A New Scramble for Africa: Land Grab & Dispossession of People

From Around Africa, by Aniedi Okure, Executive Director

A new scramble for Africa akin to the frenzy that followed the Berlin conference of 1885 and the partitioning and colonization of Africa is on; farmlands and minerals are the biggest attraction. The increasing discourse of land scarcity, the rising cost of food and the growing demand for biofuel and mineral resources have enticed multinational corporations to engage in shady land deals in developing countries. The finance industry now turns to farmlands for high returns on their investments. There seem to be a systematic takeover of natural resources from developing countries as part of global restructuring to ensure continuous supply of goods and raw materials needed in the developed countries.

A Grim Picture
We are witnessing the biggest land grab in modern history. Report from The Guardian and data from Land Matrix, Global Land Project, Oakland Institute, GRAIN and several other sources paint a grim picture of tens of millions of hectares of land grabbed from the developing countries for pennies through shady deals. As of June 2012 about 227 million (876,000 square miles) of land – the equivalent land area of California, Oregon, Washington, and the eastern US States stretching from Maine to Florida, plus Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – have been grabbed from developing countries through shady deals that dispossess the people of their land, their livelihood and their identity and drive them further into poverty.

Land grab in Africa stretches across the continent but mostly in the sub-Saharan region. The crops planted by investors are mostly for export rather than for local consumption. GRAIN reports that 67% of farmland in Liberia, 15% in Sierra Leone, 7% in Tanzania, 10% in Ethiopia, 6% in D.R. Congo, 8% in Gabon, 11% in Guinea, and 6% in Mozambique among others are controlled by foreigners at a cost of between $0.50 – $7.10 per hectare/year.

DETAILS ON WHO AND WHERE:

  •     The report shows that in TANZANIA, the Korean government acquired 100,000 hectares (386 sq. miles) in 2010 to grow crops for the production of vegetable oil, starch and wine. A year later, Agrisol Energy (USA) acquired 332,000 hectares (1,281 sq. miles) in 2011 to produce cereals for biofuels and livestock with backing from Pharos, Summit Group and the University of Iowa.
  •     In GUINEA, Farm Lands of Guinea Inc. (USA) acquired over 100.000 hectares in 2011 for export production of corn and soybeans.
  •     In GABON, Olam (Singapore) acquired 300,000 hectares (1,158 sq. miles) in 2011 for palm oil production, while SIAT Group (Belgium) got 100,000 hectares concession for livestock and 20,000 hectares for oil palm and rubber.
  •     ETHIOPIA has leased/sold 3.6 million hectares (13,899 sq. miles) to foreign companies from India, Saudi Arabia, Europe and Israel for US$0.80/hectare/year) to produce maize, rice, palm oil and sugar for the global market; a deal that has displaced 1.5 million people from their lands.
  •     In SIERRA LEONE – Socfin, a subsidiary of Bolloré (France) got 12,500 hectares in 2011 for the production of palm oil and Addax (Swiss company), acquired 10,000 hectares in 2010 for the production of sugar for ethanol, to start in 2013.
  •     Heracles (USA) has acquired over 73,000 hectares (282 square miles) in CAMEROON for oil palm plantation.

Report from The Guardian and data from Land Matrix, Global Land Project, Oakland Institute, GRAIN

Disparity – Grabbing for Pennies

According to a 2011 publication by NuWire Investor, one hectare (2.47 acres) of land costs $32,000 in the US; whereas foreign investors grab it for less than the price of Starbuck coffee in Africa. The deals are sealed for 39-99 years between investors and African political leaders who discard the wisdom of their ancestors: “We who are alive now, do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” and mortgage the resources of future generations for a “bowl of soup.” Investors and their collaborators act with impunity; they violate the rights of the local people and relocate them to reservations, threaten their livelihoods and that of future generations. Some interfere with water supply sources and destroy the ecological system. Sound familiar?

Like the purported reasons paraded by the chieftains of the 19th century scramble for Africa (commerce, liberation and civilization), the chieftains of the new scramble peddle enticing noble reasons for dispossessing African people of their land: increasing food production, creating jobs and improving their standards of living. They, in their infinite wisdom, know what is good for Africa and their magnanimity in designing a better life for the African people knows no bounds. But history has repeatedly revealed the hidden agenda behind these claims.

It has happened before

Recall the scramble for Africa following the Berlin conference of 1985, Australia and the Aborigines, and South Africa under apartheid. This is a déjà vu. This time it is more intense, with more exploiter-participants and achieved through devious “legal” contracts. Is this designing a better life for Africa or a design to ensure Africa’s continuous assistance to the developed world?

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