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Africa’s Land Rush and the Embedded Neoliberal State: Foreign Agricultural Investment in Ethiopia and Mozambique

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

AbstractAs changes to traditional economic power relationships upend the global economy, there is a resurgent interest in Africa’s raw materials by an increasing number of states beyond the traditional post-colonial coterie. These states are not fundamentally altering Africa’s status as a small economic player supplying raw goods to the world. But the level of interest, the states involved, and the changing nature of Africa’s involvement are raising questions about the long-term benefits and consequences of this renewed interest. Of particular concern is the trend in scale and type of commercial agricultural projects where land deals are slowly consuming vast sections of Africa’s agricultural land for export crops. NGOs, a few academics and virtually any news story on the subject inevitably invoke the term neo-colonialism. Our argument, however, is that the neo-colonial thesis – as well as the embedded state and neoliberal state theses taken separately – fail to capture the complexity of African commercial agriculture, particularly in the cases of Ethiopia and Mozambique. Despite ample evidence of massive, opaque land deals, investments do not tend to be restricted in bi-lateral ways nor are the investing parties members of the traditional Western world. While the role of elites is similar to the embedded state thesis, deals are mediated via wider market relations and conditions and justified in neoliberal terms. We propose that a synthesis of these latter theoretical strands better captures both the character and outcomes of African land acquisitions in our two case studies, and Africa at large.


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