Using digital technology to solve Africa’s title deed snarl-ups
Forgery of land ownership documents is a problem in the African property market, but as Philip Jarman explains, new technologies such as blockchain are helping to eradicate the problem of land and property fraud by providing transparent, secure digitised processes.
Entrepreneurs love problems: solving them through innovative business models and the application of new ideas and technologies can bring huge societal benefits and generate revenue for those willing to take the risk.
Nowhere have the advancements of new technology been more pertinent in solving social issues than in Africa. With 54 countries spread over the world’s second-largest land-mass, an estimated 1.1bn inhabitants speaking more than 3,000 languages, Africa is a largely fragmented continent, making the implementation of traditional infrastructure challenging.
Instead, many African entrepreneurs have found their niche in the alternative infrastructure provided by mass internet connectivity and mobile phones, using such technologies to close geographical gaps.
One huge problem in developing markets relates to property rights and land ownership. In West Africa, this becomes immediately apparent when driving around both Accra and Lagos. Painted onto the sides of houses is the phrase: “This land is NOT for sale”.
For example, the Ghana Lands Commission (GLC) consists of four sub-divisions operating without any central database that would enable them to share information. Furthermore, all property-related data is held on paper and is not digitalised. Not only does this system lead to long delays when registering legal title (it is hard to track ownership legacies); it is also highly susceptible to corruption.
A common problem is the forgery of ownership documents, so land is ‘sold’ by those who do not own it. It can take up to two years to register a new legal owner with the GLC, by which time the fraudsters are long gone, leaving the new ‘owner’ tied to a mortgage obligation for a property they have no legal rights over.
Furthermore, those looking to legally purchase land are severely limited when securing loans from financial institutions as correct legal ownership cannot easily be determined, severely impacting on the development of local industry and society.
It is problems such as these that entrepreneurs hope to solve, harnessing new technologies such as blockchain. Essentially a high functioning and complex database which manages, stores and distributes information between users, blockchain is being deployed by our company Seso, to eradicate the problem of land and property fraud by providing a transparent, secure digitised process through which civilians, property developers, financiers and governments can search for information on, monitor and purchase property or land.
Seso’s model consists of two complimentary technology platforms. The Sale Marketplace allows buyers to search for properties we sell on behalf of property developers. At Seso we sell new or nearly new properties and our KYC onboarding process means that we market properties knowing the seller has the right to sell. However, buyers can also access the other services they need to be able to purchase the property with trust, such as law firms and insurance. This one-stop-shop approach means buyers need only access one platform to find secure assets and the services required to check their security.
Greater degree of security
To compliment the sales side of our business Seso has built a Customer Relation Management (CRM) platform that allows our property developer partners to be able to, among other things, publish their properties for sales, manage their sales leads, pull analytics and reports on performance, but also, store their property documentation with a greater degree of security.
Through the CRM Seso digitally connects all parties to a property transaction – the buyer, the seller, the lawyers –providing a platform to access all relevant records instantaneously.
As we process more transactions we will be building a traceable history of land ownership and exchange, eradicating the current hold-ups in registering property titles, assigning new legal ownership and ultimately enabling the release of funds by negating the need for each stakeholder to create their own online archives, providing both an economic and effective solution.
The social implications behind effectively establishing property ownership in developing countries can reduce conflict and property litigation. Banks will become more willing to lend against properties with correct legal title. People who may otherwise not have been able to secure a mortgage will ultimately become eligible. And digitally secured assets (in the form of houses) increase in value by benefitting from clean legal titles.
Philip Jarman is COO at SESO Global, which offers a unique one-stop-shop for digital real estate transactions.
To read more articles from our special report on affordable housing in Africa, coordinated by AFFORD UK, visit the Housing a Continent webpage.