Ghana has tried to fuse the western style of democratic governance with African traditional administration to create a unique political regime based on democratic rule and application of traditional laws. The Ghanaians are at liberty to either apply the traditional land system or to apply the enacted laws and policies. These systems affect rural administration and land tenure with both benefits and challenges. The traditional system has ensured that the majority of the land is owned by citizens. However, this is also making it difficult for the government to pass and enforce legislation that will lead to transformation and fully empower the Ghanaians, especially rural dwellers.
This uniquely positioned western African country has enjoyed several successful elections where the rule of law and stability is maintained. In the past five years, Ghana has experienced a slowing economic growth from 3.9% to 3.2% in 2016 as the lowest recorded. However, economic growth was projected at 7% in 2017 and 9% in 2018 due to yet to be exploited oil production. Ghana has positioned itself to be an emerging economic hub within the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS). This success has to be interpreted against its rural transformation and development, land tenure and the volatile political and economic situation of neighbouring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, amongst others.
Traditional leaders have a political say and form part of the Ghanaian general administration. Land affairs are also governed using the dual system of traditional leaders and public administration. However, the government of Ghana is struggling to establish and maintain records of land ownership, given that 80% of the land is controlled under customary laws and traditional land governance. This means that 80% of Ghanaian land is owned by clans, families and community leadership and the remainder is privately or state-owned land. Although there may be privately owned land specifically, the records thereof are not succinctly maintained. Of the 80%, the land is mostly occupied by rural communities which make up 47% of the population. It is clear that there is no equitable distribution of land; hence the National Land Policy of 1999 wants to redress such issues.
The customary land administration is problematic in its current form, due to various administrative bottlenecks. Records of land ownership are poorly updated, resulting in ownership disputes due to multiple land claimants. Corruption and maladministration also disrupts progress. Often persons or groups that have good intentions in rural development are side-lined due to irregular and corrupt practices. Such instances are hindering development and transformation within rural environment. Poor accountability and lack of political will are the main causes of poor land administration. Rural transformation is urgently needed to maintain sustainable land tenure and curb the illicit sale of Ghana’s rural land, particularly in the mining industry.
Land in Ghana is governed by Land Act 122 of 1962, Conveyancing Decree of 1973, and Land Title Registration Law Act 152 of 1986. These laws aided in the development of Land National Policy, which was promulgated in 1999. It aims to determine that land ownership or any transaction regarding land must be registered with relevant authorities. Enforcement has been better in urban areas, but there has been little compliance with these statues in rural areas. The government of Ghana needs to engage the public in reforming customary land administration through effective policy and reformed legislation, in support of the formed Customary Land Secretariat. The process to achieve this is slowed by political competition among various leaders and collapsed rural governance, as it is mired in the culture of keeping no records of land ownership. In addition, the government should allocate resources supporting existing and emerging non-agrarian business initiatives.
Although Ghana is rich in natural resources, which contributed 50% of GDP in 2015; mining has undermined rural transformation. Mining companies are taking advantage of the complexity around land ownership, often to the detriment of the surrounding communities. The mining companies enter into open contracts to mine without clear terms of reference. As a result, villages end up being displaced without remuneration. The records of the dual system of land administration do not tally in numbers with percentage of ownership, which is also affected by the dispossession of land from rural Ghanaians, due to uncontrolled and poor enforcement of mining laws and ownership rights. The Western Region has already experienced numerous cases of landless people due to mining activities. In addition, open pit mining has negative impact on the environment and rural livelihoods. Open pit mining demands huge excavations which result in the destruction of both pastures and farming land, with devastating effects on rural agriculture-based livelihoods.
On the other hand, growth in Ghana’s industrial sector has been impeded by policy implementation and accessibility of production inputs. One of the reasons which led to poor policy implementation is the process which ensued from 2016 elections. Much energy was directed to election campaigns. However, John Mahama lost to the opposition led by Akufo-Addo who was sworn in as president of Ghana in January 2017. The ‘Made in Ghana’ industrial policy was enacted in 2011 in order to promote entrepreneurial skills, especially among the youth. However, the policy was poorly implemented due to lack of political will. In addition, the industries faced several challenges such as erratic electricity supply and ambiguities in land ownership, which had a negative impact on capital investment. Other challenges to industrial development are high input costs and stringent means of acquiring capital and access to finance.
The current government of President Akufo-Addo has made new policy proposals, such as the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP) that will support the creation of employment across the country. Again, ‘One District One Factory’ was inaugurated by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to promote industrialisation, support non-agrarian rural transformation, and create linkages with urban areas. Currently, the Trade and Industry Ministry has received 462 proposals of which 191, covering 102 districts have been approved. It will create 250 000 jobs. Manufacturing industries will be strategically positioned to benefit rural, as well as the urban communities. It is a positive initiative by the government to ensure economic transformation and to improve the living conditions of citizens.
Women and other marginalised groups are often excluded from accessing land, credit, education and training. The situation is typically worse in rural areas due to widespread poverty. The aim of the current government’s efforts at rural transformation is to increase economic opportunities for all Ghanaian citizens, both rural and urban. In addressing some of the challenges the government has adopted a gender policy, as well as social welfare programmes. These initiatives are yet to be measured against their results. ActionAid Ghana and Dutch International Ministry has partnered with five regions in Ghana to create 6 000 job opportunities for women in rural areas, by practising climate-resilient sustainable agriculture (CRSA). This is in line with rural transformation will likely further secure land use for the beneficiaries, as it is supported by the Gender Ministry.
Although Ghana has shown commitment to rural transformation, there are still policy challenges regarding land ownership. Lack of political will, as was shown by the previous administration, will undermine rural transformation if not amended. Failure to monitor and control land resources will further disempower and dispossess rural Ghanaians of their precious land. Therefore, it is in the best interest of all Ghanaians for the government to reform the traditional land administration and restore its land registry mechanism. Rural transformation and land ownership are key in driving economic empowerment, especially for the rural communities. Regardless of the existing challenges, the government of Ghana has the right mix of resources and commitment to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth.
 GLAP 2017. Overview of Land Administration Reforms, ibid.
 GLAP 2017. Overview of Land Administration Reforms, ibid.
 Kasanga, K 2002. Current Land Policy Issues in Ghana, ibid.