Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt)

Parallel Session 13

Land Based Investments

How to Sustain Peace in Post-Conflict Settings?


Land disputes and conflicts about natural resources are often at the core of violent struggles. The risk of (renewed) escalation of conflicts into violence around large-scale investment projects is even higher were land and water resources are scarce and causes of former violence prevail. Civil society actors, especially land rights activists advocating in the interest of the local affected population play an important role in sustaining peace and transforming those conflicts. However, they are often attacked and under specific pressure through other interest groups - investors themselves and/or powerful elites or governmental authorities. Meanwhile studies and research show evidence about the increasing level of HR violations, harassment and killings of land rights defenders, deprivation of land users and violent displacements along large-scale investment projects. Peacebuilding and violence prevention remains a major challenge.

Land based investment in Sierra Leone and strategies for peacebuilders

After the 2008 elections, the new government of Sierra Leone prioritised attracting large-scale private investment to the country. Since then, there has been an influx of investors in the mineral and agricultural sector. Simultaneously, the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food/SILNORF was established and voiced serious concerns about these large-scale investments and land concessions. Many investment projects have resulted in a tense situation not only between land-owning communities and the investors or the government but also within communities. Over time, it became obvious, that investors will stay and that it is necessary to engage with all actors in order to influence the procedures around land based investments and political processes. SILNORF has developed new engagement strategies and multi-stakeholder formats with communities, traditional chiefs, investors and government officials based on continuous dialogue, sharing of information, mutual assessments and inclusiveness at all societal levels. Complementing its human rights based approach conflict sensitivity became one of SILNORF’s core competences as well as conflict management and transformative skills. Also the gender orientation and engagement with affected women groups helped to overcome tense situations in the interaction within communities, investors and different other stakeholder groups. The network, initially labelled as anti-government and anti-investors, can now take credit for the prevention of any serious violent incident in the affected region. The network was able to persuade the investor that it is in their best interest to change their approach, become more transparent and open for dialogue. The goal for future engagement with all stakeholders is to ensure that the promises linked to investment projects are part of transparent and realistic plans that are monitored and fulfilled.

Fragility and political economy of land in Sierra Leone

The unclear land governance system in Sierra Leone is a symptom of fragility whose roots can be traced back to the colonial past. The colony and later the Protectorate of Sierra Leone had different systems of governance. One was a “western type” democracy and the other a traditional chiefdom system. Land is either communally owned with the chiefs as custodians or in the hands of land owning families. This coexistence of these often overlapping systems persists, creates confusion and partly results in weak acceptance of state governance and land administration, whereas the legitimacy of the traditional chiefdom system is unquestioned. Thus, this confusion and its persistence gives rise to questionable practices at the local level. The social and political implications of land as commodity emerged in Sierra Leone with the investor friendly policies for food security and economic growth after the global food and financial crisis in 2008. At the same time, the mining boom also increased demand for community land. The private sector expanded its control over land using the chieftaincies as source of power. Although some jobs were provided for the rural population, corruption and alliances of the private sector together with Paramount Chiefs and Government Officials resulted in looting of the natural resources of the country without significant benefits for the local people. The reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission/TRC show that this recent phenomenon is a repetition of what people experienced in the past and what lead to the civil war. This is an alarming sign that history might repeat itself. The events in the mine area for the now defunct African Minerals company illustrate the situation. Riots over unfulfilled promises to the displaced or affected communities led to strikes, violence and strong responses from the state security authorities including death of at least one protester.

For sustaining peace and preventing new violence, the land governance systems require updating, the consideration of women’s rights and the strengthening of customary tenure for communities. While weaknesses in the land sector and an investor friendly policy persist, actors at various levels should make efforts to improve on gender equity, community participation and social benefits in land issues.

Highlights from a collaborative learning initiative on the role of business in peacebuilding from the CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA)

The global debate about the role of business in peacebuilding has recently gained renewed attention as part of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs, the UN Global Compact Business and Peace Platform, or the International Dialogue on Peace- and Statebuilding/IDPS of the OECD-DAC. However, evidence on how exactly business can increase its potential to contribute to peace, and related theories of change, e.g. around job creation, are very limited at this point, and most companies struggle with the implementation of basic principles of Do No Harm/conflict sensitivity. Peacebuilding related considerations are not included directly in any of the existing international voluntary company reporting frameworks.

The core operations of most companies are not development- or peace-oriented, and looking at dedicated social impact and corporate social responsibility efforts of companies alone is not sufficient to understand their role in peacebuilding through their core operations. Engagements between policy makers, peacebuilding practitioners, and private actors often lack a common language and understanding, which would need to be elaborated further in order to enhance the role of businesses in the peacebuilding policy discourse and in practice. At the same time, it is clear that the impact that companies alone can have on peacebuilding is relatively limited, and that a more holistic and systemic understanding of the role of companies in collaboration with other stakeholders (civil society, governments, regional and multi-lateral bodies etc.) is required. It is also important to keep in mind the different roles that companies play in different contexts, e.g. a local company can play another role than a large multi-national company given its different history and relationship in a given setting. This also has implications for the different levels of conflict-sensitivity or peacebuilding related impacts that companies can play at local and national level.

Points of discussion

Conflict sensitive employment and local roots of the investors are important assets for peacebuilding effects: Afghanistan, local companies set up negotiation platforms with elders to prevent projects from being destroyed by the Taliban. In affected areas, they also use a conflict sensitive employment framework which could be applied to other geographical regions as well.

However, one has to be careful to not categorically label all large international companies as peace-adverse and all small national companies as peace-seeking. Sometimes national actors are harder to reach to put pressure on than their international counterparts are. It is important to engage with the private sector, also in the frame of the IDPS, but at the same time also watch their performance and the relationships to civil society actors and affected population.

Finance institutions and mechanisms like pension funds have an increasing impact on land grabbing in the Global South, as for example the Deutsche Bank in South Africa. More debates on norms for “ethical investments” are necessary to secure legitimate land rights and ownership of land.  

In Sierra Leone,as pilot country for the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests/VGGT and of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, the ongoing processes for the implementation of the National Land Policy and of the VGGT are windows of opportunity to achieve progress towards more participation, inclusion, equity and transparency in the land sector, to create space for debates and for holding actors accountable.

  • Unclear, outdated and overlapping land governance systems are a symptom of fragility and need respective attention in the IDPS;

  • Compliance of investors to human rights obligations and conflict-and gender sensitive approaches are the basis for sustaining peace and preventing (new) violence. Increase the local capacities for peace and influence on actors and policies to give investments a human face;

  • In fragile and post-conflict contexts, experiences from the past regarding land governance and exploitation of natural resources have to be analysed for lessons that would prevent repetition of the consequences;

  • Clear and legitimate land governance systems help to overcome corruption and unjust systems. Equal sharing of benefits from commercial land use for the local people is key for sustaining peace and prevention of violence;

  • Companies have their own logic and motivations according to which they need to be approached and challenged by peacebuilding organizations. Conflict-sensitivity and conflict systems analyses can be an entry point for further engagement of all stakeholders – civil society, governments, and the private sector;

  • More debates with the private sector, shareholders and finance institutions on norms for “ethical investments” are necessary to secure legitimate land rights and ownership of land in target countries for large-scale investments;

  • Civil society actors play a decisive and bridge-building role between conflict parties, but need safe spaces and an enabling environment in their engagement for Human Rights and peacebuilding/violence prevention. The protection of land rights defenders and affected groups is key and has to be taken care of by all actors;

  • Multi-stakeholder-forums have proven to be instrumental where specific frameworks and formats for inclusive participation of marginalized groups as well as of women and youth are established and their rights for meaningful participation and Free Prior Informed Consent is granted;

  • Networking and creation of links between different political processes, e.g. between multi-stakeholder-processes for the implementation of the VGGT and activities in the frame of the IDPS, are relevant and should be enhanced in order to become more effective and relevant for sustaining peace and prevention of (new) violence.


Anita Ernstorfer
CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA), USA
read more
Herbert M'cleod
International Growth Center (IGC) Sierra Leone and IGC Liberia
read more
Mohamed Sorie Conteh
Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF), Sierra Leone
read more


Caroline Kruckow
Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt)
read more

Current Topics

show more

The FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum is a series of events on current and overarching challenges and trends in peacebuilding. With the Peacebuilding Forum, we want to provide future-oriented impulses for the development of peacebuilding and strengthen the visibility and importance of the policy field in its entirety.


Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden
und Entwicklung (FriEnt)
c/o GIZ

Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 36
53113 Bonn

Cookies and the protection of your data
FriEnt uses cookies to improve the functionality of the website, to offer you a better website experience, and to provide social media features. By using this website, you consent to the use of cookies.

Please find detailed information on the use of cookies on this website in our Data Privacy Statement. You can adjust your cookie settings below.