Foreign land grab in sub Saharan Africa

Posted on December 2, 2012 08:51 am

As the curtain for 2012 comes to an end, I will be sharing some of the stories that were both devastating and inspiring to me this year.Today,I share with you land grabbing in Africa.Five and half years ago, I traveled to Africa for the first time in my life.Back then,Land grabbing was associated with tycoons and politically connected filthy animals. That has changed over the last few years as some African governments are gradually taking tougher stance on local land grabbers,repossessing illegally acquired land is common in some African countries.Since most countries gained independence, land grabbing is at its highest since Berlin Conference. Unfortunately, the same people have re-invented themselves in the name of foreign investors who come purporting to be interested in agricultural activities. In fact they are not. They are what I call “Internet generated business criminals” who collude with morally rotten local business people who have no mercy on Africa’s future generation.

Almost all authorities in Africa have so far failed to deliver any evidence of infrastructure development for communities living and displaced by the so- called mass job creation projects of the so called investors. The so called ‘investors’ claims that they are looking for Land to invest in biofuels, timber plantations, carbon credits, mining, and tourism to mention but a few. Earlier this year, I met a Briton friend I last saw in Sydney in 2000 with an African wife purchasing local land through proxy ownership and who wanted me to be part of ‘huge’ investment. Despite the sweet deal offer and appetizing returns, I don’t do such kind of investment and even if I did, I wouldn’t have done so. At that point, I thought the brouhaha in various African countries was simply a case of xenophobia but now I know why there are in an increase in anti non- African sentiments.I know of an NGO that has documented an alarming trend of governments and 
corporations buying up farmland on a large scale in poor African countries to produce basic foods for export. This is the most advanced con game in postcolonial Africa as I can comfortably say African farmers can do better that the so-called “foreign investors” who offer poor salaries and unfathomable working conditions. I have moral authority to say so because I’ve been to 12 African countries and I’ve always interacted directly with locals.

Land Matrix, an online public database of large-scale land deals, 227 million
hectares were involved in this global farmland grab while according to the official World Bank statistics, the year 2008-2009 saw about 50 million hectares of land sold or leased to foreign governments and investors but to me that is just a conservative estimate. Don’t even think of 2010-2012 statistics. As a result of this land grabbing and specifically in Africa, millions of poor farmers have been thrown off their land and natural local water sources are being siphoned to feed giant agro-industries, and ecosystems are severely damaged by 
large-scale chemical-intensive plantations and yet the authorities are turning a blind eye. Poor population in Africa is being robbed of their livelihoods to make food security in rich countries possible and they no longer have control over their ancestral land. This ruthless land grabbing
in African is also being driven by rich governments and multinational corporations and financed by powerful multilateral agencies that have made it hard for donor dependent African states to thwart such heinous crimes against humble and lovely African people. While digging deeper on the issue, I learned that acquisition of massive amounts of farmland in sub Saharan African countries comes in many guises, from direct purchases, state concessions, to long-term leases. The business structures also vary from direct management, joint ventures of foreigners with politically connected business men and women, contract farming that has some cases of 90 years contract to farming companies that offer less or no jobs to locals. Among the main countries seeking farmland in Africa are mainly the oil rich Gulf States, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea and India among others. Am happy my home country Australia is not involved in such dodgy deals.

What devastated me on this land grabbing menace is inhumane treatment of displaced locals, forest dwellers have been kicked off their ancestral land for forest officials’ carbon credit money that does not even benefit them in any way and goes to public coffers where the same filthy animals get the cash through tenders. In one of country I visited this year, old communities were evicted from the forests to make way for timber and oil palm plantations. I witnessed first hand what poor Africans go through when an ‘investor’ came for eviction with fully armed police. One could easily think they were headed for riots mission yet they were to handle unarmed and harmless people who numbered 12. There is need to hold the African governments accountable when the ‘investors’
destroy local ecological systems and poor small farmers’ livelihoods are shattered and their food security threatened. The most heart rendering of them all was a hilly area that has been turned into chemical intensive fruit plantation. Accurate statistics shows that more than half of the land grabbing worldwide happens in the poorest continent of Africa. This was one of the saddest encounters of 2012.More coming your way this month.

Contador Harrison