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2021 | Book

The Transnational Land Rush in Africa

A Decade After the Spike


About this book

This volume provides up-to-date information on what has happened in the African ‘land rush’, providing national case studies for countries that were heavily impacted. The research will be a critical resource for students, researchers, advocates and policy makers as it provides detailed, long-term assessments of a broad range of national contexts. In addition to the specific questions of land and investment, this book sheds light on the broader international political economy of development in different African countries.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. International Political Economy and the Land Rush in Africa: Trends, Scale, Narratives, and Contestations
This chapter underscores the relevance of international political economy (IPE) to this book’s contents by discussing the transnational nature of large-scale land acquisitions and the multi-scalar networks that permit and accompany such processes of acquisition (or ‘grabbing’). We connect the question of land to IPE to uncover the polycentric forms of governance that surround land transactions and the ownership, access, and use of natural resources. The chapter presents the book’s central argument that the exploitation inherent to Africa’s contemporary land rush extends beyond the commodity price spike in 2007/2008. The book’s chapters are categorized based on existing literature, according to three themes: (1) the land-development nexus; (2) informality and ‘new’ customary land tenure landscapes; and (3) formalization, domestic agency, and legacies of legal pluralism. The final section examines scholarly areas not addressed in this book and considers how future research could contribute to, and amplify analyses of, land grabbing.
Nathan Andrews, Logan Cochrane
12. Correction to: The Transnational Land Rush in Africa
Logan Cochrane, Nathan Andrews

The Land-Development Nexus: Grand Discourses, Social Injustice and Contestations

Chapter 2. Agri-Business Development in Cameroon: Colonial Legacies and Recent Tensions
Although Cameroon was not a prime target in the modern-day scramble for Africa, the Central African country has been a site of intense land-related tensions in the past decade. According to data from the Land Matrix, 2,771,406 hectares were subjected to land deals since the year 2000. By late 2019, 44 deals were registered as ‘concluded,’ covering 2,065,998 hectares of the area under negotiation. The main drivers are timber, biofuel crops, food products, and precious minerals. This chapter focuses on agro-industrial projects and provides a review of recent trends in land acquisitions that is grounded in critical development studies. Based on a mixed-methods approach combining an analysis of Land Matrix data and the study of legal frameworks with field work data, it aligns trends in land acquisitions with domestic politics and regulatory changes in the Republic of Cameroon. The chapter advances three key insights. First, the land rush in Cameroon was not a sudden phenomenon, and it emerged prior to the commodity price hike of the late 2000s. Second, conflictual land relations are the result of ineffective regulatory frameworks. Third, domestic actors, rather than foreign corporations, are of central importance for determining the outcomes of land-related long-term investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
Steffi Hamann, Adam Sneyd
Chapter 3. The Faltering Land Rush and the Limits to Extractive Capitalism in Senegal
The Senegalese government has emphasized agriculture and mining as strategic priorities for economic development since the 2000s. The promotion of large-scale agro-industrial and mining projects reflects a strong embrace of extractive capitalism, wherein the state relies on the production, extraction, and export of agricultural produce and natural resources as the basis for growth. Despite this policy commitment, several high-profile projects in these sectors have not materialised due to project failure, delay, or abandonment. In this chapter, we examine three factors that account for this low level of project implementation: (1) the effectiveness of social resistance to land investments, (2) the contradictory behaviour and motivations of the Senegalese state, and (3) the deficiencies inherent to the companies in charge of these projects. Many projects have been revised or aborted as a result of concerted opposition from local populations. For its part, the Senegalese government has largely been unable to provide a stable policy environment to investors, and some state officials have rallied behind land defenders. Finally, some investors did not secure sufficient funding, do not possess the managerial capacities to run large-scale projects effectively, or made grandiose promises that cannot be met. In sum, agribusiness in Senegal might not be as profitable an outlet for capitalist accumulation as originally thought.
Marie Gagné, Ashley Fent
Chapter 4. Epilogue of a Short-Lived Land Rush: Private, Rural, and Urban Land Tenure in South Sudan
This article investigates three forms of land tenure in South Sudan: investor leasehold, rural customary, and urban freehold. South Sudan’s experience with large-scale foreign investments in land mirrors that of the global land rush. A surge of investments from 2007 to 2013 has since tapered off to the point that there are only 17 land deals marked as “concluded” in the Land Matrix. This rapid, albeit brief, land rush demonstrated the pitfalls associated with large-scale land investments in the context of weak and contested governance institutions. Since the breakout of civil war in December 2013, the land question in South Sudan has been defined by government attempts to title land in urban areas and to formalize customary land systems in rural areas. These two processes have been highly contested on account of population movements and shifting power relations amid the civil war. Ensuing conflicts are often framed as ethnic in nature. From a political economy standpoint, however, these conflicts are the outcome of the expansion of market forces in urban areas and the codification of land tenure practices in rural areas, which subsequently exacerbates intergroup tensions.
Patrick Wight
Chapter 5. Behind Accumulation and Dispossession: State and Large-Scale Agricultural Land Investments in Nigeria
The academic, policy, and popular debate about large-scale land deals, particularly in Africa, centres on the extent of dispossession involved. The World Bank maintains that the investment of international capital into Africa’s land will lead to economic development through sales, leases, employment, and new cropping patterns. Investments in African farmlands, however, create false expectations as rural farmers are displaced from their land and livelihoods. In Nigeria, the dominant state narrative is that large-scale investments in land are crucial to “modernizing” agriculture, generating jobs, increasing export earnings, and transferring technologies. The Nigerian state promotes investments in agricultural land for the production of food crops and biofuels, primarily for export. Although accurate data on land deals are difficult to obtain, available records suggest that investors acquired more than a million hectares of farmlands since 2004. Many of these land deals produced conflicts over land rights and the lost livelihoods of rural people. Large-scale land investments became part of an ongoing political and economic process of primitive accumulation that reconfigures patterns of land use and ownership. Drawing on evidence from selected cases of large-scale land deals in Nigeria, this chapter highlights the linkages between state-driven development dynamics and land alienation.
Noah Echa Attah

Informality and ‘New’ Customary Land Tenure Landscapes

Chapter 6. Under the Disguise of Participation: Community Forestry as a New Form of Land Rush in Liberia
A variety of national and international actors embarked upon the reform of the Liberian forest sector after the end of the civil war in 2003, in part due to the logging sanctions enacted by the United Nations during the conflict. One result of these reform efforts was the adoption of the Community Rights Law with Respect to Forest Lands in 2009. The law introduces community forestry and is considered to be one of the most progressive laws on the African continent. Yet, fieldwork in Liberia conducted between October 2017 and January 2018 and between February and March 2018 indicates that the community forestry regime is redefined and undermined by different actors, and, in practice, contributes to land grabbing. After providing a brief overview of the government’s post-war Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) strategy, this chapter explores: (1) the reform of the logging sector after the war (2) the legal framework of community forestry, and (3) the implementation of community forestry based upon two case studies.
Ricarda Roesch
Chapter 7. Agro-Industrial Mega-Land Deals in Sierra Leone: Beyond the Rhetoric of Beneficiation, Employment and Economic Development
Following the surge in global food prices in 2007/2008, the Government of Sierra Leone facilitated large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) for sugar cane and oil palm plantations on behalf of transnational agribusiness firms. Commonly referred to as “land grabs,” large-scale land acquisitions are promoted by agribusiness and governments alike as a strategy for agricultural transformation, job creation, and economic development. The extent to which large-scale land acquisitions can meet such claims is a key debate in the literature. This chapter aims to provide a nuanced understanding of these investments and their effects on livelihoods in the Sierra Leonean context through an examination of two cases: Addax Bioenergy and Socfin Agricultural Company (SAC). While agro-industrial investors promised to provide jobs to local communities and improve their livelihoods, the evidence suggests otherwise. Farm families that previously depended on land for subsistence were coerced into seasonal labour and received wages below the country’s minimum monthly wage of US$60.
Solomon Peter Gbanie, Alec Thornton
Chapter 8. The Politics of “Land Grabs” and Development Contradictions in Zimbabwe: The Case of the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project
This chapter critically examines the Chisumbanje ethanol mega-project in south-eastern Zimbabwe in light of the emergent, popular discourse on “land grabs.” The Chisumbanje project is a public–private partnership between the Government of Zimbabwe through the parastatal Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and the Zimbabwe Bio-Energy Company. The project began in 2009 when the ARDA’s estates were converted to sugarcane production and processing for ethanol and biodiesel. Media and academics characterize the Chisumbanje project as the epitome of a “land grab.” We situate the project within the wider political economy of Zimbabwe by discussing the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) introduced in 2000 which forcefully displaced 4,500 white farmers for the benefit of 200,000 black farmers. We evaluate the social, economic, and political impacts of this US$300 million investment involving thousands, potentially tens of thousands, of hectares. Based on field research between 2013 and 2015, which included a survey of 180 smallholder farmers, 5 focus group discussions, and 4 key informant interviews, we delve into the complexities of land and governance to provide a more nuanced understanding of the Chisumbanje Ethanol project as a putative “international land grab.”
Prosper B. Matondi, Blair Rutherford

Formalization, Domestic Agency and Legacies of Legal Pluralism

Chapter 9. The Power of Policy and the Entrenchment of Inequalities in Ethiopia: Reframing Agency in the Global Land Rush
Ethiopia has drawn global attention as one of the epicentres of the global rush for agricultural land. The government is actively seeking out foreign investors and offering attractive incentive packages. These land deals, however, have not been well-received by local populations due to resultant controversies and negative impacts. Concerns surrounding forced resettlement sparked outrage. The government’s stated objectives, namely technology transfer, increased production, employment, along with its unstated objectives (i.e. increasing foreign currency reserves), are not being met. After years of ‘chasing’ investors in the agricultural sector, the land lease policy changed in 2013 and introduced new limits for leases. As a result, several contracts were annulled and foreign investments withered. Available literature on the land rush in Ethiopia and investment deals address a wide range of environmental, political, economic, employment, and food security issues. To-date, there has not been a macro-level geographic assessment of foreign land leases in Ethiopia. This is important because land leases occur in specific places and impact certain people. In this chapter, we highlight the agency of the Government of Ethiopia in a discourse that traditionally focuses on foreign investors and investigate the disproportionate burden placed upon marginalized ethnic minorities as a result of large-scale land acquisitions.
Melisew Dejene, Logan Cochrane
Chapter 10. Overlaps, Overestimates and Oversights: Understanding Domestic and Foreign Factors in the Land Rush in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an emblematic case in the ‘Global Land Grab,’ with reports of 11 million hectares acquired by foreign firms between 2000 and 2020. However, this figure is an underestimate. The acquisition of land by domestic actors, often under coercive circumstances, appears equally significant. The role of domestic investors has largely been overlooked in the academic literature. The situation is complicated by overlapping concessions for different uses (e.g. agriculture, forestry, mining, oil exploration), due to institutional disconnects and legal contradictions. Ongoing land policy reform processes could potentially address some of these problems. In 2011, the government outlawed land ownership by foreign individuals or firms. Nevertheless, uncertainty remains over the level of political will to reduce land grabbing given the vested interests of many politicians. Based on an extensive literature review, this chapter dissects the contemporary political economy of the land rush in the DRC.
Chris Huggins
Chapter 11. Beyond the Land Rush? Reflections on Transnational Interactions and the Future IPE of Africa
What can we learn from an analysis of the transnational land rush in Africa? And, what may be beyond it? To answer these questions, this chapter starts by examining the context of large-scale land acquisitions in various African countries, including those not written about in this volume. Then, we compare and contrast the various case studies examined in this book by analyzing topics such as leasing and commodity trends, legal regimes, and land tenure systems, as well as the broad range of actors involved in the land rush. Last, we critically interrogate the crises and issues afflicting Africa and discuss whether moving “beyond” the transnational land rush is possible under current circumstances.
Logan Cochrane, John Hopeson Anku, Nathan Andrews
The Transnational Land Rush in Africa
Logan Cochrane
Dr. Nathan Andrews
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