Not your average land grab

2012-01-12 06:56

All Africans are all too aware of the formalized land grab scheme created at the 1885 Berlin Conference. Swathes of African territory (the entire continent excluding Ethiopia) were consequently 'signed' over by African Kings to European powers including France, Portugal and The United Kingdom, among others. Borders were then arbitrarily carved to form protectorates. This infamous conference was held without a single African representative. This first 'scramble for Africa' was partly established for economic purposes and the notions of grandeur associated with such an imperialistic venture. This would give 'the great powers' access to cheap labour and ample resources without having to invest in anything extraneous to producing for the expansion of European capital and profit. This situation ensued out of a large balance of power heavily skewed towards Europeans backed by the fist of military might. What is the excuse for the resurgence of such a 'new scramble for Africa' in the twenty-first century?

In 2009 alone, land about the size of France was either leased or bought in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, however, it is no longer the West which has appropriated this land. The new faces include: The United States, China, India, Libya, Kuwait and even South Africa. Some of the consenting states are Mali, Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia. It s no coincidence that about two years after the financial crisis a large demand for African land is recorded. After financial crises, investors look towards other forms of more stable investment such as arable land. In this process of land appropriation there have been allegations of forceful displacements directed at investors  which may have displaced millions of people. This, of course, is highly problematic given that these farmers previously provided for their communities. Essentially, it can not be guaranteed what the land will be used for though some investors insist the land will be used to curb a global food shortage. Those who were  once able to live off the land as a form of subsistence have to be slaves to capital, get jobs at the farms they used to own and pay for food they were themselves growing. A question comes to mind: Why is Africa selling or leasing land which is arguably the most valuable asset when there is a looming food crisis?

Though an equal balance of power in the modern day land grab deal is elusive, Africans can not blame the West and increasingly the East for the inability to safeguard the continents future. African states authorize these deals as purveyors of the common good and willingly oblige to a form of slavery. These states oblige to further economic dependence allocating negligible importance to African people. Perhaps it is the self-interest of leaders which continues to rule. According to the methods of realpolitik dominant in the West, states are supposed to be fierce protectors of the national interest. Surely we cannot expect any favours from any country when crafting such deals. Africa needs to put itself first. This is not a nineteenth century land grab where force and complete ignorance were the components of the 'deal'. This is African countries handing over the soul of the continent.


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