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Contemporary Processes of Large-Scale Land Acquisition in Sub-Saharan Africa: Legal Deficiency or Elite Capture of the Rule of Law?

By: Laura German, George Schoneveld, Esther Mwangi

This paper published in the journal World Development examines national legislative frameworks and case studies related to customary rights protection in the context of large-scale land acquisitions in Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, uncovering considerable gaps in implementation, areas of weakness in legislation, severe resource shortfalls, and a general discord between progressive legislation and political attitude. Though each country studied is widely considered to have progressive legislative frameworks, the study authors found that significant legislative shortcomings remain, including the absence of the principle of free, prior, and informed consent and the inexistence of legal requirements to compensate communities. The attitudes, resources and motivations of human actors were as significant as legislation in the erosion of customary land rights: government institutions, politicians and bureaucrats display favoritism towards investors, helping them to circumvent the law while customary authorities sell community lands to investors for personal enrichment. The study authors conclude that governments, investors, legislation, and community leaders have all contributed to undermining tenure security in the countries considered and cannot be trusted to adequately protect customary land rights and rural livelihoods. The key, the authors suggest, is to move away from a development strategy based upon large-scale land investments whose negative consequences appear to greatly outnumber any benefits to local communities.

Keywords: foreign direct investment, land governance, land grabs, large-scale land acquisition, sub-Saharan Africa.

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Uploaded on: Aug 14, 2015
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
Year Published: 2013
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