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Rexford A. Ahene, associate professor of economics and business at Lafayette, has secured a $576,500 grant from the World Bank to design a land reform program for Malawi. The grant also will support additional studies and help Malawi prepare to implement the results of Ahene's work.

The World Bank and the Department of International Development, the British government's development assistance agency, have committed $26 million to implement the program, starting next year.

Ahene is serving as land policy adviser for the government of Malawi as part of a three-semester leave from Lafayette that ends in December.

“If you check the geography and colonial history of land problems in the Southern Africa region, you will quickly notice how similar conditions for land reform in Malawi and other African countries are to Zimbabwe,” says Ahene, who also has served as principal land policy adviser to the government of Tanzania. “Of course, the land reform policies of President Mugabe have captured the headlines for some time.”

To avoid a catastrophe like the massive food shortages in Zimbabwe, the World Bank sought out Ahene, who subsequently was retained by Malawi. The new Malawi National Land Policy, formally adopted on Jan. 17, 2002, was the cumulative result of Ahene's research and sensitivity to the land reform needs in the region. It has been hailed as the most comprehensive new land policy in Africa.

“One of the innovative aspects of the policy is the statutory recognition given to indigenous land rights with the creation of a new land tenure category known as the ‘customary estate,'” Ahene explains. “This new land ownership form protects customary land rights in a manner equivalent to private freehold title, and thus enables traditional land assets held by the poor to support long-term investments under market conditions.”

The World Bank grant recognizes the significance of the policy for promoting investments in agriculture, poverty alleviation, and improved rural livelihoods in Malawi.

In addition, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently has commissioned Ahene to prepare guidelines for land administration capacity-building in sub-Saharan Africa. He will present a report at a roundtable conference in Rome in November before returning to his teaching responsibilities at Lafayette in January. His first class will be a three-week interim session course that month in Kenya and Tanzania.

Ahene has involved Lafayette students in his economics research. Marquis Scholar Shana Hennigan ‘01, for example, joined him in exploring ways of improving the efficiency of unofficial land and housing markets in Ghana and Tanzania. Through Lafayette's EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend, they investigated how structural adjustments and market reforms bolstered urban land and housing markets in the emerging economies of African nations.

“This work helped me see that I wanted to pursue a corporate, rather than academic, career,” says Hannigan, who took a job as an analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York after graduating.

Ahene has a bachelor's degree in real estate from University of Science and Technology, Kumansi, Ghana; a master's in economics from Virginia State University; a master's in agricultural economics from University of Wisconsin; and a Ph.D. in development studies with a focus on land policy from University of Wisconsin.

Categorized in: Academic News