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Political Science


Large-scale farmland acquisitions in Africa – widely known as “land grabbing” – have increased dramatically over the past few years. By the end of 2011, governments negotiating these leases transferred over 50 million hectares of fertile land to foreign investors. Alarmed by the implications of food and bio-fuel crops being grown and exported from food-insecure states, international media and activist organizations have used “neo-colonialism” as an epithet to describe the wave of investments – implying exploitation by foreign powers and corporate interests.

This contribution instead analyzes “land grabbing” from a competing perspective. I begin by asking why African states choose policies that promote foreign investment, a puzzle perhaps best explored by understanding why neoliberal reforms were pursued or imposed in the past. Though African ruling elites have become more autonomous, to what degree does the influence of the IMF, the World Bank, and Western aid donors shape reforms that allow for “land grabbing”? Using the case of Mozambique, my hypothesis suggests that these neoliberal reforms are no longer solely imposed by international financial institutions or donors, as the neo-colonial thesis would assume. Rather, ruling elites clearly pursue these policies and often for political ends. Like Bayart’s theory of “extraversion”, this explanation asserts that African governments strategically employ only policies that maintain the flow of external resources and subsequently consolidate the ruling party’s power. Data from foreign aid flows, changes to aid conditionality, and the process by which land is expropriated to foreigners in Mozambique offers a complex picture of external and internal influences on changes to land and investment policies.