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Panel 7B: Building Pathways to Justice the Land and Water Rush in Africa

Séance 7B: 

November 14, 2014

Adrian di Giovanni 

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)


Howard Mann

International Institute for Sustainable Development


Robert Kibugi

University of Nairobi Law School



Jean-Simon Schoenholz 

2016 JD/MA Candidate


This panel sought to provide insights into international and domestic considerations with regards to the land and water rush in Africa. This study is in response to the land rush both China and Middle Eastern countries as well as companies seeking land for various reasons including the development of biofuel. The focus of this study was with regards to accountability measures for these investment decisions. In doing so the study also sought to seek the best ways to curtail the negative impact of large scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) and reconcile competing interests. The IDRC has initiated a participatory research project in ten countries over the last three years.


The first speaker, Robert Kibugi, noted that LSLAs are typically seen as either negative or as carrying much potential for benefit to a country. The latter is the more true as most of these countries have the resources and arable land available for investment and hopes of attaining middle income status are connected to their use. However, people and communities must not become casualties of development. To ensure this, communities must have procedural rights and meaningful public consultation. These must aim to ensure that benefits to the state will translate into benefits for the concerned individual and that communities will become part of the investment. This is possible through access to information and it results into an internalized sense of corporate social responsibility. By this function, the entire community can be conceptualized as an investor.


The second speaker, Howard Mann, spoke of four issues in international law affecting LSLAs. First, however, he thought it important to frame the issue as a water issue. Investors are interested in arable land which means that water rights, generally less well defined than land tenure rights, come into play. The first issue is the respect for local rights. While generally in international law it is investor rights which trump local rights there is hope for some change as evidenced by international contracts. This could mean the inclusion of obligations for impact assessment and the respect of local rights in investment treaties. The second issue is participation in decision-making through soft law tools such as Community Development Agreements. Thirdly, there must be ownership of national resources whereby domestic laws and provisions in contracts should govern land and water rights. Finally, states must receive some benefit from their natural resources.


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