Investment in land is not conflict-neutral, and given the history of violent conflict and mutual destabilization in the Horn of Africa there is potential for localized political grievances to turn into wider regional conflict. There is significant foreign investment in land in Ethiopia by parties from Africa and further afield. This is primarily geared towards producing for the export market, and is often concentrated in regions with limited political influence. In South Sudan, much investment activity appears to be speculative, while Sudan has a long history of large-scale agricultural investment. The Ethiopian government appears to be using private capital (most noticeably foreign investment) as a means of generating revenue for the state from peripheral areas. Large-scale land investment should be seen as an extension of the historical processes of state formation. Access to accurate information about the extent and nature of large-scale foreign investment in Ethiopian, Sudanese and South Sudanese land is extremely limited. So broader narratives of ‘land-grabbing’ – seeing governments as unwitting victims or as predatory regimes – are a potentially misleading oversimplification in the Horn
of Africa, where local populations do not lack agency in this process.
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