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The quest for secure property rights in Africa, The Economist, Sep 12th 2020 Edition

TWENTY YEARS ago a Peruvian economist made a startling observation. People in poor countries are not as poor as they seem. They have assets—lots of them. But they cannot prove that they own them, so they cannot use them as collateral. Hernando de Soto estimated that the total value of informally owned land, homes and other fixed assets was a whopping $9.3trn in 2000 ($13.5trn in today’s money). That was more than 20 times the total of foreign direct investment into developing countries over the preceding decade. If small farmers and shantytown-dwellers had clear, legal title to their property, they could borrow money more easily to buy better seeds or start a business. They could invest in their land—by irrigating it or erecting a shop—without fear that someone might one day grab it. Property rights would make the poor richer, he argued.

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