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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Development and Change
Page(s) 1 - 27
Title of proceedings Development and Change
DOI 10.1111/dech.12429


Since 2006, Ghana has experienced a wave of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) for agricultural purposes. Although these acquisitions are enabled by favourable agricultural and investment policies, investors nevertheless generally negotiate directly with traditional authorities, often bypassing state authorities in the acquisition process. The strength of customary authorities is often attributed to the weakness of the state. Considering historical political precedents, this article argues that chiefs in fact increasingly derive their power and legitimacy from state and donor policy. Chiefs play a crucial role in translating the (inter)national investment and development logic into local customary settings which are characterized by complex and overlapping use rights to land and natural resources. Using data from an LSLA in Ghana’s Volta Region, this study shows how chiefs continuously redefine and adapt the customary land tenure system and its intricate governance logic to the globalized neoliberal policy setting, readily switching between different institutional settings (institution shopping) to legitimize their actions. Those whose rights under customary tenure are least secure are most likely to lose out in the process of institutional change from common to private property, while those with close connections to the customary elite are most likely to benefit from LSLAs.