Using case studies drawn from the authors' own and others’ research, this working paper describes and compares some of the ways land conflicts reflected, intensified or reshaped struggles over authority within and between families, local communities, institutions and states in post-colonial Africa. In the past, many Africans gained access to land through membership in a social group, rather than freehold ownership. In recent decades, with rising demand for land, urgent questions arose about land tenure and debates over land transactions often turned on issues of authority. Who was entitled to sell, lease, mortgage or bequeath land or land use rights to others, and who could decide? Coinciding with Africans’ struggles to work out the conditions of their own self-government following the end of colonial rule, rising competition over land intersected with conflicts over authority and obligation at all levels of social interaction. This essay will focus on processes of ‘privatisation from below’, asking how smaller-scale commercial acquisitions figure as sources of wealth and/or threats to livelihood in different economic and political contexts.