In This Review

Property and Political Order in Africa: Land Rights and the Structure of Politics
Property and Political Order in Africa: Land Rights and the Structure of Politics
By Catherine Boone
Cambridge University Press, 2014, 424 pp.

Although little reliable information exists on the issue, experts widely believe that conflict over land is increasing in Africa, where property rights are often not firmly established and most arable land has not been recorded in authoritative registries. In her ambitious new book, Boone argues that struggles over land are now the defining characteristic of African politics and have an impact on all other political institutions and every interaction between citizens and states. In a dozen well-documented case studies from across the continent, she demonstrates how the powerful manipulate property rights for political purposes -- a phenomenon, Boone notes, that has been present since the colonial era. Why, then, do conflicts over land seem to be on the rise? Boone acknowledges the pressures created by explosive population growth and environmental deterioration but concludes that the main culprit is the democratization of the region during the last quarter of a century. The emergence of multiparty electoral competition, she claims, has created stronger incentives to manipulate land resources. One need not be convinced by that central thesis to be deeply impressed by this insightful book.