The importance of land law for the rule of law in Africa can hardly be questioned. Population pressures and competition over access to land and resources generate much conflict, complicated by the historical legacy of colonial laws and land-grabbing, and by post-independence land law reforms. The international development agencies increasingly fund projects related to land law, policy and administration, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Habitat each maintaining specialist land tenure units, and the AU and SADC formulating land policy frameworks.
This book on themes in African land law is one of a pair, the other presenting local case studies. It is not so easy to achieve an overview, nor to find specialist writers in the field. Land law has traditionally been regarded as a difficult subject to teach, and specialists are fewer in the law departments of African universities than one might expect. A quick scan of the index to fifty years of the Journal of African Law reveals less than one article a year with ‘land’ in the title, the most popular topics being the Nigerian Land Use Decree and tribal tenure in Botswana. Africa is less well served than other continents by specialist property law networks, and less represented at international academic conferences in the field. While Stellenbosch University in South Africa has a programme training academic land law specialists, that is an isolated initiative.
The search for contributors to these books produced more non-Africans and those of the African diaspora than Africans working in their home country. Nor is African land law the exclusive preserve of lawyers, so other professions have represented, such as land surveyors, land economists and planners, as well as those working in NGOs. The list of authors thus includes a Cameroonian based in the USA, two Ghanaians and a Zimbabwean in UK academia, and within Africa a Tanzanian in Botswana and a Zambian in Namibia. With much research coming from outside the continent, non-African authors include three British, one French (geographer), one French-Canadian, one Texan (geographer), and one Dutch (land surveyor).
The two books attempt a balanced regional and thematic coverage. The table below presents basic statistics on the countries discussed, giving some pointers to their diversity, in population size, land area and population density, but a dozen countries from a continent that has over fifty inevitably means omissions.