laws aren't enough to end povertySocial justice does not work like a movie. Even if a climactic event results in the removal of unjust systems, the after-effects of injustice persist decades after the fact. Though apartheid was eliminated decades ago, South Africa still sees stark divisions between the living conditions of blacks and whites. These divisions continue due to economic barriers and reveal that laws are not enough to end poverty or prejudice.

The removal of apartheid laws brought several economic opportunities to poor, black South Africans. Unfortunately, this victory did not change ownership of land and capital from its predominantly elite white holders. Without a solid foundation for business creation, few black men and women could find substantial gain pre- or post-apartheid. Even in 2016, ten percent of South Africans own 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, and that ten percent is mostly white.

In an attempt to house black South Africans, the African National Congress built townships around major cities. Though these townships settled close to major centers of business, they were not business centers themselves. With no money flowing into these government-owned lands, the townships became ghettos with dangerous buildings and poor education. South Africa’s unemployment rate neared 28 percent in 2017 and more than half of the black population is officially unemployed.

In a 1997 Regional Review article, Ed Glaeser of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston examined the creation of ghettos and found features of segregated areas that apply all over the world. Concentrating resources in cities brings great wealth only to those working there. When certain areas of a city are deprived of incoming wealth due to artificial barriers, like in a township, racial tensions increase. An expanding economy in the 2000s doubled the size of South Africa’s black middle class, but the financial crisis of 2008 destroyed that decade’s gains.

Though Glaeser based his studies on American ghettos, his findings easily apply themselves to South African townships. “The ghetto walls themselves, not any increase in racism they may engender, thus seem primarily responsible for the poor black outcomes associated with increased segregation,” he stated. Both black and white South Africans consider themselves victims of racism. 44 percent of whites and 73 percent of blacks believe that the two races will never trust each other.

So what has helped South Africans escape destitution? Though laws are not enough to end poverty, they can create situations that allow people to overcome their struggles. In 2014, South Africa cut the rate of extreme poverty in half. In a press release from 2014, the World Bank credits this victory to redistributed income through tax benefits. Through a progressive tax system and an investment in infrastructure, South Africa achieved higher poverty reductions than Brazil, Mexico, or Argentina that year.

The fight is not yet over. The World Bank concludes its press release with the notion that “reducing poverty and inequality further in a way that is consistent with fiscal sustainability will require a combination of better quality and more efficient public services but most importantly greater employment opportunities.”

The New York Times compared South Africa post-apartheid to Europe post-WWII. Both regions had to rise from adversity by re-engineering their economy and challenging the legacy of colonialism. Just as the Marshall Plan restored Europe to prominence, so might foreign aid bring South Africa to the glory it seeks. Although laws are not enough to end poverty, persistent intervention from other countries could help.

– Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, land ownership is an economic resource and critical determinant of social and cultural identity. But for the 4 billion people who live without registered land, landlessness can mean economic insecurity, no personal address with which to vote or receive aid, and a constant state of disputation and residential impermanence.

One implication of massive concentrations of unregistered land is the loss of wealth that they have the potential to generate. But perhaps more importantly, the absence of established land title systems means that property ownership is not guaranteed. As Devex development reporter Naki Mendoza notes, this has serious consequences for developing countries.

“Farmers cannot legally pass down ancestral lands to their children. Families cannot secure a mortgage or use property as collateral for a loan,” he writes. “And local communities are shut out from negotiations with extractive companies. For governments, it represents a sizable loss of tax revenues or, crucially, a foreign direct investment that will never be made because of uncertainty over property rights.”

Data accumulation mechanisms are poised to remedy these problems by streamlining land registration and giving local communities the ability to monitor and enforce their rights to their land. Data and analytics company Thomson Reuters has created a proprietary land information system that digitizes and archives land deeds in government databases, a practice that safeguards against the loss or damage of paper deeds.

Like mobile banking or online healthcare, digitization can reduce the opportunity cost of land registration from a multiday journey to a local registrar to a minutes-long mobile upload. The digital platform is also linked to satellite mapping systems, which provide updated property lines and can be used to mediate disputes between families, communities or even multinational extraction companies.

As Mendoza points out, these digital platforms have yielded concrete results. In Cape Town, South Africa, 915,148 properties were reported on its tax roll last year, up 66% since 2000. In Jamaica, it now takes only two days to register new property, down from 45 days in 2005. In the Philippines, nearly 60,000 urban land titles are issued each year, compared to just a few thousand as of five years ago.

With increasingly large and accessible quantities of land management data, a number of global institutions have commenced programs to secure land rights for the world’s 4 billion landless people. Earlier this month, at the Third International Conference on Financing and Development in Addis Ababa, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the World Bank signed a Declaration of Intent to establish a Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) to establish a widespread system of land registration and land rights. NELGA will complement the existing Land Policy Initiative, whose stated purpose is “to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.”

“Secure access to land and other natural resources is of vital importance for the people in rural areas of Africa,” said German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller. “It will be an important contribution for food security and growth in the agricultural sectors, especially for smallholders.”

The demand for online land management services marks an opportunity for American companies looking to apply data and analytic systems to relieve people living in states of extreme poverty. It would also help millions of people establish a state of permanency for themselves and their families, which precedes activities like consumption and local investment. As land registration becomes more accessible for those living in extreme poverty, demand for modern information systems will become more widespread, and the door will continue to open for American technology companies and mobile developers in developing regions.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex, Leadership, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Devex

Ukraine Property Rights Borgen Project Edit
A project launched by the UNDP has both given poor Ukrainians access to legal aid and informed them of their property rights. Before the program was launched, millions of Ukrainians did not know their property rights. The government was inept at providing the information and knowledge to address these property right issues since some of them do not even own computers. The UNDP helped push the government to develop a pro-poor land property rights policy framework which included getting rid of fees to obtain legal documents of any kind.

Ivan Kalyta, a Ukrainian citizen, wanted to sell some of his land to raise the money to fix his home. When he discovered he would have to pay more than $500 in administrative fees to sell the land, he was quickly discouraged. Not only was Ivan not able to pay the fees, but he had no idea where to obtain the documents and legal aid necessary to sell his land.

To tackle the problem, UNDP advised Ukraine to adopt free legal aid services, which they did in 2011. According to a poll conducted by the Ukrainian Union of Lawyers, more than 24 percent of the population in Ukraine seeks free legal advice.

During the life of the project, 867 free legal aid providers were trained on land and property rights legislation and its application; 5,000 manuals and brochures on land and property rights were distributed, and over 180,000 people have received free legal advice.

The project also reaches out to the people who live in rural areas. Since most free legal aid centers are located in towns and cities, UNDP has funded a program that provides online and Skype consultations. The program runs through local libraries, and anyone needing help in a rural area need only go to the nearest library. This is what Ivan did and the program has helped him tremendously.

“The money I got from selling part of my land came in very handy,” says Ivan. “My roof is not leaking anymore. I also was able to put some money aside for medication. Life is so expensive here, I am glad it worked out.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UNDP, Global Property Guide, Legal Aid Reform
Photo: UNDP