The land boards of Botswana: A problem in institutional design
The purpose of this study is to explain the increasing level of conflict over the utilization of cultivation land among residents of Letlhakeng, a village in central Kweneng District, Botswana, and between villagers and land board officials. The land boards are public institutions closely tied to the national Ministry of Local Government and Lands that exercise executive, legislative, and judicial authority over the use of land and water held "in common." They began operation in 1970 replacing hereditary leaders. Difficulties following this reform effort have been characterized principally as implementation problems that require additional expenditures for training, specialized staff, and materials to support the work of the boards.
The conclusion of this study is that "the problems of the land boards" are principally problems of institutional design. The reconstruction of "trouble cases" heard by the Letlhakeng board revealed that the nature of the incentives produced by the structure of local government of which the land boards are a part makes it difficult for board members to acquire information about local time and place circumstances. Without this type of information, the board cannot craft rules for the partitioning and allocation of land that facilitate cultivation as it is carried on in the social and physical environments of central Kweneng. The results of a sample survey confirmed that general features of local land-use patterns were not consistent with land board rules.
Botswana's land boards represent a well-intended but problematical approach to the governance of common property resources that has frequently been adopted in less developed countries. In an effort to remove patrimonial features from public institutions and increase the equity with which all persons are treated, control of resources has been transferred from hereditary leaders and given, not principally to communities of users, but to central government ministry officials who have little access to local time and place information. Defiance of authority has been one response to threats to agricultural productivity posed by operational rules for common property resources that ignore local circumstances including the significant role kinship relationships play in enabling agriculturalists to acquire the heterogeneous capital needed for production.
0617: Public administration
0326: Cultural anthropology