In March 2011, I visited Liberia (West Africa) to develop relationships with local government officials. After years of civil war, Liberia is starting to emerge out of a severe economic crisis, including improving upon its approximately 80% unemployment rate. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth over the past few years has been around 8% annually, but coupled with relatively high inflation (6.8% in 2012), the real GDP growth is still relatively low. I visited Liberia to consult on land tenure issues. I didn’t get much traction while I was there. But, the ideas I shared with local government officials, while not acted upon back in 2011, may be emerging now.

As reported in the latest issue of Modus (2014 Quarter 1, p. 32), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) commissioned a study in Kenya of how different types of land tenure affect property values. The study found that only 30% of respondents possessed documents proving the ownership of their land. In addition, the study found that 88% of respondents could not ascribe a value to their property.

The results from this Kenyan study are applicable to my observations from Liberia. I was told by my guide that all of the official property records were located in a single building in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. As we drove by, it seemed that anyone could enter the building. I observed no guards or any other security measures. With a single repository of all official property records for an entire country, I thought it would be more heavily guarded. Land tenure rights can have implications for local political elections as well as real estate appraisers (or valuers as they are called in some countries outside the United States). Appraisers need a clear understanding of the specific property on which they are being asked to opine a value.

Interestingly, the RICS article concludes by saying that this Kenyan study (which can be found at RICS Research) and the follow-up workshop could be the start of dialogue to establish continent-wide standards on land tenure.

Kids Playing Soccer in Monrovia, Liberia

Photo of kids playing soccer in Monrovia, Liberia courtesy of whiteafrican.

– Clifford Lipscomb