Ghana’s Land Ownership: Challenges and Controversies
Eighty percent of the land in Ghana is owned through customary law, and the remaining twenty percent is bought and sold through a formal statutory measure. Property rights in Ghana have evolved from its pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial forms to encompass a blend of customary and statutory property laws. Ghana’s land is governed by a pluralistic legal system in which customary and statutory systems overlap. Most of Ghana’s land is held under customary tenure and is vested in chiefs, earth priests (who hold spiritual authority over land matters because of their role as descendants of the first village settlers or customary authorities). Approximately 20% of land in Ghana is officially owned by the state, although this number only includes land that the state acquired legally.
Community members access customary lands through their male lineage, and “strangers” (migrants or foreigners) access these lands through the acknowledged community holder of the lands, usually the chief or earth priest. Privately held land is acquired through purchase from the owner. In urban areas, privately held land is also acquired through purchase. Customary land can be categorized as allodial title (the highest possible interest in land), customary freehold title, leasehold, or sharecropping (abunu/abusa) arrangements. While women have legal rights to own and inherit property, in practice under customary law, they again use rights through their husbands or fathers and do not themselves own land.
The constitution vests all public land in the state, and all customary land in stool and skins (customary authorities or chieftaincies) families and lineages. Stool and skin land is held in trust for the stool’s community, including their ancestors, living members, and future generations. The State Lands Act grants the President the executive power to acquire land in the public interest and delineates the procedures for compulsory acquisition of land. The Land Title Registration Act lays out the responsibilities and powers of land registries in Ghana, as well as the appropriate manner for registration and upholds the government’s ability to compel registration of property.
The constitution prohibits foreigners from owning land in Ghana and limits them to leaseholds of not more than fifty years. The Lands Commission was established in 2008 and brought several previous land-related agencies under one roof to streamline services and improve efficiency. Those agencies became the Land Registration Division, the Public and Vested Lands Management Division, the Survey and Mapping Division, and the Land Valuation Division. The land market is plagued by a lack of accessible information and data. Property registration in Ghana is very complex. Sixty-five percent of Accra’s population cannot afford to purchase urban land. The frequency of land disputes is high, and land disputes are the most common cause of violent conflict. In rural areas, chiefs manage disputes arising from customary law. Community tribunals established by the 1993 Courts Act also settle civil disputes, including land claims. Increasing land scarcity, urbanization, and population growth are creating pressure for local authorities to alienate land to developers and urbanites in peri-urban Ghana. Pastoralists are experiencing similar pressures as the amount of land available for pasture is decreasing due to development.