An area the size of Spain is believed to be leased to foreign investors in Africa. An estimated 66% of the land in sub-Saharan Africa is held in legally unprotected communal possession with nothing but tradition to assert the right to hold the land. Exposed and unprotected, many African communal farmers are at the mercy of their governments which have consistently betrayed them. Foreign companies have been coming to get large tracts of land in the continent and in circumstances reminiscent of the 19th century annexations, locals are being displaced to make way for foreigners. The compensation offered is nowhere close to enough and no consultations occur before the summary evictions. In the 21st century, it is black majority governments kicking their citizens to the curb. The new wave of imperialism has a black mask!
Land grabbing has been referred to as “commercial pressures on land”, “foreign investment in land” and “large scale land acquisitions” to account for the governmental consent in land deals but activists have maintained the deals are grabs. Stop Africa Land Grab defines land grabbing as, “..the contentious issue of large scale land acquisitions; the buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries by domestic and transnational companies, governments and individuals.” The term is mainly used in reference to land acquisitions that followed the 2007-2008 world food crisis.
Fertile land is being forcibly taken from natives and transferred to investors who are trying to protect their countries from food shortage vulnerabilities. There is little about the natives’ interests in the transactions. Oakland Institute says countries in Asia and the Middle East having recognised their own shortage of land and water for food production are now looking for offshore arable land in Africa “to assure their own future food security”.
This is a view Borras and Franco in their article “From Threat to Opportunity” also proffered arguing there was momentum behind the idea of long term control of landholdings beyond one’s national borders to supply food and energy needed by one’s population. The cosmetically tinkered narrative would suggest the investments are a win-win but the realities on the ground are far more telling. Rights and Resources Institute’s Andy White told DW that where local rights to land are not respected, it does damage to local people in their livelihoods and promotes conflict.
DW caught up with Ibrahima Seck, a Senegalese farmer who has experienced the full wrath of land grabs. He said the practice was an abusive expropriation that they were denouncing so that they could retake their land or at least stay on land that hasn’t been acquired. Seck and several other farmers were displaced by a presidential decree so as to allow an Australian firm to extract zircon, a gemstone of many colours.
In Uganda, Kristen Lyons from the University of Queensland, Australia was told that evictions in and around the Bukaleba Central Forest Reserve were carried out by government employees, the army, and the police. These evictions were reportedly sometimes violent. In other words, it was a case of institutionalised violence occasioned against blacks by blacks for white men. The company that sought to occupy the land is Norwegian. It has been suggested that some governments will label traditionally held land “unused”, “reserve” and in some instances “marginal” to misrepresent to companies looking to invest. While this may be true, it does not do much to absolve the companies from being accomplices in impoverishing the masses. They are in cahoots with the governments.
In Ethiopia, the Karuturi land deal gained what is clearly warranted press coverage for the preposterous tracts of land offered to the Indian company. After a backlash, the Ethiopian government reneged on its promises to Karuturi. The land in question was 3,000 km² offered to Karuturi on a 99-year lease. Rents were said to be as low as $1 for every hectare. Such deals, when considered in light of the massive costs to the local population and strain on resources do not even get close to making economic sense.
Oakland Institute, The Land Matrix, World Bank and Oxfam have detailed reports on the land grabs in Africa and the rest of the world. Statistics have been deliberately left out in this article as they are a contentious subject because of the secretive nature of some land deals. What all sources agree on is the fact that there is a global inclination to acquiring land in Africa and this has resulted in even more poverty for natives. In some countries, governments have taken the land themselves through corporations or urban councils.