This essay reviews the book co-edited by Logan Cochrane and Nathan Andrews, The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade After the Spike. The book has three parts, in addition to the introduction and concluding chapter. The first part, Part I contain four chapters under the theme, The Land-Development Nexus: Grand Discourses, Social Injustice and Contestations. The second part, Part II encompass three chapter under Informality and ‘New’ Customary Land Tenure Landscapes theme. The third part, Part III contain two chapters under the Formalization, Domestic Agency and Legacies of Legal Pluralism theme. This review focuses on the book's third part, which includes studies from Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Land Tenure Systems
Following the global financial crisis of 2007-08, which overlapped with a global food security crisis, the global land rush emerged as a key phenomenon that has since become the metonymic expression of the global response to these crises. Cochrane’s and Andrews’ The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade After the Spike provides a timely and necessary update of the land rush “a decade after the 2007/08 commodity price spike.” The book addresses some of the major misconceptions about the land rush on the African continent and, especially, the Eurocentric coverage of the land rush in Africa within the international political economy discourse by attending to local, national, and transnational land grabs and actors that have been largely marginalized in these debates.
Over time, I have collaborated with researchers and practitioners to investigate the global land rush and support responses to it. This action research taught me about the material dimensions of the deals, including their scale, location, crop types, intended markets, varying degrees of implementation, and the way they shook the very foundations of local life, livelihoods and culture. It also highlighted deep-seated tensions between competing visions of agriculture, food systems, territory and society; connections to an evolving global political economy and contested notions of sovereignty and statehood; and the role the law — from land tenure systems to international trade, investment and human rights treaties — has played in facilitating the deals or resistance to them.
The most recent rush for African land was accompanied by a literature rush on contemporary global land grabs comprised of a fast-growing body of reports matrices, articles and books. Responding critically to this literature rush, scholars are increasingly calling for a more robust and grounded methodology to link macro-level insights to more local level analyses. The edited volume The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade after the Spike answers these calls by taking a decidedly macro-level approach to the global land rush, without sacrificing nuance and country-specific historical, political and legal context. It does this in part, by investigating the impact of large-scale land investments in various African countries over time, considering not only the decade since their spike, but also the varied colonial and post-colonial histories that have shaped them.
This symposium opens up our book to examination, reflections and critical perspectives from experts such as Lorenzo Cotula, Nisrin Elamin, Wegayehu Fitawek and Kariuki Kirigia. As shown in their contributions, these discussants offer a depth of knowledge as well as passion for orienting people before profit.
In 2020, the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) of the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched its book entitled: “Rethinking Land Reform in Africa: New Ideas, Opportunities and Challenges”. The goal is expressed “to achieve a thought-leading policy platform and publication of inquiry, analysis and research for breakthrough progress in land reform policy”. ANRC was not sparing in its choice of contributors both numerically and in quality, with fourteen contributors comprising of Professors, Researchers, Policy Advisors, Historians, and Economists from different walks of life ranging from law to land management, political science, economics and taxation. The respective contributors are from diverse institutions within and outside Africa. The plausible implications of this are that not only does the book afford a broad analysis on the issue of land reform at different professional spheres, but it also offers both endogenous and exogenous perspectives.
Developing a policy framework with a view to improving the governance of land within the continent must prioritize tenure reform by recognizing and mainstreaming communal/indigenous/customary land rights. This departure from the initial obtaining policy approach that focused on titling and conversion of customary to modern tenure is critical for sustainable land reform in Africa as argued by Lorenzo Cotulla and Clarke. Rethinking land reform in Africa new ideas, opportunities and challenges assesses the progress that has been made in land policy reform in the continent within the decade that the Framework and Guidelines have been in place. It also explores opportunities and challenges as well as new frontiers in the land reform discourse. Importantly, one of the themes explored in the book is communal land tenure.
By bringing forward this interlegal sensibility, ALIC invites the investor to think of their own best interest in broad term and to take the time to understand already-existing, pluralist socio-legal expectations and practices. It also implicitly reminds the investor to take the time to build a relationship with local communities that is buttressed by an iterative understanding of fairness (a core tenet of commercial law). Without such a relationship and appropriate due diligence, ALIC in effect recommends to the investor and the local community to not pursue the deal – no one benefits from a land transaction that is only made possible by disrupting local people’s lives or dislocating them from their homeland.