Over the past decade, the Lao government has developed the policy of ‘Turning Land into Capital’ (TLIC), a strategy for generating revenue and economic value from ‘state land’. The 450 Year Road Project built along the periphery of the Laotian capital, Vientiane, linking the national highway with the Thai border, was financed using a TLIC model. Additional land to the side of the road was acquired to be resold at rates significantly higher than the compensation provided to landowners. Prior to construction, however, most of the land had already been purchased by external buyers, who impeded the project's development by refusing to concede their newly purchased plots. This article contributes to the literature on political reactions ‘from below’ to land grabbing by arguing that in order to understand the operational success or failure of land development projects, it is imperative to analyse the politics that pervade such investments ‘all the way down’ — the interrelated roles, interests and relations of involved actors and groups in all positions of power within society. The 450 Year Road project stalled due to its failure to take into account the interests and politics of seemingly compliant actors, particularly landowning farm households and speculative land buyers.
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