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Blockchain in Issuance and Management of Land Title Deeds

Land is considered as one of the most luxurious assets in any country. In Kenya, particularly in Nairobi, if you own even a small piece of land you are considered one of the rich, because it is costly. In some areas such as the Upper Hill area of Nairobi City, an acre of land goes for Ksh.500 million or more, which is $5 million – actually the most expensive in Africa. Imagine buying land worth $5 million then two years later you realize that you were duped. That’s terrible, don’t you think so? I know of cases where individuals and organizations bought large tracts of land worth several millions only to realize that they were duped. The same pieces of land were sold to other people or organizations, or in some cases the lands belonged to the government and were sold off record by high-profile civil servants.

There were days when the Ministry of Lands in Kenya cracked down on fake title deeds and several people lost their lands and homes. There was one particular one that became a popular story in the streets; a number of people had bought land belonging to the Kenya Airports Authority and built very luxurious homes but the government descended on them and demolished all their houses. They couldn’t defend themselves because government survey records were faultless and unmatched. There are so many such stories so much so that nowadays if you own a piece of land you have to erect a signpost and write in bold “THIS LAND IS NOT FOR SALE”. The funny thing is that sometimes people conduct all the necessary searches required by the Ministry of Lands but still find themselves duped.

There have been suspicions that fraudulent insider deals within the Ministry of Lands could be pointed out to be the cause of some of the cases. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t like to see caterpillar tractors demolishing my home, not because I stole a piece of land, but because somebody did everything possible to dupe me. In some cases it is easy to blame a victim of fraudulent land transactions; however, sometimes it is as a result of an inherent rot of ministry agents and some advocates. But don’t worry; Blockchain is here to get you covered exclusively.

Now, imagine buying land worth $2 million dollars to build a school or a factory on and be sure that nobody else will ever claim ownership of the same land because there is only one trusted identity of the land you bought. That is what Blockchain is bringing to you.

As at February 2018, the government of Kenya established a Blockchain & Artificial Intelligence Taskforce which is working on a Blockchain database which will be used to weed out all the fake Title Deeds from the lands register. The database dubbed the Single Source of Truth (SSOT) will be used as the primary reference for all land transactions in the country. I am careful not to lose you in this; I hope you still remember that distributed ledger technologies like Blockchain have public witnesses known as nodes who help validate and verify each transaction in the Blockchain network. I have discussed nodes in chapter three when I was defining Blockchain and the Underlying Technologies, you can revisit that chapter if you have any difficulty. In the Bitcoin-Blockchain network, the nodes are also referred to as the miners. They solve difficult mathematical problems as they create new Blocks in the chain. I have explained this well in the previous chapters; just track the chapters you’ll find it.

At the moment, there are people who come up with fake title deeds and all manner of things. We need to create a single source of truth, which we are already working on as a Government,” —Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Kenya’s Ministry of ICT,

It is not only the Kenyan government that is set to employ Blockchain in the issuance of land title deeds, other countries have also seen this great use case. The United Arab Emirates have mentioned that they will put all their government documentations and transactions including land Title Deeds on the Blockchain platform by 2020. I don’t think there is any country that has a perfect registry of Title Deeds; all will find Blockchain beneficial in curbing land fraud and double issuance of title deeds.

Land title projects based on the Blockchain network are becoming popular as many other countries join the list of those that have embraced Blockchain technology. Some of the countries that have started Land Title Projects on the Blockchain include Sweden, Georgia and Ukraine. According to the chief operating officer of a company called Bitland Global, Elliot Hedman, the issues with land rights makes the Blockchain conversations around it much of a logical fit. Bitland Global has been working on a title deed registration program in Ghana.

As for the benefit of a Blockchain-based land registry, look to Haiti. There are still people fighting over whose land is whose. When disaster struck, all of their records were on paper, that being if they were written down at all.” —Elliot Hedman told Coindesk

There have been different arguments around the use of Blockchain in the land registry. While there have been pessimists who have thought Blockchain is a hot-air balloon that cannot help in managing an asset like land, advocates of this use case have remained objective in pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of putting a land registry in the network. One argument that I find reasonable is the one that states that Blockchain cannot replace any government in issuing and managing land, rather it can only help fight fraud in the issuance and management of the land title deeds. That is true because land registry officials will continue to participate in the issuance of the land title deeds.

Blockchain cannot prevent registry officers from entering wrong data into the Blockchain network but it can prevent them from altering data that is already in the Blockchain. In Australia, New South Wales, the national government has sold its management rights at AUS$2.6 billion to its Land Title Registry unit.

In Canada, Manitoba and Ontario have leased their management of the registries to the Toronto-based tech company Teranet. While it may not be possible to give land registry to private entrepreneurs in many African countries, with the use of Blockchain, privatizing land registry may be a good idea; but only after establishing a strong system of issuance, ownership, management and control.

Blockchain is not a panacea for all the problems we face in land transactions or specifically in issuance of fake title deeds. I believe without doubt that if governments can invest heavily in building Blockchains that will ensure sanity in the lands registry, the insanity and fraud that makes land evil will come to an end.

There will be no more fights over who owns which land because the land titles will be stored in the Blockchain network. There is a lot more that can be written about this Blockchain use case
but for this book, this is enough. If you have more interest in how Blockchain land registries will work, you can go online and find out more. It may not be possible to exhaust even half of the Blockchain use cases available for governments.

I hope I have covered much that is adequate to introduce you to that topic so that you can explore further the details that will connect the lines. There are still a number of questions I did not answer in this section such as which type of Blockchain will be best for a land registry? There are two main types of Blockchain, that is, private and public Blockchains. I leave that research for you, if you are truly hungry for this.

Benjamin Arunda

Founder, ChainAdvise Blockchain Advisory

An extract from his book ‘Understanding the Blockchain’

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