African governments are in the spotlight for their role in the continent’s land grabs which has seen millions of acres end up in the hands of private investors.
Latest reports by a US-based think-tank, Oakland Institute, show that Western transnational corporations and Eastern countries such as China and India have played a big role in massive land acquisitions in Africa.
“Although Indian firms are active in countries like Ethiopia, the Oakland Institute’s investigation shows a major role of Western firms, wealthy US and European individuals, and investment funds with ties to major banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan,” says the report, Land Deals in Africa.
The report also attributes the phenomenon to alternative investment firms like the London-based Emergent Asset Management and US universities such as Harvard, Spelman and Vanderbilt, whose “primary motivation (is) economic access to agricultural land that will have high returns for the endowment.”
Land grabs could be creating mass anger and may be setting up different parts of the continent for conflict.
“Lack of consultation, growing food insecurity and threats to livelihoods and land rights are generating conflicts and pose a grave threat to peace and security in the region,” said Anuradha Mittal, Director of Oakland Institute.
The African continent has shown renaissance and growth. But experts believe that even before Africans have started to benefit from the growth, the dishing out of land under the guise of economic development has the potential of creating multiple crises.
In cases where people are not kicked out of the land targeted for leasing out to companies, other methods used include fomenting conflict between ethnic groups inhabiting the lands.
In cases where a number of communities live, their cultural differences are exploited to bring about conflicts that result in the displacement of the people. Kenya’s Tana Delta, for instance, experienced a bitter conflict between two ethnic groups, Pokomo and Orma, which led to the killing of more than 100 people in late 2012.
Although the media attributed the violence to traditional and cultural differences between the two communities and retaliatory attacks, there was suspicion that local and foreign commercial interests played a role.
This became public during a fact-finding mission by officials of the Canada-based Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention.
In its report, Sentinel cited the Canadian firm, Bedford Biofuels, saying that it had leased a large tract of land in the area for its operations, “thus causing environmental damage and depriving Tana Delta residents of its use for agriculture.”
It also accused wealthy and powerful Kenyans and foreigners of having armed the two ethnic groups or “set them to drive the other off the land so that it can be freed up for commercial exploitation.”
As they lease the land to foreign companies, governments in Africa rely on the fact that most local people do not have formal ownership documents of the land.
Source: | The East African, 21 March, 2014