Commercial pressures on land in Africa

A regional overview of opportunities, challenges and impacts

This paper presents an overview of the evolution, trends, and impacts of commercial pressures on land (CPL) in Africa from a regional perspective.

Acquisition of rural land in Africa for purposes of commercial production is not a new phenomenon; nor indeed are the tensions and struggles that land acquisitions engender as a result of their impact on community land rights and livelihoods. Such acquisitions were at the heart of the colonial enterprise and have continued to define Africa’s post-colonial political and economic interactions with international capital. The actors may have changed, but the act remains pretty much the same today as it was in the last quarter of the 19th century. So it is that some commentators have drawn parallels between the current surge in demands for agricultural land and the appropriation of African land that accompanied colonization in the latter part of the 19th century. Such commentators have referred to this  phenomenon variously as “the new scramble for Africa” and “the new African land grab” to assert the parallels.
However, it is misleading to equate the ongoing land acquisitions with those associated with colonization. The current deals are being negotiated by sovereign African states in exercise of powers that they have under national laws. They are entered into voluntarily, unlike the colonial acquisitions that were violently forced upon Africans on the basis of agreements entered into between imperial powers meeting in Berlin in 1885, without the participation of the Africans or their representatives.

Michael Ochieng Odhiambo