Diasporan investors, domestic investors and the state in Ethiopian land deals: developmentalism and patrimonialism in tension

Authors: Sarah Stefanos*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Political Geography, Africa, Land Use
Keywords: political geography, Africa, land, state, investment, elites, concessions, land governance, Ethiopia, diaspora; political ecology, land use, agriculture, environment, commercial farming
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A1, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A recent turn in the literature on large-scale land acquisitions has seen scholars play closer attention to how states facilitate land deals. A few articles have looked at the relationship between domestic elites and foreign investors to claim that "the end results of land deals are very different in different regions of the country" (Wolford et al. 2013). I ask a different question in my research: how and why do land concessions for agricultural investment in the same, remote region result in both the creation of commercial farms and non-creation of commercial farms, sometimes on adjacent concessions? My case study is Gambella Peoples Regional State in western Ethiopia, one of the most popular regions for agricultural investment in the country.

Drawing on 1.5 years of ethnographic fieldwork and more than 130 semi-structured interviews in Ethiopia, I find that the overwhelming majority of land concessions for agricultural investment in Gambella state are given to Ethiopian investors, both domestic and diasporan. In turn, I argue that the outcomes of Gambellan land concessions depend on how Ethiopian bureaucrats and investors of Ethiopian origin negotiate tensions between developmentalism and patrimonialism specific to the Ethiopian context. Land concessions in Gambella thus result in both the creation and non-creation of commercial farms, depending on whether the deal is more developmental or patrimonial in its orientation. Because agricultural investment is a process, land concessions can shift in orientation, resulting in the sudden creation or abandonment of commercial farms, changes in investor requirements, and concession cancellations and reinstatements.

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