In her work on urban land titling in Peru, Erica Field maintained that squatters often needed to keep people around to protect their land, presumably from those who would try and claim it as their own, and that providing formal property rights through land titling would free these family members up to go do more productive things. While I frequently restate this idea while presenting, I’ve always been a little bit skeptical of it – the idea of a roving band of land snatchers always seemed a bit fantastical.
Until Saturday, when a colleague of mine stumbled upon a man claiming to be a victim of land theft in Mburahati Barafu, one of the unplanned, informal settlements of Dar es Salaam. We went back to interview him today. After being away from home for only ten days he found that not only had someone managed to sell his back garden to a third party, but that someone had already built a house in its place. His neighbors seem to have signed off on the deal, as did the local officials. The worst part: his own brother was the one that made the sale and skipped town with the proceeds.
Maybe a land title would have guarded against this crazy fraternal expropriation, maybe not. Other residents seem to have taken matter into their own hands to make it clear that their property is strictly off the market: another house we ran into had nyumba haiuzwi scrawled all over it – house not for sale.