Image Source: Transparency International
REGION: Sub-Saharan Africa

In “Understanding Land Corruption as a Basis for Prevention,” Transparency International’s Land and Corruption in Africa program sheds light on land corruption as a systemic issue to foster development of policies and introduce intervention strategies to support affected peoples, using questionnaires and in-depth interviews from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.

“Land corruption” is an umbrella term which refers to corrupt practices in land administration and acquisition. Land corruption results in loss of livelihood, forced evictions, and/or loss of social status, and it can take such forms as bribery, collusion, and cronyism. Aside from the individual consequences, there are wider societal effects, such as diminished trust in public institutions and reduced social stability and economic growth. Baseline research was carried out in the three countries of the Land and Corruption in Africa program (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zambia) in the form of questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and legal research. Through this research, Transparency International hopes to inform policymakers of the context and consequences of land corruption to improve individual lives, overcome poverty, and boost economic development.

Common Forms of Land Corruption

  • Bribery: Money and gifts in kind are the most common forms of bribery across the three countries, but bribery also includes free labor and the transfer of property deeds in Zambia. Survey respondents in Zambia say that bribes were paid to gain access to information and speed up land transactions, while bribes often prevent eviction and provide security in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Frequently, stakeholders such as surveyors and chiefs inflate costs for economic gain. 12% of respondents in Zambia report they have been asked to pay a bribe, 80% of whom paid these bribes; 10% of Liberian respondents have been asked to pay bribes, 56% of whom paid them; and 25% of Sierra Leone respondents have been asked to pay bribes, 79% of whom paid them.
  • Sexual Extortion: Women of low social status are the most frequent target for sexual extortion in the context of land ownership. In Liberia, sexual favors are often exchanged for a man to negotiate on a woman’s behalf, as women are traditionally barred from interacting with community leaders. Thus, women without male relatives are particularly vulnerable, as they do not have access to these decision-makers. 6% of responders in Liberia know someone who had been asked to perform sexual favors in relation to land rights. In Zambia, this figure is as much as 12% and is higher in urban areas.
  • Collusion: Collusion occurs in all three countries and involves both private investors and traditional authorities behind closed doors. Frequently, decisions on land holdings are made without consulting affected parties and often acted contrary to community interests.
  • Fraud, Patronage, and Kickbacks: Other forms of fraudulent activities in the three studied countries include forging land-related documents in Liberia, moving property lines for payment in Sierra Leone, and fraudulent land titles in Zambia. Similarly, land-related favoritism and patronage occur in Zambia, and evidence of favoritism exists in Liberia.

Factors that Enable Land Corruption

  • Fragmented Legal Framework: All three countries report a problem of fragmentation, lack of uniformity, and overlapping mandates, which creates incoherence and opportunities for corruption. The Land Rights law was passed in Liberia in 2018, but action to combat land corruption has yet to be seen in practice. In Zambia, the 1995 Land Act grants discretionary power to diverse authorities, including the president and local chiefs, creating confusions in the administration of public lands.
  • Weak Implementation of the Rules: All three countries lack an effective and efficient judiciary which sanctions existing corruption. These inefficient political systems hinder the protection of rights, including but not limited to rights regarding land. In Zambia, the central land tribunal may settle disputes but mostly only on state land, which allows for less control on customary land. Sierra Leone’s land acquisition paperwork process is overly lengthy and has no clear complaint process. Similarly, bribery exists even within the complaints processes in Liberia, notably in magistrate and circuit courts. Redress mechanisms do not exist in all communities, and low literacy rates pose a common barrier in all areas. Anti-corruption laws often do not include accountability measures across the board.
  • Discrimination and Exclusion: All three countries exhibit cultural or traditional practices which exclude or discriminate against specific groups regarding land use, and these traditions feed into the problem of land corruption. For example, traditional practices which evict women from the property of their deceased husbands are still seen in modern land transactions. In Liberia, women are barred access to traditional and community leaders, limiting access to key decision-makers concerning land issues.

Effects of Land Corruption

Land corruption has effects on individuals and large-scale communities alike, which include:

  • Forced displacement;
  • Harm to livelihoods, particularly small-scale producers and vulnerable groups;
  • Diminished legal and social legitimacy of actors;
  • Conflicts from land disputes, which include deaths in Liberia; and
  • Diminished trust in public institutions, which may further corruption.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Understanding Land Corruption as a Basis for Prevention: Findings from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zambia

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