Focusing on one of the most targeted areas for land investments in Tanzania (Rufiji district), this article compares the involvement of two Tanzanian state agencies in land acquisition, in the context of the central government's new strategy on productive investors. Given the fragmented and contentious authority of many African states, I investigate the impact of state intermediaries on the relationships between investors and local populations and consider bureaucrats as a group of actors to analyse flows of power within the state. I make two main points. First, the central state's weak infrastructural power and resulting lack of local knowledge, and, conversely, local bureaucrats’ possession of these valuable resources, reverses the flow of power from local to central. Second, a central monitoring process might have a negative effect. Instead of protecting vulnerable populations, it fosters institutional innovations that protect local bureaucrats’ opportunities for accumulation with investors, to the detriment of local populations.