'This is modern-day land grab,' Namibian opposition says as govt agrees to lease 4 farms to Russian billionaire for 99 years

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The Namibian government has reportedly agreed to lease four farms to a Russian billionaire, Rashid Sardarov, for 99 years, a move that has been described by opposition parties as "modern-day land grab".

According to The Namibian, the decision to "unanimously" lease the four farms to Sardarov was approved by Cabinet, and it was said to be "in the best social and economic interest of the country".

The farms were valued at N$43 million, and measured a combined 17 000 hectares, the report said.

Namibian Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein reportedly defended government's decision, saying the leasing of the four farms to Sardarov was a "better deal".

The country's land reform minister Utoni Nujoma concurred, adding that the move was necessitated by "considerable economic benefits that will accrue to Namibia".

But a New Era report said opposition parties and civil society organisations were against the decision, describing it as "modern-day land grab".

"This is what in modern-day is called the new scramble for Africa, [which] is how it played out in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Modern-day scramble for Africa

"This is the modern-day land grab – they come under conservation, under investment. In Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya never will you see locals being shareholders. Modern-day scramble for Africa, Namibia has entered the race," Landless People’s Movement’s (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi was quoted as saying.

The Russian billionaire owned at least 10 farms in the southern African country, another report by The Namibian said.   

Sardarov was believed to have acquired land for nearly N$200 million in 2012 and 2013.

In August President Hage Geingob reportedly warned politicians in his country to guard against using the land issue for political gains.

"I believe that we should have difficult conversations, as Namibians, with the aim of finding peaceful and sustainable solutions to the challenges of inequality, landlessness and outstanding pains of genocide," AFP quoted Geingob as saying.

"If we don't correct the wrongs of the past through appropriate policies and actions, our peace will not be sustainable," the president warned.

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