Strengthening legal and administrative systems

In transitioning to a well-functioning system of land rights, first and foremost, there is a need to strengthen the formal legal and administrative systems governing land. These provide the practical conditions required for courts to enforce ownership, governments to tax and plan land use, and markets to transfer land to its highest value use. Strengthening these systems is not only a necessary precondition for large-scale land registration, but is also typically easier for cities to implement in the shorter-term. Where a strong formal system is in place, large-scale programmes of land registration can unlock the benefits of secure, legally enforceable, and marketable land rights in areas currently under informal or customary tenure.

Legal and administrative reforms

Where formal legal procedures are long, inefficient and costly, this increases opportunities for corruption, deterring investors, and leaves the formal legal system inaccessible to low-income households. Before a recent set of reforms in Ghana, for example, over 50% of all new civil cases lodged were related to land, and the average length of a land-related case was between two to five years.10 Specialised courts dedicated to land issues have helped to expedite land dispute resolution procedures, especially where they have encouraged greater emphasis on pretrial settlements to avoid lengthy legal battles.

Land administration systems in African cities are also often in urgent need of reform. One key reason behind lengthy processes of property transactions, overlapping ownership claims and outdated valuation records, is the fact that over 80% of Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries still have paper-based systems, with significant disparities between local and central government land records. Two interrelated reforms which have helped to address these inefficiencies are to computerise and synthesise records, and to decentralise land administration. Decentralising land administration can make it easier and less costly for residents to register transactions, as well as facilitating increased local awareness of land rights. In Ghana, where the computerisation of land records was combined with a decentralisation of deed registries to ten regional centres, the average time to register property transfers was cut from 169 days in 2005 to 34 days in 2011, and valuation rolls can automatically be updated based on registered transfers.11


  • 10 Byamugisha, Frank F. K. 2013. “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity: A Program to Scale Up Reforms and Investments”, Africa Development Forum series. Washington, DC: World Bank.
  • 11 Ibid.