Ugandan mud entrepreneurs and property rights

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by Shawn Regan
G. Pascal Zachary has a fascinating piece in the latest PERC Reports on how entrepreneurs are creatively adapting to the lack of property rights in Africa:
In the lush highlands of eastern Uganda, mud is a valuable commodity— so long as it is “quality” mud, with certain characteristics coveted by residents who construct their homes out of the stuff.

The search for mud is simple. Go north toward the town of Sironko about ten miles from the provincial capital of Mbale, and then, a few hundred feet past a cellular phone tower, you turn off the paved road and wind down a potholed lane. There you join a procession of mud customers. They come in trucks, cars, and even on bicycles. Upon reaching the village, Bukhalo, drivers turn left onto a narrower path that takes them into the finest mud quarry for many miles.

About two dozen families control specific pieces of the quarry. Each hires its own diggers, sells its own mud, and sets prices independent of each other. No individuals possess formal, legal title to their portion of the mud quarry, but no one considers this strange. Claims on the mud lands stretch back to the years before Uganda’s independence in 1962, when the British managed these parts. Everyone knows that their ancestors bequeathed them the use of a particular patch of the mud quarry. No one has ever asked for proof of their ownership or even tallied the costs of forgoing title in favor of “customary law.”

You can read Zachary's whole piece, as well as the new edition of PERC Reports, at PERCReports.org.
Shawn Regan is a research fellow at PERC. He holds a M.S. in Applied Economics from Montana State University and degrees in economics and environmental science from Berry College. He is also a visiting fellow at the Breakthrough Institute. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Quartz, High Country News, Reason, Regulation, Grist, and...
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