SUDAN WATCH: What's Missing in the Darfur Sudan Debate: Addressing Property Rights Could Help Bring Peace - Tom Bethell's The Noblest Triumph

Monday, May 30, 2005

What's Missing in the Darfur Sudan Debate: Addressing Property Rights Could Help Bring Peace - Tom Bethell's The Noblest Triumph

Following on from yesterday's Sudan Watch post featuring an interview with Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, here are some related reports and further information. [Note Karol Boudreaux suggests the African Union should strongly consider adopting another less costly measure: sending a team of property lawyers to Sudan]

Excerpt from The Social Change Project, September 15, 2004:

GPI Fellow Karol Boudreaux published an article in the IREN newsletter in Nairobi, Kenya. In it she made the argument that long-term peace in Sudan can only be realised through the establishment of transparent, enforceable property Rights. Citing economist Hernando de Soto, she points out how America's old "wild-west" could demonstrate a similar case of success. To read Karol's article, click here or see following copy:

What's Missing in the Darfur Debate: Addressing Property Rights Could Help Bring Peace

Published in the IREN Newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya September 2004

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur, ranked as the worst in the world, continues to deteriorate despite pledges by the Sudanese government to stop the spread of violence in its western territories. It is estimated that 50,000 people have died and a million fled their homes so far as a result of the conflict. Women have been raped, children orphaned and starved and disease threatens tens of thousands.

The African Union, chaired by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a regional effort to resolve the conflict. Part of its mandate is to provide a protection force for displaced and terrorised Sudanese and to head an international monitoring team in Darfur. It will host peace talks in a few days in Abuja. Along with these commendable efforts, the African Union should strongly consider adopting another less costly measure: sending a team of property lawyers to Sudan.

To date, most discussions of the crisis, and most proposals for its resolution, have focused on the ethnic element: Arab militias terrorising black Sudanese. There have been reports that the militia, known as Janjaweed, may be engaged in government-sponsored ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is wholly appropriate that the international community condemn and seek an end to these atrocities and look to human rights law as a vehicle for punishing wrongdoers.

The awful spectre of genocide may, however, be diverting attention from one of the underlying causes of this crisis - the ongoing dispute over legal rights to access land and water. Arab militias have taken up the banner of pastoralists, migratory herders whose traditional rights of access to grazing lands and watering holes are threatened when black farmers, who are in competition for the same resources, try to restrict that access. As resources in the region become increasingly scarce, conflict escalates. Peaceful means of settling these disputes have failed and resulted in today's large-scale violence.

This basic scenario should resonate with Americans. After all, as Hernando De Soto reminds us in The Mystery of Capital, our history is rife with property-related violence (though not, of course, on a scale anything like what's occurring in Darfur). European settlers fought with Native Americas, cattlemen fought with sheep herders, ranchers fought with farmers, miners fought with miners - all over the allocation of property rights. De Soto points out that this violent past "is many nations' present." Sadly, it is Sudan's present.

But, it need not be Sudan's future. The African Union has a unique opportunity to provide what's missing in the debate on Darfur: a serious discussion of this crisis as a property conflict. Human rights law can be used to punish wrong doers in Darfur, but property law is needed to resolve the root causes of the problem. Indeed, if the AU deals in a meaningful way with underlying property conflicts in Sudan, it will go a long way towards quelling ethnic tensions.

One benefit of framing the peace talks in terms of property rights is that there are clear and relatively inexpensive ways to address the problem. In the short-term, the AU should insist on the creation of impartial property claims tribunals in Sudan. Such courts would provide an avenue for identifying and cataloguing legitimate property claims and for settling disputes peacefully. AU nations might provide the jurists for such tribunals, as they would be sensitive to the thorny nature of property and land tenure issues in Sudan, which brings customary law, common law, statutory and Islamic jurisprudence to bear on issues involving communal, private, and public ownership.

In the longer term, AU efforts should continue to be augmented by the larger international community, which can provide Sudan with the technical assistance needed to create a vigorous, transparent, accountable and accessible property rights environment. This is a much more serious challenge. Sudan currently receives poor grades in international indexes for its protection of property rights. It may be that the government lacks the will to define and protect legitimate property and tenure rights. If so, the Sudanese are destined for continuing chaos.

Perhaps though, as De Soto argues, the American West can provide a useful guide for the developing world. By helping the Sudanese to identify and integrate property rights into a formal legal system, the AU and the international community, would do a great service for the people of Sudan. A key lesson of the American past is that such rights may propel wealth creation but, more importantly, they promote peace.
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Tom Bethell's The Noblest Triumph - The right to own property has to be extended to as many people as possible

At Libertarian World: Owning Up Tom Bethell explains why nations can't grow rich unless individuals can claim that material riches are theirs. Excerpt:

Tom Bethell, born in England and educated at Oxford, came to the United States in 1962. "My main interest back then was New Orleans jazz," he recalls. Settling in the Big Easy, where he wrote a book and recorded local musicians, Bethell started writing for a local community newspaper. "It was a tremendous revelation for me; journalism was what I wanted to do with my life," he says. Bethell became an American citizen in 1974 and has since written for dozens of newspapers and magazines around the country. He worked at the Washington Monthly, served as an editor at Harper's, and for nearly 20 years has been the Washington correspondent for the American Spectator. On July 27, 1998, he met with's John J. Miller to discuss The Noblest Triumph, his book on the history of property eight years in the making. Excerpt from the interview: What's The Noblest Triumph about?

Tom Bethell: I realized that the institution of private property is a fundamental aspect of Western civilization and also one of the most underappreciated. If you look at books about property, you find the idea attacked outright. After Karl Marx, property fell into intellectual disrepute. More recently, there have been some very good but also very narrow books on the subject, such as Takings, by Richard Epstein. I wanted to examine property with a wide-angle lens. Why haven't property rights been sufficiently understood?

Bethell: Historically, economically, and philosophically, property does not fit easily into any particular academic field. It requires the historian to be interested in economics, the economist to be interested in law, and so on. There's never really been a broad book on the subject. We live in an age of such specialization that people in the academy have been reluctant to take on big topics. As a journalist, I rush in where experts fear to tread. How important are property rights?

Bethell: If a society doesn't have widespread ownership of property, it will be impoverished. You'll have actual famines caused not by bad weather, but by bad political institutions. Sudan is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, and it has a basic problem feeding its people. Holland is one of the most dense, but because it has a system of secure ownership it can feed them. If you can't sustain life, there will be no art, literature, or liberty. Private property is the institution that led to the rise of capitalism. It didn't happen until the 17th and 18th centuries in England. There were property rights before then, but they weren't widespread. Hernando de Soto made the same point about the Third World in his book The Other Path. He's from Peru but went to school in Europe. He saw individual riches there and knew that it wasn't because Europeans were more intelligent than Peruvians. He concluded that law was the missing ingredient. Underdevelopment is often due to the status of property rights in society. The right to own property has to be extended to as many people as possible.
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Hernando de Soto - Institute for Liberty and Democracy

Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto is the president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, a Peruvian think tank committed to creating legal frameworks that help the poor of the developing and ex-communist world to access property rights and turn their assets into leverageable capital. Mr. de Soto is the author of The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World (Harper and Row) and, most recently, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books).

Read bio Hernando de Soto. Further interview at entitled The Poor are the Solution, Not the Problem.

Institute for Liberty and Democracy Mission:
Four billion people in developing and post-Soviet nations - two thirds of the world's population - have been locked out of the global economy: forced to operate outside the rule of law, they have no legal identity, no credit, no capital, and thus no way to prosper. The Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), based in Lima, Peru, has created a key that can open the system to everyone - a time-tested strategy for legal reform that offers the majority of the world's people a stake in the market economy.

All 8 Books by Hernando De Soto Including The Mystery of Capital

Hernando De Soto offers radical and yet convincing arguments on the reasons why capitalism only seems to work in some nations, mainly the ones in the northern hemisphere, and fails consistently in the rest of the world. -



Anonymous debate popular said...

Very good article and the mini interview. I think having the right to property is also to ensure peace and growth of a country legally.

Friday, January 22, 2010  

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