Land grabbing threatens the livelihood of many communities in Africa. Saudi Arabian companies are among the many grabbing land in Africa.
Under the umbrella of the King Abdullah Initiative for Saudi Investment Abroad, Saudi investors have acquired land in Africa with promises to improve Africa’s agricultural sector. Saudi investors have leased a combined 1,000,000 hectares of land in Morocco, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan, South Sudan, and Senegal.[1]This has resulted in the displacement of local population in western Ethiopia. [2] Saudi Star Agriculture Development Plc, owned by Saudi- Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al-Amoudi, is one the perpetrators. Operating chiefly in Ethiopia, Saudi Star recently acquired 10,000 hectares of land in the Gambella region of Ethiopia on a lease of 50 years.3 Many people were caught by surprise when the eviction notice came. One woman attests that government officials visited her farm and told her: “We have some projects to implement here. [Saudi investor name withheld] needs to use this area for a market so you have to go.”[3]
Furthermore, Saudi officials are on record saying that the investment in African land will create a large number of jobs.[4] However, Saudi Star’s behavior in Ethiopia contradicts this assertion. Saudi Star stated that it would need 4,000-5,000 farm workers in Ethiopia. These are just few full times jobs transformed into seasonal and short-term jobs.[5]
The International Land Coalition observed, during its gathering in Tirana: “…control of land is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, while at the same time, a growing number of rural and urban poor are left with small and fragmented lands. This fosters conflict and food insecurity, and exacerbates poverty.”[6]
The people of Gambella in Ethiopia have been protesting and some have taken justice into their own hands. In 2012, armed assailants killed 10 people living at a Saudi Star-owned living quarters.[7] Although Africa experienced land conflicts after colonial powers partitioned the continent and divided ethnic groups across artificial state boundaries, modern land grabbing is likely to exacerbate it if nothing is done.
By Mubarak Al Sabah, edited by Melaura Homan-Smith