Cutting the Web of Interests: Pitfalls of Formalizing Property Rights


Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, and Esther Mwangi.2009. “Cutting the Web of Interests: Pitfalls of Formalizing Property Rights.” Land Use Policy 26: 36-43.

Authors: Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Esther Mwangi


Property rights to land can be thought of as a web of interests, with many different parties having a right to use, regulate, or manage the resource, which may be based on a range of customary institutions or local norms as well as state law. These interests often play a critical role in livelihoods, social relations, and ecological functions. The formalization of property rights has historically led to a cutting of this web, creating more exclusive forms of rights over the resource. Drawing from case studies in Kenya the paper emphasizes the risk of excluding legitimate claimants in formalization processes that focus on individual titling. By collapsing all rights within individuals, such programs have negated the distinct multiple claims by women, youths, and seasonal users, among others. We examine ways in which formalization processes can secure diverse claims, and highlight the need for a better understanding of the social and ecological implications of existing land tenure before they are undermined by formalization.


Keywords: land access, Property Rights, social relations, ecological functions


“Although tenure was grounded in a patrilineal system, Taita women traditionally had use rights in particular parcels of land, acquired primarily as wives or widows. Widows had the right to pawn, or sell parcels on behalf of minor heirs. The land tenure reform jeopardized women’s’ use rights and autonomy in agricultural decision-making. Because title deeds were issued in the name of husbands only, women ended up with no enforceable rights in traditional or modern law to even the use of the parcel or any portion of it. In addition, the guardianship rights of widows over deceased husbands’ property are threatened by the registration of the consolidated plot in the husband's name only, because it impairs their right to make decisions, including sales of land, on behalf of minor sons.” (39)


Topics: Age, Youth, Gender, Women, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Kenya

Year: 2009

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