Index > Publications > Publication Details

Publication Details

Safeguarding inheritance: challenges and opportunities in African societies

This publication is part of a series on 'Asset inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty'

Elizabeth Cooper



Inheritance is a major means for the transfer, or exclusion from the transfer, of people’s accumulated physical capital. The transfer of physical assets from the parent to the child generation can provide the start-up material for the younger generation’s more independent future livelihoods and economic productivity (Fafchamps and Quisumbing, 2005). However, exclusion from assets inheritance can exacerbate vulnerability to chronic poverty and the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Bird et al., 2004).

In some countries, inheritance laws and customary practices can exclude individuals, and specifically women and orphaned children,  from inheriting the property (including land, housing and other productive resources) that they had access to while their husbands or fathers were alive (see Cooper, 2008 and 2010). This has been linked to economic decline and poverty traps (Bird et al., 2004; Human Rights Watch, 2003; Strickland, 2004). Reforming statutory and customary systems can address gender discrimination in inheritance practices (Benschop and Sait, 2006; Bird et al., 2004; Davies, 2005; Mutangadura, 2004; Rose, 2006). This is happening in many Sub-Saharan African countries, with several states recently amending their statutory laws, and rights-based organisations taking various initiatives to improve equity in inheritance practice. Nevertheless, much remains to be done to address the links between inheritance rights and practices and poverty.

Presented here are findings from a five country study commissioned by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, which explored how inheritance is practised to enhance or prevent socio-economic equity and opportunities. Policy Notes for Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique, Rwanda and Kenya, a working paper and a policy brief of key cross-cutting themes are available here. Data were collected through interviews with representatives of governmental and non-governmental agencies working specifically on issues related to inheritance and property rights, as well as a review of research and policy literature.

Who is included and excluded from inheriting particular assets depends on legal property rights as well as cultural norms concerning social roles and relationships. Consequently, it makes sense to look at how inheritance is governed and practised in people’s lives, as this allows us to identify particular opportunities and challenges for property inheritance.

This paper is one of a series on Asset inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty commissioned and published by the CPRC. It was first presented at a Roundtable on Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty hosted jointly by the CPRC and the Overseas Development Institute on 11 October 2010.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper

CPRC Policy Brief

Resource packs

CPRC Policy Notes


intergenerational transmission of poverty assets Uganda social relations international comparisons Kenya sub-Saharan Africa Ghana inheritance Rwanda Mozambique Asset inheritance and IGT of poverty series

ISBN: 978-1-906433-88-8


1 Working Paper - Women and inheritance in Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities and challenges for policy and practice change PDF 354.7 KB
2 Policy Brief - Safeguarding inheritance: challenges and opportunities in African societies PDF 391.0 KB
3 Ghana Policy Notes PDF 431.1 KB
4 Kenya Policy Notes PDF 330.7 KB
5 Mozambique Policy Notes PDF 436.3 KB
6 Rwanda Policy Notes PDF 328.3 KB
7 Uganda Policy Notes PDF 467.9 KB

Back to Search Results