Formalization and Land Grabbing in Africa: Facilitation or Protection?

  • Howard Stein
  • Samantha Cunningham


Two developments in Africa have generated an extensive literature. The first focuses on investment and land grabbing, and the second on the formalization of rural property rights. Less has been written on the impact of formalization on land grabbing and of land grabbing on formalization. Recently, formalization has been put forward to protect the rights of pastoralists and farmers from land grabbing. However, unequal power dynamics in market transactions and through state processes may transform formalization from a form of protection into a means of dispossession. These power dynamics operate through various channels, such as juridical capture or influence, control of national and local discourse regarding land use and users, influence or control of land allocation and demarcation process, biased registration processes, and alienation of smallholders’ control over rights of land use. Along these lines, dispossession may not simply be the physical loss of land but the loss of certain rights to land even to formal title holders, or in other words, not to land grabbing but what some have termed ‘control grabbing’. Hence formalization may not prevent forms of dispossession and some cases facilitates dispossession. Ultimately, we argue that formalization can facilitate land grabbing due partly to unequal power dynamics embedded in rural Africa.

Key Words: formalization, dispossession, Africa, property rights, investment


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2591-6831
print ISSN: 0856-9622