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On the dark side of Africa

 Kriti Upadhyaya |  2015-05-24 22:35:54.0  |  New Delhi

Reports of land grab <g data-gr-id="61">seems</g> like colonialism in Africa all over again. Can you give readers an idea of how big the problem is?
Due to lack of transparency and accountability we can never be sure about the impact. None of the governments <g data-gr-id="74">are</g> keeping these dealing open so you really can’t document how vast it is and be sure of the numbers. At one <g data-gr-id="72">point</g> the Tanzanian <g data-gr-id="73">government for example</g> said these are the land deals we have <g data-gr-id="71">entered</g> but they were not telling the world in 2011 that they had also given 800,000 acres to a US based investor. No one knew about it till the Oakland Institute exposed it. So the figures that people go with are the ones that the World Bank suggested that over 200 million hectares have been leased. And yes we do know from communities underground that there a great scramble for Africa.
Who is to blame for the ‘land grab’? And even if foreign company seizes land, or hurts the interests of the locals in any way, wouldn't they find it very difficult to operate (typically they have to be extra sensitive to the interests of local communities). 

We have worked all over in Africa and especially in places like Papa Guinea the people are resisting and in Ethiopia  the Chief’s people are willing to die but not move and give away their land. There is a volatile struggle going on but is being suppressed and the locals are being ignored.

And when it comes to blaming then there are several <g data-gr-id="89">actors</g> to be blamed. Firstly we would blame rich donor countries,  development agencies like the USAID who are holding foreign direct investment in agriculture would lead to food security, greater jobs, development but without providing the evidence as to how that would happen. The World Bank is promoting laws in private equities who are investing in land and resources in Africa. They are very heavily involved in making rankings of each country and what it would be like to do business with them. So they are acting as a catalyst and the land deals happen within a week without the consent or involvement of the local communities. There are corrupt officials both at the national and international level as well. For that matter the G8 the rich financial institutions and all those people who are telling these countries that your only way to development is through FDI and not in investing in your own farmers and resources are to be blamed.

In the recent past, Ethiopia was, sadly, known for famine. In those times, it was said that Africa needs <g data-gr-id="63">‘Trade</g> not Aid' so what is wrong with inviting private companies into Ethiopia to do so?   
Right now you have 1.5 million people being forcibly displaced by the Ethiopian government to take their land and give it to foreign investors and these investors are growing crops and <g data-gr-id="82">bio fuels</g> for export and not for local market and the workers within the plantations are also outsiders. So I don’t see how this could help the local people who are being displaced and stripped from their land to live in exiles or as refugees in Kenya or are being asked to work as low grade workers in <g data-gr-id="83">menial</g> conditions. Karathuri the Indian company says to the local people that you are ‘<g data-gr-id="84">non people</g>’ because you are indigenous so they don’t give them a job and even if they do they pay them less.  

You have mentioned the role of Western institutions like the World Bank, Universities etc. But what about deals made by Indian companies and their race with the Chinese counterpart? 
Indian companies are no different from their western counterparts and are present all over. You have the notorious Karathuri that went bankrupt in Kenya, refused to pay the people and they are not the only one. You have SIVA and you have Indian companies doing all kinds of business there and another problem is the AXIM Bank that is helping out the Indian companies there. What is really heartbreaking about this is that the country which was once the leader of <g data-gr-id="98">non</g>- alignment and thought of a third way has become no different than the other colonial investment parties and is just seeking opportunities for businesses that do not benefit Indian National economy either but just the few rich people and rich corporations. There is also ethical moral ground when you look at International Law then when human rights violations are happening <g data-gr-id="97">non state</g> actors are responsible and here they are only perpetuating when they should really be held guilty. When it comes to China and India we don’t really see it as a race because everyone is there within Africa exploiting the people equally.

What can India learn from this? I'm referring to the ongoing Land acquisition bill.
It’s outrageous and am glad the civil society is rising up because <g data-gr-id="80">large scale</g> acquisitions all in Africa and the world over have valuable lessons. Horrific lessons to be learnt by both communities that are impacted, displaced and marginalised or indigenous but even the national economies are not benefitted. When you are giving away incentives to foreign companies and letting them have your resources it only leads to <g data-gr-id="121">net</g> loss for the country where all this is happening. Of <g data-gr-id="58">course</g> it is not surprising given the mandate of the Modi government which is all about privatisation. So this bill that has come to India to exploit the people should be shut down and done away with and what India needs is a land bill that respects the rights of the communities and recognised the right to land of tribals and farmers. 

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