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Postgraduate Courses

The Land and Agrarian Question(s) in Africa (AXL5204F)

The main aim of this course is to introduce students to the land and agrarian question(s) in Africa. The prevalence of large-scale land acquisition in the context of rising food prices since the 2008/09 financial and economic crisis has brought the spotlight on issues of land and land use in Africa. As a result, land matters are increasingly having a direct bearing on broader issues including food security, environmental sustainability, economic growth, social and political stability, social justice and rural livelihoods. It is therefore important to explore the various dimensions of the land and agrarian question(s) in Africa in both their historical and contemporary contexts.

The course particularly focuses on introducing concepts of landholding and ownership in Africa, especially how these conceptions have evolved in different eras: pre-colonial, colonial and current. Placing land debates in this context helps us to understand current challenges and opportunities around land and related issues in Africa. In looking at the different periods of the land and agrarian question(s), the course seeks to situate current land and agrarian issues in the long history of landholding and ownership in Africa, and how these have continued to shape and define today’s land and agrarian question(s). The course also reflects on the difference between the land question(s) and the agrarian question (s) in Africa today.

In Africa’s land and agrarian question(s), the introduction of colonial rule marked an important turning point, not just in the conceptions and administration of land, tenure forms and ownership types, but also modes of accessing land. Colonial rule introduced not just a different system of statutory land tenure and administrative structures; it also significantly changed people’s perception and relations to land, with land widely perceived as a commodity that can be sold and bought like any other commodity on the market. Within this context, the course seeks to explore some of the key features of the land and agrarian questions introduced during colonial rule and how these have affected conception, policy and practice of land administration, access and land use in Africa today.

The course will critically examine the different dimensions of land, including patterns of land ownership, means of accessing land, structures for land administration at different periods, types of land tenure, land reform types, forms of land use, gender dynamics and the challenges of large-scale land acquisition in different African communities. The course will draw examples from selected countries on the African continent.
Course code: AXL5204F 
Type of degree: Postgraduate
Course convenors: A/Prof Horman Chitonge & Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza 
Last updated: Monday, February 01, 2016 ​

Course Requirements

This is a post-graduate course (at the Master’s level), which will take the form of seminars. Each seminar has a specific theme with two or three sets of readings per week. Students will be required to read the assigned material for the seminar before coming to class. The readings in this course outline are meant to introduce students to some of the core issues of the land and agrarian question(s) and transformations in Africa. Each seminar has two sets of readings: the required readings (which must be read before coming to class) as well as additional readings (which are optional). Some readings will be added as we proceed in the course. On top of the required and additional readings, students are encouraged to search for more material relevant to the course and share with the rest of the class. . Reading, over and above, the required readings is encouraged.

Having said this, it is important for students to note that in their presentations and essays, they are expected to demonstrate that they are familiar with the “prescribed” material for the particular seminar. Additional readings are not meant to substitute those prescribed in the course.

In some cases, depending on availability, guest speakers may be invited to give a talk on issues relevant to the course and the theme of the week. In total there are 12 seminars for this course.

Course Assessment

Students in this will be assessed based on: class participation, 1 short essay and 1 long essay. Class participation accounts for 15% of the total mark, the short essay 35%, and the long essay 50%.

1. Class Participation

The 15% for class participation is awarded depending on the student’s attendance, participation and presentation at the seminars. Attendance at seminars on its own is not enough. Students are expected to actively participate in the seminar by meaningfully contributing to the seminar discussions. To ensure maximum participation, each student will be expected to make at least one seminar presentation, based on the theme and the readings assigned for the seminar. The number of presentations per student will be determined by the number of students on the course.

To promote scholarly exchange and interaction, the author of the seminar presentation paper will not present her/his work; the seminar paper will be presented by another student (discussant). A general discussion will then follow.

For this system to work, the author must circulate the seminar paper at least two days before the seminar, to give others time to read the seminar paper and prepare for the seminar(preferably by Friday noon)

2. Short essay: 35% of the course

Students will write a short essay of not more than 3000 words, including title and references, on the topic of their own choice or on the topic assigned to the class. This essay should be submitted on April 4.

3. Long Essay: 50% of the course

As with the short essay, students are expected to choose a topic of their own. This essay, which should be between 5000 and not more than 6000 words, could be based on a “case study” which could be located within the theories discussed in the course. The essay should have a title, an abstract and fully referenced as if it is prepared for a journal article.

Please feel free to discuss your topic with the course convenors. The long essay should be submitted on May 30.

Lecture Times

Mondays 10:00-12:00

Lecture Venue

CAS Seminar Room 3.01

Course Convenors

​A/Prof Horman Chitonge:
Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza:

Course and reading material

The course will be presented over a period of 12 weeks in the first semester. It is important for students to note that this is a seminar-based course. This means that students are expected to show great initiative. The course belongs to students and the success will largely be determined by the level of participation on the part of students.

Seminar 1: February 15

Introduction: General Overview of the Land and Agrarian Question(s) in Africa

Required Reading:

  • Engels, F. (1898). The Peasant Question in France and Germany. Marx/Engle Writers Archives (parts I & II)
  • Mafeje, A. (2003). The Agrarian Question, Access to Land, and Peasant Responses in Sub-Saharan Africa. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, pp. 1-12.
  • Byres, J. T. (1986). “The Agrarian Question, Forms of Capitalist Agrarian Transition and the State: An Essay with Reference to Asia.” Social Scientist, Vol. 14, No. 11/12. Pages 3-19.

Additional Readings:

  • Lenin. V.I., 1961a, The Agrarian Question and the "Critics of Marx", in vol. 5 of Collected Works, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. Written in 1901
  • Bernstein, H. (2004). “From Transition to Globalisation: Agrarian Question of Capital and Labour.” A paper presented at the Workshop—The Peasant and the Development of Capitalism in Comparative Perspectives.
  • Banaji, Jairus, (1976). “Summary of Selected Parts of Kautsky's, The Agrarian Question”, Economy and Society, Vol. 5, No. 1, February 5.
  • Bernstein, H. (2004). “Changing before our very eyes”: Agrarian questions and the politics in land capitalism today. Journal of Agrarian Change, 1 (2), 283- 324

Seminar 2: February 22

Concept(s) of Land in Africa-- The place of Land in African Societies

Required Reading:

  • Okoth-Ogendo, H. W. O (1989). “Some issues of Theory in the Study of Tenure Relations in African Agriculture.” Journal of International African Institute, Vol. 59, No. 1. 6-17.
  • Simpson, S. R. 1959. “Towards a definition of absolute ownership.” Journal of African Law. Vol. 5, No. 3: 145-50.
  • Allott, A. 1958. 'Towards a definition of absolute ownership', Journal of African Law, 5 (2): 99-102.
  • Parsons, K. H. 1971. 'Customary land tenure and the development of African agriculture', Land Tenure Centre Reprint No. 77. Madison: University of Wisconsin, pp. 26-43.

Additional Readings:

  • Akuffo, Kwame (2009). “The Conception of Land Ownership in African Customary law and Its Implications for Development.” African Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 17. 57-78.
  • Prothero, R. Mansell, ed. (1972). People and Land in Africa South of the Sahara. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Chachage, Chachage. (2011). “Why Land Matters to Africans Regardless of Agriculture.” Available at
  • White, C. M. N. 1958. “Terminological confusion in African land tenure.” Journal of African Administration, 10: 124-30.
  • Honore, A. M. 1961. 'Ownership', in A. G. Guest, Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence, pp. 108-47. London: Oxford University Press.

Seminar 3: February 29

Land Administration in Colonial Africa

Required Readings:

  • Mamdani, M. (1996). Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Colonialism. London: James Currey. Chapter 5
  • Meek, Charles Kingsley. 1946. Land Law and Custom in the Colonies. London: Oxford University Press. Chapter 2
  • Liversage, V. 1945. Land Tenure in the Colonies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2-41

Additional Readings:

  • P. Reyna (ed), Land and Society in Contemporary Africa. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England.
  • Wily, A. Liz (2012). Putting 20thCentury Land Policies in Perspective. Brief No. 2.
  • Gildea, R. (1964). “Culture and Land Tenure in Ghana.” Land Economics, Vol. 40, No.1. 102-104.
  • Pots, Deborah (2013). “Land Alienation Under Colonial and White Settler Governments in Southern Africa: Historical Land Grabbing” in T.Allan, M. Keulertz, S. Sojamo & J. Warner (eds.) Handbook of Land and Water Grabs In Africa. London/New York: Routledge. Chapter 2.

Seminar 4: March 7

Landholding and Tenure in Africa

Required Readings:

  • Shipton, Parker - 1989. 'How Private Property arises in Africa: directed and undirected land tenure reforms', report to the Bureau of Program and Policy Coordination, Cambridge, Mass.: US Agency for International Development. Chapter 2, pp. 1-25.
  • Margold, S (1957). “Agrarian Land reform in Egypt.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol.17, No.1. pp, 9-19
  • Lennox K. Agbosu (2000). “Land Law in Ghana: Contradiction Between Anglo-American and Customary Conceptions of Tenure and Practice.” Land Tenure Centre Working paper No. 33. University of Wisconsin, Pp. 1-16

Additional Readings:

  • Platteau Jean-Philippe (1996) “The Evolutionary Theory of Land Rights as Applied to Sub-Saharan Africa, A Critical Assessment” Development and Change vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 29-86.
  • Bohannan, P. 1963. 'Land, tenure and "land tenure"', in D. Biebuyck (ed.), African Agrarian Systems, London: Oxford University Press, pp. 101-111
  • Parsons, K. H. 1971. 'Customary land tenure and the development of African agriculture', Land Tenure Centre Reprint No. 77. Madison: University of Wisconsin. 26-48

Seminar 5: March 14

The Land and Agrarian Question in Colonial Africa

Required Readings:

  • Bates, Robert (1984). “Some Conventional Orthodoxy in the Study of Agrarian Change.” World Politics, Vol36, No. 2. 234-54.
  • Uchendu, V. C. 1970. 'The impact of changing agricultural technology on African land tenure', Land Tenure Centre Reprint No. 71. Madison: University of Wisconsin.
  • Bassett, T (1993). “Introduction: The Land Question and Agricultural Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa” in T. Bassett & T.J. Crummey (eds.) Land in African Agrarian Systems. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Chapter 1.

Additional Readings:

  • Land Tenure Centre. 1976. Land Tenure and Agrarian Reform in Africa and the Near East: an annotated bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall.
  • Smith, C. ((1989). “Did Colonialism Capture the Peasantry? A Case Study of the Kagera District, Tanzania. Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala Research Report No. 83.
  • Place, Frank (2009). “Land Tenure and Agricultural Productivity in Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Economics Literature and Recent Policy strategies and reforms.” World development, Vol. 37, No. 2. 1326-1336.
  • Cohen, J. 1978. 'Land tenure and rural development in Africa', Development Discussion Paper, No. 44. Harvard: Harvard Institute of International Development.
  • Cummings, R. W. 1978. 'Land tenure and agricultural development', Land Tenure Centre Reprint No. 117. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Seminar 6: April 4

Colonial Land Administration-the Bifurcation

Required Readings:

  • Ntsebeza. L (2006). Democracy Compromised. Pretoria: HSRC. Chapter 2
  • Colson, Elizabeth (1971). “The Impact of Colonial Period on the Definition of Land Rights” in V. Turner (ed.) Colonialism in Africa1870-1960 (Vol.3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 6 pp. 193-214.
  • Adams, M. & Turner, S. (2005). “Legal Dualism and Land Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa.” A paper Presented at the UNDP-International Land Coalition Workshop: Land and Property Rights for African Development. Nairobi: UNDP. Pp. 1-17.

Additional Readings:

  • Home, Robert (2012). “The Colonial Legacy in Land Rights in Southern Africa” in B. Chigara (ed.) Land Relations Policy in African Development Community. London: Routledge. Chapter 2.
  • Chanock, M (1989). Law, Custom and Social Order: the Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Delville, L. P. (2000). “Harmonising formal laws and customary land rights in French-speaking west Africa” in C. Toulmin & J. Quan (Eds.), Evolving Land Rights, Policy and Tenure in Africa. London: DFID/IIED/NRI, pp. 97-122.

Seminar 7: April 11

The Land Question in Post-Colonial Africa: Policy and Practice Issues

Required Readings

  • Moyo, Sam (2008). African Land Questions, Agrarian Transition and the State: Contradictions of the Neo-liberal Land Reforms. Dakar: CODESRIA. Chapter 3, pp. 28-75.
  • Economic Commission for Africa (ECA, 2005). Land Tenure Systems and their Impacts on Food Security and Sustainable Development in Africa. Addis Ababa: ECA. PP. 21-48.
  • Okoth -Ogendo, H.W.O. (1998) Land Policy Reforms in East and Southern Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Drivers, Processes and Outcomes A Paper de livered at a Public Policy Debate on Land Reforms in Africa organised by the African Centre for Technology Studies at the Nairobi Safari Club, 20 May.

Additional Readings:

  • Downs, Richard E., and Reyna, S. P. eds. (1988). Land and Society in Contemporary Africa. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England.
  • Toulmin, C. and Quan, J (2000). “Registering Customary Rights” in Toulmin C. and J. Quan (2000). Evolving Land Rights, Tenure and policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. London: DFID/IIED/NRL. Chapter 11.
  • Parker & Mitzi Goheen (1992) “Understanding African land-holding, Power, wealth and meaning.” Africa vol. 62, no. 3, pp. 307-25.

Seminar 8: April 18

Land Issues in Post-colonial Africa: The Gender Dimensions

Required Readings:

  • Whitehead, A. & Tsikata, D. (2003). “Policy Discourse on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Return to the Customary. “ Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol.3. Nos. 1 & 2. 67-112.
  • Yngstrom, I (2002). “Women, Wives and Land Rights in Africa: Situating Gender Beyond the Household in the Debate Over Land Policy and Changing Tenure System.” Oxford Development Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1. 21-37.
  • Gray, L. & Kevane, M. (1999). “Diminished Access, Diverted Exclusion: Women and Land Tenure in Sub-Saharan Africa.” African Studies Review, Vol. 42, No. 2. 15-39.

Additional Readings:

  • Peters, Pauline (2010). “Our Daughters Inherit Our Land, But Our Sons Use Their Wives’ Fields’: Matrilineal-matrilocal Land Tenure and the New Land Policy in Malawi.” Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1. 179-199.
  • Manji, Ambreena, 1998. ‘Gender and the Politics of the Land Reform Process in Tanzania’. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 36 (4): 645–67.
  • Behrman, Julia; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth. & Quisumbing, Ahnes. (2011). “The Gender Implications of Large-Scale Land Deals.” International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper No. 010156.
  • Manji, Ambreena, 1999. ‘Imagining Women’s “Legal” World: Towards a Feminist Theory of Legal Pluralism in Africa’. Social and Legal Studies, 8 (4): 435–55

Seminar 9: April 25

The Agrarian Question in Post-colonial Africa

Required Reading:

  • Neocosmos, C (1993). “The Agrarian Question in South Africa and Accumulation from Below.” The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala Sweden. Pp. 24-52.
  • Hyden, Goran (1986). “The Anomaly of the African Peasantry” Development and Change, Vol. 17. 677-705 (677-95)
  • Berry, S (1984). “The Food Crisis and Agrarian Change in Africa”, African Studies Review. Vol. 27 No. 2: 59-112.

Additional Readings:

  • Richards, Paul. 1983. 'Ecological change and the politics of African land use', African Studies Review 26 (2), 1-71.
  • Havnevik, J.K. (1997). The Land Question in Sub-Saharan Africa. IRDC No. 15, 1-11.
  • Chitonge, Horman (2011). “Land Resource Ownership and Use in ‘Africa of the Labour Reserves (Southern African Development Community)” in Ben Chigara (ed.) Land Relations Policy in African Development Community. London: Routledge. Chapter 4.
  • Bernstein, Henry (2003). “Farewells to the Peasantry” Transformation 52. 1-19.
  • Lionel, Cliffe (1987). “The Debate on the African Peasantries” Development and Change, Vol. 18. 625-35.
  • Kasfir, Nelson (1986). “Are African Peasantry Self-sufficient? Development and Change, Vol 17 No. 2. 335-57.

Seminar 10. May (2/3)

Challenges of Land Tenure in Post-colonial Africa

Required Readings:

  • Migot-Adholla, S., & Bruce, J. (1994) “Introduction: are indigenous African tenure systems insecure?” pp 1-13 in Bruce, J. & Migot-Adholla, S.E. (eds). Searching for land tenure security in Africa. Dubuque IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company,
  • ECA (2005). Land Tenure Systems and their Impacts on Food Security and Sustainable Development in Africa. Addis Ababa: ECA. PP. 75-94.
  • Okoth-Ogendo, H. (2000). “Legislative approach to customary tenure and tenure reform in East Africa in C. Toulmin & J. Quan (Eds.), Evolving Land Rights, Policy and Tenure in Africa. London: DFID/IIED/NRI, pp. 123-134.

Additional Readings

  • Berry, Sara.1993. No Condition is Permanent. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Okoth-Ogendo, H.W.O (1982). 'The perils of land "tenure" reform', in L. D. Ngcongco (ed.), Land Policy and Agricultural Production in Eastern and Southern African Countries, Resources Technical Series. Tokyo: United Nations University.
  • McAuslan, Patrick (2000). “Only the name of the Country Changes: The Diaspora of ‘European’ Land Law in Commonwealth Africa” Evolving Land Rights, Policy and Tenure in Africa.London: DFID/IIED/NRI, pp. 75-96.
  • Platteau, J.-P., 2000. ‘Does Africa Need Land Reform?’ In Evolving Land Rights, Policy and Tenure in Africa, (eds.) C. Toulmin and J. Quan, 51–76. London: IIED with DFID and NRI, pp. 51-74

Seminar 11: May 9

African States, Land Policy and Administration

Required Readings:

  • Alden Wily, L. (2004). Governance and Land Relations: a Review of Decentralisation of Land Administration and Management in Africa. IIED, London, 99. 1-47.
  • Manji, A. (2001). “Land Reform in the Shadow of the State: The Implementation of new Land Laws in Sub Saharan Africa.” Third World Quarterly, Vo. 21.
  • African Union (2010). Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa. Addis Ababa: AU/ECA. Pp, 23-37.

Additional Readings:

  • Palmer, R. (2000). “Land Policy in Africa: Lessons from Recent Policy and Implementation Processes” in C. Toulmin & J. Quan (Eds.), Evolving Land Rights, Policy and Tenure in Africa. London: DFID/IIED/NRI, pp. 267-288
  • Okoth-Ogendo, H.W.O (1999). Land Policy Development in East Africa: A Survey of Recent Trends. A paper presented at a DFID Workshop on Land Rights and Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. 16-19 February, 1999.
  • Africa Union Commission (AUC/AfDB/ECA, 2010). Land Policy in Africa: North Africa Regional Assessment. Addis Ababa: AUC/AfDB/ECA. Pp. 1-24, 32-37.

Seminar 12: May 16

Land Dynamics in Africa Today

Required Readings:

  • Toulmin, Camila & Quan Julian (2000). “Evolving Land Rights, Tenure and Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa” in C. Toulmin & J. Quan(eds.) Evolving Land Rights, Tenure and Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. London: DFID/IIED/NRI. 1-30
  • Cotula, Lorenzo, Vermeulen, Sonja, Leonard, Rebecca & Keeley, James (2009). Land Grab or Development Opportunity? Agricultural Investment and International Land Deals in Africa. London/Rome: IIED/FAO/IFAD. Pp. 13-34.
  • Peters, P. (2009). Challenges in Land Tenure and Land Reform in Africa: Anthropological Contributions. Special Issue, World Development, 2009 37, 8: 1317-1325.

Additional Reading:

  • Friends of the Earth (2010). Africa up for Grabs: The Scale and Impact of Land Grabbing for Agro-fuel. 1-36.
  • Woodhouse, Phill (2001). “African Enclosure: A Default Mode of Development?” Rural Resources, Rural Livelihood Working Paper No. 13, University of Manchester.
  • Cotula et al (2004). Land Tenure and Administration in Africa: Lessons from Experience and Emerging Issues. Rome: FAO.