Since the beginning of the 21st century, Africa has found itself in the midst of a new wave of colonization. As if the fact that the people, labor force, mines and petroleum of the old continent were consistently seized by the colonial forces until today was not enough, this time, its most precious and fertile lands have begun to slip away bit by bit.
Over the past 10 years, the transfer of lands in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa to foreign investors has gathered momentum. So far, some 40 million hectares of land in the region was bought or rented by international investors. And for the last few years, media is agog with headlines, such as “Africa’s second plunder,” “Land attack on Africa” and “The new colonists.”
We constantly come across news reports stating that a single Indian firm alone bought 300,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia, almost half of Madagascar’s arable land were transferred to a big South Korean firm without charge and one fourth of Liberia’s acreage was secretly sold by tender to foreign firms to establish agricultural land.
Certain imperialist authorities operating in these lands continue their activities by naming massacres “a peace movement” and occupation “a democracy outflow.” They continue to plunder the African lands at full steam, in the garb of populist slogans such as “solutions for hunger and famine,” “the employment of local people” and “investments improving Africa,” which are seemingly well-intended and humane. Many insidious threats underlying the land grab are being hidden from the public.
Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner and a green movement activist Wangari Maathai writes extensively about these threats in his book The Challenge for Africa. To sum up the primary ones:
n The agreements drawn up between African states and foreign investors are usually imposed upon regimes by political oppression and bribery. Therefore, agreements principally protect the interests of foreign investors and are not transparent. They do not pay any regard to issues such as national interests, rights of local people, environmental health, and food safety.
n Millions of hectares of land are bought on the cheap or rented for periods of 50 to 100 years. Furthermore, certain lands are sold gratuitously under the pretense of improving the region. While the countries and the local communities that are the true owners of these lands face losses, foreign investors gain the maximum profit.
n By means of selling and renting arable lands to foreigners, small-scale lands used by local people, 70 percent of whom live on agriculture, are also taken out of their hands. Domestic agriculture and production are being destroyed. As a result, while foreign firms are continuously developing, the poverty rate of the local community is increasing day by day.
n The lands and cultivated areas that are used for sustenance agriculture by the local people for their nutritional needs and livelihood are being allocated for the planting of industrial and biofuel-purpose crops such as palm, sorghum or jathropa under favor of incentives by foreign investors. This situation causes food shortages to increase.
n Since the existing water resources are allocated for the irrigation of these vast agriculture lands, it leads to a dire water shortage for local people in terms of potable and irrigation water.
n The method of opening lands for agriculture by means of cutting or setting trees on fire causes desertification and deforestation. It also decimates the majority of local species, water resources, meadows, and farmlands. It causes perennial famines. It threatens environmental health. It leads to shifts in precipitation regimes and climatic conditions.
n The inequality gap between investors and the local community continues to widen. The system of unilateral benefit and blatant exploitation causes disputes, tension, and conflicts between the two sides to escalate.
When the ambitions, desires and greed of certain foreign investors are combined with the corruption and degeneracy that are rampant among the majority of African governments, those who end up suffering are again the innocent African people. In order to make room for huge cultivation areas for foreign investors, many groups are exiled en masse from their ancestral lands. These forced evacuations leave millions of small-scale farmers homeless and in the throes of starvation. In Mozambique, one investment firm comes across an elaborate town with a local post office in the area that had been indicated by the government officials to be vacant.
Nafeez Ahmed in his article, “World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs-NGOs” published in The Guardian, describes this desperate situation as “corporate re-colonization of the South” and “genocidal evictions of indigenous people from their lands.”
Many civil society and strategy institutions, non-governmental organizations, academic circles, and UN organizations try to find solutions to this bleeding wound by means of innumerable reports, researches, and articles.
They bring forward proposals and offer projects for many subjects such as drawing up contracts in accordance with the international standards and principles of equity, increasing the liabilities of investors, looking out for the interests of the local communities in agreements, protecting human rights, limiting the amount of sold-rented lands by law.