The currently intense debate about ‘land grabs’ or ‘land investment’ in Africa has reinforced the significance of relations around land on the continent. This article argues that holders of land under customary tenure face increasing threat and that the role of foreign investors must not obscure the centrality of national agents - governments, political authorities and private actors - in land deals. The article first outlines the historical heritage of the colonial construction and post-colonial reproduction of customary tenure and its denial of full property to customary land-holders. The second part considers the escalating competition and conflict centered on land; the increase in land transfers implicated in the pervasive social conflict focused on land; and the associated rise in social inequality and contestation over belonging and citizenship. All these processes intensify the vulnerability of customarily held land in face of an escalation in efforts to acquire landed resources. The third and final part discusses ‘land grabs’, the most recent surge of international interest in African land, and the equally significant appropriation of land by national agents. The article concludes that the land question in contemporary Africa has to be linked to the dynamics of social transformation and inequality at multiple levels - global, regional, national, sub-national - that are reshaping not merely access to landed resources but the very bases of authority, livelihood, ownership and citizenship.


Peters, Pauline E. "Conflicts Over Land and Threats to Customary Tenure in Africa Today." African Affairs 112.449 (October 2013): 543-562.