Rapid population growth, unsustainable land use, and a pervasively degrading landscape are components of a dominant paradigm regarding African development. While recent work articulating the ‘misreading’ of the African landscape have begun to challenge this paradigm, much work remains regarding the pervasiveness and character of this misread. A method is presented for investigating mechanisms of land-cover change that combines remotely sensed data, archival data, and rapid appraisals in a way less influenced by dominant paradigms. We present a case where increasing human activity is resulting in accumulation of woody biomass on edaphic grasslands of a forest–grassland mosaic, rather than the expansion of grasslands at the expense of forests as is currently understood in that area. These increases in biomass are stimulated by anthropogenic influences that are shaped by institutional and edaphic factors. We do not claim that resources are being pervasively enhanced across sub-Saharan Africa under conditions of population growth, but that there may be many mechanisms of change, resulting in both degradation and enhancement, occurring simultaneously across sub-Saharan Africa or even intra-regionally within a nation under these conditions. The integration and application of these methods serve to improve applied analyses of land-cover change to better characterize these mechanisms, and avoid the wrong policy prescriptions.