This comparative analysis examines how large-scale agricultural land acquisitions are implemented in Ghana and Kenya, using embedded case studies of two specific investment projects. We find that insufficiencies in these countries' land governance systems are partly caused by discrepancies between de jure and de facto procedures and that powerful actors tend to operate in the legal grey areas. These actors determine the implementation of projects to a large extent. Displacement and compensation are highly emotive issues that exacerbate tensions around the investment. We also find that large-scale land acquisitions have a feedback effect on the land governance system, which suggests that large-scale land acquisitions can be drivers of institutional change. We suggest there may be a window of opportunity here to reform these land governance systems.