Co-opting Authority and Privatizing Force in Rural Africa: Ensuring Corporate Power over Land and People

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Large-scale land investment projects in sub-Saharan African have received substantial criticism for their negative local impacts, but few studies discuss specifically their application of corporate power on the ground. This paper provides an examination of such application in rural Sierra Leone. The paper describes how one corporation both directly and indirectly co-opted authority and privatized force in order to wield power over the land and people. The data illustrates how local authorities and security actors were incentivized to defend the interests of the corporation as opposed to the local communities they supposedly represent and protect. Such processes ensured corporate power not only over the land, but also over the local population. The findings, therefore, demand more robust and multidimensional accountability mechanisms to avoid the corporate acquisition of power in rural Africa. Such mechanisms would demand: a) that investing corporations be more informed about local socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics on the ground, b) that funders and local governments fund, report on and enforce more regular, culturally sensitive, and independent assessments of project impacts, and c) that funders, governments, corporations, and customary elites be held accountable for the negative impacts of such projects by international and national civil society organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-771
Number of pages23
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number4
Early online date10 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2018


  • Development
  • Africa
  • Political Sociology and Political Economy


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