After decades of liberalising reforms, the political agenda on land and natural resources in Africa has since about 2007 taken a distinct national turn, with indications of ‘economic nationalism’ (Johnson 1965; Helleiner 2002)(re)-emerging and contesting globalization. Whereas reforms were previously aimed at attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) through facilitation and deregulation, we are now witnessing a renewed emphasis on the national ownership of resources (Jacob 2017), often as an expression of populism or in response to local protests. This has led to a re-evaluation of the terms under which foreign investors especially operate. The nationalist turn has many faces, which are all contributing to a reconfiguration of actors and new types of
encounters between state authorities, ruling elites, investors, local authorities and rural populations. These changes are affecting not only national and local actors in various African locations, but also global (including Nordic) investors, governments and non-governmental actors active in different parts of Africa.
We would recognise two particular strands which academic researchers have highlighted as constituting a national turn.
First, theoretically, it has increasingly been recognized that some of the literature from the 2000s on natural resource investments in the Global South has over-emphasized the role of foreign investors and underestimated
that of state actors. Over the last 3-4 years, this has led to renewed reflections on the relative strengths and weaknesses of different actors, and the appropriate methodologies required to better investigate the configurations of these actors. In the land-tenure literature, this is mirrored in a move from emphasizing how
foreign donors influenced policies in the 1990s towards a greater focus on the national political economy of land in different countries (Pedersen and Buur, 2016; Cotula, 2013).
Secondly, empirically, from around 2007, the triple crisis of food, finance, and fuel (or food, finance, and environment) (Addison et al. 2011) caused a whole range of reactions that led to renewed emphasis on the nation state and national interests after decades of (neo)liberal policies. Before the food crisis, rising commodity prices, increased volumes of FDI, Chinese investments and loans, and the democratization wave from the 1990s that gradually permitted social claims and contestations to emerge from below created a sense of emergency. In response, populist policies from above have emphasized the importance of maximizing the national benefits of investments. This altered stance has been bolstered by the fact that many African countries, after a prolonged period of high economic growth, now felt they were in a stronger position to formulate their own development visions vis-à-vis more liberal donor approaches.