Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Lesotho Time

Happy New Year!

Tanzlines is back from its winter hibernation. This time, I’ll be blogging about my adventures in Lesotho, a little country surrounded entirely by South Africa.

I’m here as part of an exciting development project. Along with some other students from Harvard Law School, I’m working on a land-related development project supported by the governments of the US and Lesotho. The student participation in the project is the first-ever international collaboration between the Millennium Challenge Corporation (an agency of the US gov’t that focuses on poverty reduction – http://www.mcc.gov), Harvard Law School and the Harvard Law & International Development Society (a student group I'm involved in at Harvard that works on development issues – http://hlsorgs.com/lids).

The work itself is looking promising. Our team is helping to support a large ‘land regularization’ effort jointly led by the governments of the US and Lesotho. Land regularization is the name of a particular development strategy that seeks to give the occupants of land (often poor farmers or city-dwellers) certificates or titles to the land they live on. In many sub-Saharan countries, weak or inefficient administrations, plus traditional land customs, mean that the people who live on a plot of land don’t have any written proof that it’s theirs. Often, the occupiers purchased it fairly, were given it by a chief, or inherited it from their ancestors. But in a modern economy, lacking a piece of paper to prove ownership means that it can be difficult to get a bank loan, sell the property, or protect yourself from others who claim the land is theirs. The idea of regularization is that you can legitimize family occupancy and increase land security for the poor. It’s also designed to stimulate the economy, both because people with titles can more easily sell their land, and because titles allow people to borrow money from banks.

Regularization programs have had some real success around the globe (especially in Peru, where the architect of regularization and titling programs, Hernando de Soto, lives and works). But reg. efforts also lead to a lot of problems (more on that later) and a large number of academics and development workers object to the way such programs are carried out. Although I’ve done some work in land-related issues before, I still haven’t fully formed my views on titling-and-regularization programs. Hopefully the next few weeks will teach me a lot!

Although I’m only here for a little while, I should have enough time to slip in a few adventures before I go. Lesotho is famous for its rocky highlands, pony trekking, giant waterfalls, mountain camping, and interesting cultural traditions. And it looks like some pony trekking might be in the works for this weekend.

Will write more soon!

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