It is widely recognised that unclear land rights act as a constraint to development, and disputes and conflicts arise especially with growing pressures of demand on land from expanding urban populations.

As part of our contribution to the development of an “institutional diagnostic tool” for the Economic Development and Institutions research programme, we examined land use, rights and management in Tanzania with a view to understanding what is required to improve the land tenure system and remove such constraints to development within the country.

Through our research, which included an historical review, analysis of land laws and regulations, and exploration of impacts of recent reforms, we identified eight main institutional issues and challenges within the system of land tenure:

  1. Duality of tenure: The handling of the distinction between general land and village land is the main source of friction and inefficiency, combining often inadequate protection for villagers with disincentives for investors that may lead to missed economic opportunities. Better defined, better implemented, and fairer administrative procedures for land transfers would provide efficiency gains on both sides.
  2. Immense powers of eminent domain: Land is deemed to be akin to state property, and the state has not always used its resulting powers judiciously or in the public interest – indeed, what constitutes the ‘public interest’ is a matter of debate. Customary landholders have little autonomy and are not protected by fair information and consultation procedures, and the losses they endure can be very great, whereas the market of large-scale land operations in both rural and urban areas is opaque.
  3. Limited formalisation: Procedures for formalisation are bureaucratic, unrealistic, expensive, and time-consuming. Registry records are limited and often unclear. Automated systems are rare and the modern land surveying process is excessively slow.
  4. Gender discrimination: Although discriminatory practices under statutory law are illegal, in practice it remains a serious problem that women’s access to and control of land often depends, under customary law, on the will of male relatives, making it harder for them to obtain loans or invest in improving their land.
  5. Institutional overlaps: Multiple and diverse institutions are involved in implementing land-related laws and policies. The resulting overlaps can create inefficiency and undermine accountability.
  6. Corruption and inefficient land administration: Informal payments are widely used. This indicates the need for further institutional reform and efforts to make people more aware of their legal entitlements and eliminate rent-seeking behaviour.
  7. Ineffective land dispute settlement framework: Dispute resolution mechanisms are often hard for ordinary people to access, whether because of the need to travel, the fees involved, language barriers, delays, or lack of clarity about authority.
  8. Inadequate resources: Shortfalls in skills, materials, and financial resources exacerbate problems with the legal and institutional framework.

The shortcomings of the current land laws have been recognized for a long time. Numerous reports have been commissioned by the government that point to the weaknesses of the system. While reforms have been prepared, the law has not been changed, the formalization process is not accelerating, and the inefficiency of the land management system does not really diminish.  Principles of reform are not self-executing – their success depends on a vibrant and capable institutional framework.

Two key recommendations emerge from our research that are developed in the synthesis chapter of the Tanzania institutional diagnostic:

  1. Accelerate land surveying, at least at the village level, before getting into individual plots; and create a robust IT system that will record all land transactions and can be consulted by everyone.
  2. Get closer to market mechanisms by giving more autonomy to village councils in negotiating directly with investors, the corresponding cash revenue being shared by the village and the state, and by giving full publicity to the deals being made and their consequences for local communities one or two years later.

For more detailed analysis and explanation of land use, rights and regulations in Tanzania, especially as they relate to constraints to development, please read our full chapter.

Find out more about the Tanzania Institutional Diagnostic.