Over the past forty years, programmes intended to individualise rights to land have been introduced across Africa. These programmes are supported by an ideology which argues that individualisation is a necessary prerequisite of agricultural investment and development. Utilising data collected on the effects of the national title registration programme in Somalia, and drawing on similar studies of registration programmes in other African countries, this article challenges the assumption that individualisation and registration necessarily result in improved agricultural investment and productivity. On the contrary, the data reviewed here suggest that such programmes have contributed to concentration of ownership, growing landlessness, insecurity of tenure, wealth inequalities, and even declining productivity in many areas. The motivation behind individualisation and registration programmes is analysed, including an examination of the colonial and Western ideological distinction between African ‘communal’ land tenure and modern Western individualised tenure, struggles for power over control of resources, and a tendency to treat land tenure as solely an economic (rather than social) institution.