Land Grab in Francophone Africa: Identifying and Promoting Lasting Endogenous Solutions

Land Grab in Francophone Africa: Identifying and Promoting Lasting Endogenous Solutions

A Review of Follow-up Actions After the Limuru Conference

Remarks by Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director, AFJN, Abidjan November 21, 2017

Your Excellencies, dear brothers and sisters, thank you for giving me the opportunity to present the follow-up to the conference that took place in Limuru, Kenya from 22 to 26 November, 2015, two years ago.

The Limuru conference was prompted by our realization that the fundamental economic and development problem in Africa is primarily a problem of governance. Many African governments are making bad decisions, sometimes to find quick solutions to long-term problems, sometimes because of greed, sometimes in an effort to keep up appearances, and adhere to policies developed by the older democracies of the world. Many African leaders seem satisfied with short-term gains at the expense of sustainable development and the common good.

In doing so, African leaders exchange Africa’s heritage and the future of African peoples for a bowl of soup and mortgage the future of Africa’s children to crafty bidders. The issues of land grabbing, resource extraction, gambling with genetically modified plants are all part of this poor governance and lack of foresight on the part of many African governments.

Thus, the Limuru conference focused on just governance in Africa and addressed land grabbing and resource extraction as aspects of governance. The conference was to raise awareness of these issues and to motivate people to take action to stop the tide.

The conference brought together 164 participants representing 133 organizations from Africa, Europe, North and South America.

The main organizers were SECAM, the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), the Africa Europe Faith and Justice (AEFJN), and CIDSE.  The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), a region of SECAM was the host of the conference. We are grateful to the staff for the role they played on the ground.

By divine providence, Pope Francis traveled to Nairobi while we were at the conference. Three times during his visit to Kenya, he mentioned land grabbing as a plaque on the continent. So given that part of our aim was to raise awareness of these issues, the Pope, in addition to his Encyclical, Laudato Si, took the lead in raising the alarm. Thank you Holy Father – Pope Francis!

Policies that facilitate land grabbing

The conference highlighted how public policies developed by African Governments and world organizations and international institutions such as the G8, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum, facilitate land grabbing.  It pointed out that the dominant narrative of land grabbing, poverty reduction and food security is fundamentally flawed. Indeed most of these policies are crafted to favor large corporations at the expense of the poor and small scale farmers. These policies give undue advantage and protections to corporations. In the end, the powerful take advantage of the poor and often leave them poorer, displaced and in need of life support.

Platform of Action

Before we ended the conference in Limuru, participants made a commitment to act on behalf of justice and against land grabbing and resource extraction, and to support local communities using this Platform of Action: Our land is sacred, our land is our life; our land is not for sale.

The participants issued a communiqué and committed to act on behalf of justice for the affected people throughout the continent.

Action Plan

The action plan adopted included Education and Empowerment of local communities, religious communities, Episcopal conferences, women and youth groups. We adopted a strategic direction to focus on human rights, the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of land grabbing, workshops in schools, town hall meetings, radio, television, and the media.

Strategic networking: Sharing information, building a coalition for action and dialogue, bringing other actors on board.  Creating platforms of working groups in Africa and around the world, showcasing the best studies and advocacy practices; approach and dialogue with investors, decision-makers and parliamentarians, support local communities in their non-violent resistance actions

Advocacy and engagement of national decision-makers and parliamentarians, European Commission and Parliamentarians, the US Congresses and decision-makers, African Union (AU), African regional community and economic blocs, African national and state governments, engage in defending state lands as human rights, promote policies that protect land activists.

SECAM monitoring system was to set up a network or a platform to facilitate communication among all conference participants, to communicate regularly with the networks and receive feedback on practical actions and strategies taken to implement the plan of action and to share any kind of results with others commitment to addressing these issues.

Actions Already Taken since Limuru

Many actions have been taken following the Limuru conference: in Nigeria (4 events), in Ghana (4 events), in Uganda, in Tanzania (3 events), in Zambia, in Mozambique, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Gabon, Senegal and in a number of other places throughout Africa. Now we are gathering here in Ivory Coast which embraces all the francophone countries from Madagascar to Dakar.

As most of you already know, this year the Bishops of Mozambique published an excellent pastoral letter on land grabbing. Last year, the bishops of Ghana made the issues surrounding land grabbing a focal point of their communiqué to the government and the people of Ghana. The list goes on. All these followed the Limuru conference.

We also recall that in 2013, before Limuru, the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) released a masterpiece pastoral letter titled “Governance, the Common Good and Democratic Transitions in Africa ” and called on all to engage in the transformation of Africa such that the peoples of Africa can live with the dignity God has given them. I hope you will continue to read this pastoral. It is worth every minute you spend doing so.

Important lessons from the Limuru conference

Land grabbing in Africa is very wide spread and is a serious problem that if not addressed will impact Africans more that colonization. The colonialists enslaved Africans on their own land, but land grabbers are systematically dislocating Africans and disinheriting them.

“Investors” are determined in their pursuits of grabbing land, and some use deceitful tactics to acquire land from unsuspecting communities who believe these corporations have come to their communities to “help” them produce abundant food for the community, employment for their children and development of their communities.

There is power in coalition. Although initially conceived by the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), and brought to the attention of SECAM and our sister organization in Brussels who reached out to CIDSE, the conference created a partnership between numerous religious organizations (Christian and Muslim) and civil societies at the local, national, regional and international levels to actively engage land-grabbing issue. It brought together SECAM, AFJN, AEFJN, CIDSE-FAST,  Catholic Relief Services (CRS), MISEREOR, DKA, CAFOD, Caritas Nigeria, Caritas Ghana, Friends of the Earth Africa, CIKOD, JINUKUN-Copagen, PLANT, Land Matrix, REBAC, GRAIN, RIAO, AFSA (African Alliance of food sovereignty),  Oxfam, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HoMEF), and many other stakeholders for dialogue and action aimed at addressing this menace.

A process has begun between AMECEA and TCOE, a South African-based NGO that focuses on promoting food sovereignty and the extractive industries so as to ensure just practices. They met last October – last month, all because of Limuru. It shows us the power of coalition and networking. This coalition, which continues to grow, is spreading its web to tie up the assault of land grabbers on the peoples of Africa. As an African proverb puts it; “When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.”

The church is well placed to be at the forefront of this fight against these powerful actors, some of which are more powerful than national governments. The church is blessed with the largest network around the world: parishes, dioceses, national conferences, regional conferences, continental conferences, and a formidable human resource that makes other institutions envious. But this resource remains largely untapped. We must use the gifts that God gives us for the benefit of mankind lest we lose our place like the fearful servant in the Gospel parable of the talents.

You are in one way or another impacted by the activities of multinational corporations. They pay money to advertise their products and get you hooked. Politicians around the world pay money to promote their agenda and advance their policies.

But church leaders do not have to pay to get a hearing, or to get the message across. The church has an audience that shows up without being paid, and audience that is ready to act, waiting to be led to act. In fact, rather than church leaders giving money to people to come and hear them, the people give their leaders gifts just for showing up to speak. Isn’t it?

A lesson here is that we must not squander the talents that God has blessed us with. Remember that a little action can make a big impact; a small group of committed advocates can and have in reality achieved a lot, well beyond their imagination. So, Your Excellencies, brothers and sisters, let us make a difference in our world because we are well equipped to do so, let us learn from the tiny mosquito who, despite its vulnerability and size, and through sheer determination, keeps you unsettled all night long.

Thank you for your commitment to justice and for taking action.

Peace

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