What can be expected from international frameworks to regulate large-scale land and water acquisitions in sub-Sahara Africa?

Brüntrup, Michael / Waltina Scheumann / Axel Berger / Lidija Christmann / Clara Brandi
External Publications (2014)

in: Law and Development Review 7 (2), 433-471


This paper explores the use of international governance frameworks as being one of the ways to regulate large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs). LSLAs are currently flourishing in both developed and developing countries, in particular in the sub-Saharan Africa region. Although they can potentially have many positive impacts in rural areas, many LSLAs have been shown to mainly produce negative impacts in poor countries with weak national policy and institutional frameworks and poorly defined rights for rural people. To successfully regulate the occurrence of LSLAs and their impacts, it needs to be understood that LSLAs are more complex than they are usually portrayed as being. Some of the complexities pertain to water issues; provenience of investors; legality and legitimacy of acquisitions; as well as the diversity of actors and the people affected. Against this background, five international frameworks are looked at: human rights, voluntary international guidelines, international global water governance regimes and bi-/multilateral river treaties, and voluntary private standards and codes. The paper concludes that the frameworks reviewed provide valuable guidance regarding LSLAs, but no single approach can help in dealing with the multitude of actors, situations and impacts of LSLAs. Even if they are considered collectively, they can tackle many but not all challenges. Yet, their implementation could substantially improve the process and the impact of LSLAs, including their refusal. A key question is how these frameworks are deployed at the local level. Some rely on translation into national laws and on their implementation, others try to establish a direct linkage between the international and the local level. It is of great interest to study how international frameworks trickle down to local policy arenas, how they are used by stakeholders, and how they are finally shaping conflicts at the local level and affecting their results. In particularly, their potential for empowering poor stakeholders should be of interest for research and development.

About the authors

Berger, Axel

Political Science


Brandi, Clara

Economy and Political Science


Brüntrup, Michael

Agricultural Economy


Scheumann, Waltina

Political Scientist


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