Large-Scale Land Acquisition as Commons Grabbing: A Comparative Analysis of Six African Case Studies

  • Tobias HallerEmail author
  • Timothy Adams
  • Desirée Gmür
  • Fabian Käser
  • Kristina Lanz
  • Franziska Marfurt
  • Sarah Ryser
  • Elisabeth Schubiger
  • Anna von Sury
  • Jean-David Gerber
Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 11)


We discuss the results of two research projects carried out by the Institute of Social Anthropology and Institute of Geography, University of Bern (Switzerland), to examine large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. Our case studies are from Morocco, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi. They illustrate the drama of grabbed commons and economic consequences affecting marginalized groups. Our research revealed that foreign investors made new land deals with local state officials and elites. The new rules made the land available for market-oriented productions and transferred the assets into state-, local elite-, or international companies-owned properties. These changes adversely affected the traditional property rights scheme. New institutional changes eliminated communal ownership and access to land-related commons such as water, pasture, fisheries, forestry, non-timber forest products, and wildlife, all vital for local sustainable livelihoods. Stipulated in the agreements payments and developmental projects through corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes proved to be false and prone to hidden losses. We analyze how local groups reacted to these dramas and what strategies they used to reinstall the commons. We argue that only bottom-up institutional buildup provides essential basis for securing resilient livelihoods. Our studies allow for understanding how to use the commons in the future on local, national, and international level.


Commons Property rights Land grabbing Gender Africa 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tobias Haller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Timothy Adams
    • 2
  • Desirée Gmür
    • 1
  • Fabian Käser
    • 1
  • Kristina Lanz
    • 1
  • Franziska Marfurt
    • 1
  • Sarah Ryser
    • 1
  • Elisabeth Schubiger
    • 1
  • Anna von Sury
    • 1
  • Jean-David Gerber
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Social AnthropologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute of GeographyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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