Cultural Conundrums in African Land Governance: Agribusiness in Sierra Leone

  • Fenda A. Akiwumi University of South Florida
Keywords: Culture, land policy, agribusiness, landlord-stranger relationships, Sierra Leone


This paper deals with the disjuncture between recognition of the important role of culture in sustainable development discourse embedded in African regional and state policies and legal instruments and the reality of externally driven neoliberal land-based development agendas in African nations. Using postcolonial theoretical notions of identity, subalterns and representation, and the centuries-old African landlord-stranger institution as an important customary land management system operating at the local level, I explore some inherent conflicts between the landlord-stranger institution and state land governance. I interrogate this dilemma in the context of agribusiness development projects and land grabbing claims in Sierra Leone, West Africa highlighting the issue of scale and institutions in land development and land rights debates. I reveal the challenges African countries face in reconciling the inconsistencies between respect for customary institutions inscribed in policy and laws, and economic growth and development within a global capitalist system.


ACHPR (2012) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 224: Resolution on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Natural Resources Governance. Retrieved from http://www. /sessions/51st/resolutions/224/.

African Union (AU) (2016a) OAU/AU Treaties, Conventions, Protocols & Charters. Retrieved from

-----. (AU) (2016b) Agenda 2063. Retrieved from

-----. (AU) (2010) Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa. Land Policy in Africa: A Framework to Strengthen Land Rights, Enhance Productivity and Secure Livelihoods. UC-ECA-AfDB Consortium, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Retrieved from sites/default /files/PublicationFiles/fg_on_land_policy_eng.pdf.

Ahluwalia, P. (2012) Politics and Post-colonial Theory: African Inflections. London: Routledge.

Akiwumi, F. A. (2014) Strangers and Sierra Leone mining: Cultural heritage and sustainable development challenges. Journal of Cleaner Production, 84: 773-782.

Allan, T., Keulertz, M., Sojamo, S., and Warner, J. (Eds.), (2013) Handbook of Land and Water Grabs in Africa: Foreign Direct Investment and Food and Water Security. London: Routledge.

Austin, G. (2010) African economic development and colonial legacies. Revue Internationale de Politique de Développement, 1: 11-32.

Awareness Times Newspaper (2015) Addax Bioenergy Faces Financial, Other Challenges By Awareness Times Jul 7, 2015, Retrieved from article_ 200527883.shtm.

Awoko Newspaper (2015) Sierra Leone News: Addax BioEnergy Downsize Makeni Operations. Retrieved from operations/.

Baker, H. A., Diawara, M., and Lindeborg, R.H. (Eds.) (1996) Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Barkin, D. (2016) Violence, inequality and development. Journal of Australian Political Economy, 78: 115-131.

Basu, P. and Zetterstrom-Sharp, J. (2015) Complicating culture for development: Negotiating 'dysfunctional heritage' in Sierra Leone. In Basu, P. and Modest, W. (Eds.) Museums, Heritage and International Development. New York: Routledge, 56-82.

Baxter, J. (2013) Farmland: The New “Blood Diamonds” in Sierra Leone? Standard Times Press Newspaper. Retrieved from

Blyden, E. W. (1882) The Aims and Methods of a Liberal Education for Africans: Inaugural Address Delivered by Edward Wilmot Blyden, LL. D., President of Liberia College. January 5, 1881. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press.

Bøås, M. (2009) New nationalism and autochthony: Tales of origin as political cleavage. Africa Spectrum, 44,1, 19-38.

Bread for All (2016) The weakest should not bear the risk: Holding the development finance institutions responsible when private sector projects fail, the case of Addax Bioethanol in Sierra Leone. Analysis 64. Berlin, Germany: Bread for the World.

Briggs, J. and Sharp, J. (2004) Indigenous knowledges and development: A postcolonial caution. Third World Quarterly 25(4), 661-676.

Brooks, G.E. (2003) Eurafricans in Western Africa: Commerce, Social Status, Gender, and Religious Observance from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Brooks, G. E. and Beauregard, E.E. (1993) Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society and Trade in Western Africa, 1000-1630. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Burchardt, H. J., and Dietz, K. (2014) (Neo-) extractivism: A new challenge for development theory from Latin America. Third World Quarterly, 35(3): 468-486.

CAADP (2002) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Retrieved from

Chanock, M. (2000) Culture and human rights: Orientalising, occcidentalising and authenticity. In Mamdani, M. (Ed.) Beyond Rights Talk and Culture Talk, Comparative Essays on the Politics of Rights and Cultures. New York: St Martin’s Press, 15-36.

DCE Partners (2016) Private equity news from Africa: Sunbird Bioenergy to acquire 75.1% of Addax Bioenergy Sierra Leone. Retrieved from private_equity africa.aspx.

DFID (2006) Scoping Study: Land and Pro-Poor Change in Sierra Leone. Report Prepared for DFID Sierra Leone by Shaun Williams assisted by Pamela Oredola Davies, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Retrieved from

Dorjahn, V. R. and Fyfe, C. (1962) Landlord and stranger: Change in tenancy relations in Sierra Leone. Journal of African History 3, 391-397.

Dumbuya, K. I. (2016) Sahn Malen Stakeholders Urge Government for Fresh Land Lease Agreement with Socfin. Standard Times Press Newspaper. Retrieved from http://

Edozie, R. K.and Gottschalk, K. (2014) The African Union's Africa: New Pan-African initiatives in global governance. Michigan: MSU Press.

FAO/UN (2012) Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. 016/i2801e/i2801e.pdf.

Folke Ax, C, Brimnes, N., Thode Jensen, N. and Oslund, K. (Eds.). (2011) Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial States and Their Environmental Legacies. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Goldman, M. (2005) Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.

GOSL (Government of Sierra Leone). (2016) Sierra Leone Web: Laws. Retrieved from laws.html.

-----. (2015a) The National Land Policy, 2015. Freetown: Government Printer.

-----. (2015b) The Agenda for Prosperity: Sierra Leone‘s Third Generation Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2013-2018). Freetown, Sierra Leone.

-----. (2014) The National Cultural Policy. Freetown: Government Printer.

-----. (2011) Socfin Agricultural Company and Sierra Leone Government Sublease. Retrieved from https:// Socfin_Agricultural_ Company_Sierra_Leone_gov_sublease.pdf.

-----. (2008a) Ministry of Mineral Resources and Ministry of Local Government. Diamond Area Community Development Fund (DACDF), Operational Procedures and Guidelines. Retrieved from /SL%20DACDF%20procedures%20&%20guidelines%20(Nov%202008).pdf.

-----. (2008b) Addax Land Lease Agreement. Volume 2: EIA Specialist Volume - Resettlement Policy Framework. Retrieved from uploads/ attachment/ADDAX%20-%20Land%20Lease%20Agreement.pdf.

-----. (1960) Laws of Sierra Leone, Vol VII. Sierra Leone: Government Printer.

GOSL-MAFFS. (2016) Socfin Agricultural Company. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), Freetown, Sierra Leone. Retrieved from

-----. (2009) National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan 2010-2030. Sierra Leone Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme, as adopted by the CAADP Compact. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), Freetown, Sierra Leone. Retrieved from files/Documents/ SL_ NSADP.pdf.

Greco, E. (2016) Village land politics and the legacy of ujamaa in Tanzania. Review of African Political Economy. 43 (1), 22-40.

Gudynas, E. (2016) Beyond varieties of development: disputes and alternatives. Third World Quarterly, 37(4), 721-732.

Hall, S. (1996) New ethnicities. In Baker, H. A., Diawara, M., and Lindeborg, R.H. (Eds.) Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 163-172.

Havnevik, K. (2014) Responsible Agricultural Investments in Developing Countries: How to Make Principles and Guidelines Effective. Stockholm: Ministry of Rural Affairs Swedish FAO Committee. Retrieved from

Hilson, G. (2012) Corporate social responsibility in the extractive industries: Experiences from developing countries. Resources Policy 37: 131-137.

IFAD (2010) Sierra Leone: Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP). Retrieved from

Kabba, V. T. S., and Li, J. (2011) One country, two systems: The dualistic land tenure system in Sierra Leone, and the need for reform. J Am Sci. 7 (1):1123-1129.

Kea, P. (2010) Land, Labour and Entrustment: West African Female Farmers and the Politics of Difference. The Netherlands: Brill.

Konneh, A. (1996) Citizenship at the margins: Status, ambiguity and Mandingo of Liberia. African Studies Review 39 (2), 141-154.

Lebbie, A. R. and Freudenberger, M. S. (1996) Sacred groves in Africa: Forest patches in transition. In Schelhas, J. and Greenberg, R. (Eds.) Forest Patches in Tropical Landscapes. Washington DC: Island Press, 300-324.

Maconachie, R. and Fortin, E. (2013) ‘New agriculture’for sustainable development? Biofuels and agrarian change in post-war Sierra Leone. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 51(2), 249-277.

MALOA (2016) Malen Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA). Retrieved from

Mamdani, M. (Ed.) (2000) Beyond Rights Talk and Culture Talk, Comparative Essays on the Politics of Rights and Cultures. New York: St Martin’s Press.

-----. (1996) Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mannathukkaren, N. (2010) Postcolonialism and modernity: A critical realist critique. Journal of Critical Realism 9 (3), 299-327.

Mapara, J. (2009) Indigenous knowledge systems in Zimbabwe: Juxtaposing postcolonial theory. The Journal of Pan African Studies 3(1): 139-155.

Marfurt, F., Käser, F. and Lustenberger, S. (2016) Local perceptions and vertical perspectives of a large scale land acquisition project in Northern Sierra Leone. Homo Oecon 33, 261-279.

Maru, V. (2005) The challenges of African legal dualism: An experiment in Sierra Leone. In Fayemi, J.K. (Ed.) Human Rights and Justice Sector Reform in Africa: Contemporary Issues and Responses. Open Society Justice Initiative. New York: Open Society Institute, 18-22.

Mazrui, A.A. (1980) The African Condition: A Political Diagnosis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Menzel, A. (2015) Foreign Investment, Large-scale Land Deals, and Uncertain Development in Sierra Leone: Impacts, Conflicts, and Security Concerns. CCS Working Papers: Working Paper No. 18. Retrieved from

Mouser, B.L. (1980) Accommodation and assimilation in the landlord-stranger relationship. In Swartz, B.K. and Dummett, R.E. (Eds.) West African Culture Dynamics: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives. The Hague: Mouton, 495-514.

Moyo, S. and Foray, K.M. (2009) UNDP Scoping Mission Report: Key Land Tenure Issues

and Reform Processes for Sierra Leone. Report commissioned for the Ministry of Land,

Country Planning and the Environment, UNDP: Freetown. Retrieved from http://leonenet .info/documents/Docs/sil_landtenure_scoping_missionrpt.pdf.

Nabudere, D.W. (2005) Human rights and cultural diversity in Africa. Association of Law Reform Agencies of Eastern and Southern Africa (ALARESA) Conference on the Fusion of Legal Systems and Concepts in Africa, September 4-8, 2005, Entebbe, Uganda.

Njoh, A. J. (2006) Tradition Culture and Development in Africa. Vermont: Ashgate.

Ntuli P. P. (2002) Indigenous knowledge systems and the African renaissance: Laying a foundation for the creation of counter hegemonic discourses. In Odora Hoppers, C.A. (Ed.) Indigenous Knowledge and the Integration of Knowledge Systems: Towards a Philosophy of Articulation. South Africa: New Africa Books, 53-66.

Obeng-Odoom, F. (2015a) Understanding land grabs in Africa: Insights from Marxist and Georgist political economics. The Review of Black Political Economy, 42(4), 337-354.

-----. (2015b) Africa: On the rise, but to where? Forum for Social Economics 44 (3), 234-250).

-----. (2015c) Africa’s development post 2015: A critical defence of postcolonial thinking. Journal of Pan African Studies, 8 (1), 37-45.

-----. (2013a) The grab of the world’s land and water resources. Revista de Economia Politica, 33 (3), 527-537.

-----. (2013b) Book Review: Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Review of Radical Political Economics, 45, 419.

-----. (2012) Book Review: Land, Labour and Entrustment: West African Female Farmers and the Politics of Difference. Journal of West African Real Estate and Construction Studies, 1 (2) 1-5.

Patrick, D. and Forward, P. (2005) Review of a portfolio of exploration properties held in Sierra Leone by Sierra Leone Diamond Company Limited For Sierra Leone Diamond Company Limited. ACA Howe International Limited. Berkhamsted, Herts, UK. Retrieved from financialdocs/ACAHoweReport.pdf.

Peters, P. E. (2012) Conflicts over land and threats to customary tenure in Africa Today. CID Working Papers no. 247. Center for International Development at Harvard University.

-----. (2004) Inequality and social conflict over land in Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change, 4(3), 269-314.

Renner-Thomas, A. (2010) Land Tenure in Sierra Leone: The Law, Dualism and the Making of a Land Policy. UK: AuthorHouse.

Richardson, B. J., Mgbeoji, I. and Botchway F. (2006) Environmental law in post-colonial societies: Aspirations, achievements, and limitations. In Richardson, B. J. and Wood, S. (Eds.) Environmental Law for Sustainability: A Reader. Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 419-421.

Rodney, W. (1982) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, DC: Howard University Press.

Savino, L. (2016) Landscapes of contrast: The neo-extractivist state and indigenous peoples in “post-neoliberal” Argentina. The Extractive Industries and Society, 3(2), 404-415.

SEM. (2013) In Sierra Leone SOCFIN sits on time bomb, aggrieved landowners say. Sierra Express Media on May 1, 2013. Retrieved from

-----. (2011) Land grabs SOCFIN Agricultural Company in land grabbing. Sierra Express Media. Retrieved from

Senghor, L. S. (1971) Problématique de la Négritude. Présence africaine, 2, 3-26.

Shack, W.A. and Skinner, E.P. (Eds.) (1979) Strangers in African Societies. Berkeley: University of California Press.

SiLNoRF-Bread for All (2016) Final Monitoring Report on the operations and the scale down of Addax Bioenergy in Makeni, Sierra Leone (period July 2014-June 2016). Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF); in cooperation with Bread for All (Bfa), Freetown, Sierra Leone. Retrieved from

Svampa, M. (2013) Resource extractivism and alternatives: Latin American perspectives on development. In Lang, M. and Mokrani, D. (Eds.) Beyond Development: Alternative Visions from Latin America. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Transnational Institute, 117-143.

The Guardian (2013) Sierra Leone's smallholder farmers 'worse off' after large land deals: Push to lure foreign investors has led to a rise in social problems, sparking fears of a return to conflict, warns NGO. Retrieved from 2013/jul /26/ sierra-leone-farmers-land-deals.

The Oakland Institute (2012) Farmers make their voices heard on large land investments in Sierra Leone. Retrieved from /files/ OI_Sierra_Leone _conference_update_04-2012.pdf.

-----. (2011) Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Country Report: Sierra Leone. Oakland Institute. Retrieved from sites/

Ubink, J. M., and McInerney, T. (Eds.) (2011) Customary Justice: Perspectives on Legal Empowerment. Rome: Italy: International Development Law Organization.

UNESCO (2017) Culture. Retrieved from en/culture/ themes/ culture-and-development/.

United Nations (2007) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Retrieved from

Unruh, J. (2008) Land policy reform, customary rule of law and the peace process in Sierra Leone. African Journal of Legal Studies, 2, 94-117.

von Benda-Beckmann, F. (1997) Citizens, strangers and indigenous peoples: Conceptual politics and legal pluralism. Law and Anthropology, 9, 1-42.

Wa Thiongo, N. (1987) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Welthungerhilfe. (2012) Increasing Pressure for Land: Implications for Rural Livelihoods and Development Actors. A Case Study in Sierra Leone”, Bonn and Berlin: Deutsche Welthungerhilfe e.V. Retrieved from _Investment_Sierra_Leone.pdf.

Williams, P. and Chrisman, L. (Eds.) (1994) Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.