When was the first or the last time that a time limit was set to the ownership of family lands in Ghana?

Feature Article When was the first or the last time that a time limit was set to the ownership of family lands in Ghana?

This publication is to seek a more knowledgeable opinion about when a time limit was set to the ownership of family lands in Ghana. These family lands are referred to as “Abusua saase” by the Akans in Ghana.

To start with, the public is informed that in every region in Ghana, the land ownership system is categorically stated, and generally accepted, to belong to the government, the traditional chiefs, and families. This is verifiable under the LAND ACT, 2020 (ACT 1036) and the centuries-old ongoing practice of cultivations of farmlands in the country by families.


Before the LAND ACT, 2020 (ACT 1036) came into being, it was a common knowledge and practice that the land in every region in Ghana was owned by the three entities mentioned above, both by cadastral and non-cadastral claims.

“Cadastral data, also known as a cadastre, contains official, legal documentation concerning the quantity, dimensions, location, value, tenure, and ownership of individual parcels of land”.

In Ghana, especially in some of the traditional areas, we hear of certain parcels of land being referred to as “sofia land”, thus, surveyors’ land. These parcels of land are highly protected by government-paid forest guards because such lands belong to the government. The public is absolutely forbidden to use any portions of such lands without the government’s authorisation.

The government’s lands are reserved for a good number of reasons some of which had been stated in my previous publications.

We also have parcels of land belonging to various families within any traditional area. These parcels of land are called family lands (“abusua saase”).

Finally, we have swathes of land within the traditional areas that are called “stool lands”. These stool lands are held in trust by the traditional paramount chiefs for their people, otherwise called subjects.

The family lands are held in allodium. “Allodial title constitutes ownership of real property (land, buildings, and fixtures) that is independent of any superior landlord. Allodial title is related to the concept of land held "in allodium", or land ownership by occupancy and defence of the land”.

Up-to-date, family lands in the country are freehold, but not leasehold, by ownership.

Let me pause to explain freehold as often used by estate developers or agents. “The freeholder of a property owns it outright, including the land it’s built on”. Therefore, freehold is outright ownership of a property. This is how family lands are owned in Ghana, as far as I am aware.

On the other hand, properties can be purchased on leasehold. What then is leasehold? “With a leasehold, you own the property (subject to the terms of the leasehold) for the length of your lease agreement with the freeholder. When the lease ends, ownership returns to the freeholder, unless you can extend the lease”.

The object of this publication is to establish the legality or otherwise of a family land that is on the verge of becoming a leasehold.

Some members of a family had taken steps to get a parcel of their family farmland surveyed and documented. Thus, they want “to determine and delineate the form, extent, and position of” the said family land within that traditional area.

It is turning out that for official certification to go through, the paramount chief, or the queen, of that area will have to lease the family land to them for fifty years. Without their signatures of approval to certain vital documents to be issued, the Lands Commission could not proceed to issue the family with a title deed.

What are title deeds, one may ask? “Title deeds are a series of documents which prove the ownership of a property and the history of its ownership”. “A deed, commonly, is a legal document that is signed and delivered, especially one regarding the ownership of property or legal rights”.

Why for the fact of the family’s willingness to have their land officially surveyed eventually culminate in losing it after the expiry of the fifty years leasehold, if they don’t seek renewal of the lease?

When the land lies unsurveyed, no expiry date is set to its ownership like those owned by other families in the same traditional area. However, as soon as steps are taken to document the land, the question of lease sets in.

What is going on, and who can better explain this to the family and the nation?

Is it better to have family freehold lands surveyed to end up in leasehold, or to leave them as they currently are, unsurveyed?

It is only when a town expands to cover once a family farmland that the family loses their ownership of the land. Even here, when the farmland is surveyed and demarcated into building plots, the family is given a one-third portion of it with the traditional council taking two-thirds to allocate to individuals seeking to build houses on them. I stand to be corrected.