Kenyans would welcome peace, justice, and prosperity
Land value tax could stop disputes
In East Africa there is a voice of reason who was interviewed by the business press. This article appeared February 28, 2008. The author is a reporter with the Business Daily Africa in Nairobi Kenya, recently torn apart by violence.
by Morris AronFor one Dr John Ainsley -- an education veteran who has lived in the country for the last 30 years -- the perennial land dispute in the country can easily be solved by imposing a just and fairly calculated land value tax. Through such an approach, the dilemma -- which is how to equate land ownership and usership can be resolved.
Ainsley claims no person ever made land. That land was there before mankind came into existence and consequently, a person cannot “own” land nor can he own land by buying it off another person since the seller does not own it either. As a result land can only be occupied, not owned, or used by a person at a time.
But man depends on land for basic survival, as a result the right to land is a natural or human right.
The consequence of the two related issues is that there can only be land “usership for a period” and not “ownership”. However, the practical situation is that only one person or one family can have exclusive use of a particular piece of land.
So, how does one combine these two seemingly contradictory requirements? The problem, according to Ainsley, can be settled by taxation. He proposes a land value tax that borrows heavily from the doctrine of social reform developed by the American social philosopher and economist Henry George, an English philosopher John Locke, and by the law of rent of the British economist David Ricardo.
George held that all have an equal right to the use of the land, that land increases in value largely as a result of the growth of the community, and that this value, therefore, is socially created.
The prevailing system of land ownership allows landlords to collect most of the socially created value of land and is thereby, in his view, the basic cause of the striking social inequities in modern society.
George proposed to retain private ownership and urged that society should appropriate the socially created value of land, leaving to the landowner the full value of the improvements he or she makes on the land.
According to Ainsley, the country’s obsession with ownership of land as opposed to usership is the root cause of all our problems.
The land tax in Kenya is ridiculously small. Most peasant farmers are on freehold land and consequently pay no rent -- as they are communal in nature. Large farms are on leasehold land, with long term leases, some for 999 years. A man may possess land and withhold it from use, thereby depriving others of the opportunity of working on it to make a living.
He may sell it later if it suits him. Or, he may rent it out to tenant farmers. They will work hard and he will take as much of their income as he can, calling it rent.
Any improvements in agricultural techniques will lead to an increase in income for the farmer. The landlord will get to hear of this and will increase the rent accordingly.
Ainsley says the problem is not that most farmers are tenants but that there is a shortage of land caused by large unused holdings.. When a realistic land value tax is imposed, it will not pay to hold on to land and do nothing with it. Excess unused land will thus be sold and come on the market. This will eventually lower the price of land.
Although Ainsley’s theory may have loopholes -- particularly what percentage of land value tax is justifiable and what effects it may have on land improvements, it presents a number of ideas that could be followed through to solve thorny land issues once and for all.
Weak Land Reform in South Africa -- A Failure
Can Pastoralism Survive? Should It?
Dozens Reported Killed in Nigerian Land Clashes
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?