity, and the influence of a region's agro-ecological and socioeconomic characteristics on the impacts of tenure change – merit further attention. The article urges a shift towards a more pragmatic approach, sensitive to the diversity of both physical and socio-economic conditions within which tenure systems operate. Illustrative evidence is drawn from a relatively low-potential farming region in eastern Kenya.