Government Honors Thesis: James Nicholas Lovitt

Title: Displacement by Dispossession: Foreign Investments in African Land and Why So Many Fail

Author: James Nicholas Lovitt


The past decade has seen the number of foreign investments in African land swell, with rapid investing occurring just before and immediately after the 2007-2008 Food Price Crisis. Investors are attracted to Africa due to an abundance of cheap, fertile land. They intend to grow crops and biofuels for export. However, many investment projects have failed to become implemented. I have chosen four countries to study with varying degrees of investments, economic growth, and land and property ownership laws. These countries are Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Within each of these, I have chosen four to six land deals and have attempted to connect each deal to the most relevant factor of investment delay.

There are four reasons for the slow materialization of these land acquisition ventures. They include (1) prematurity of the projects or contracts, (2) conflict or institutional disarray within the African governments, (3) speculation, and (4) the conflict of the traditional landowners. My hypothesis is that this fourth factor is the most salient in explaining the slow materialization of land acquisition ventures in Africa. My research reveals that the presence of local resistance is, in fact, not the primary source of delay. Rather, prematurity is the primary cause. I conclude with an analysis of the land investments and any improvements, financial or social, that can be made to make investments more successful for both investors and landholders.