Is a recolonization of Africa underway?

New Vision (Kampala) | Tuesday, 14th July, 2009

In November last year, The Financial Times reported that South Korea’s Daewoo had signed a 99-year lease for half of Madagascar’s arable land. According to the report, Daewoo expected to pay “nothing” for the lease.

The agreement covered 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres – an area the size of Belgium). Daewoo said it planned to plant corn on one million hectares in the arid western part of the island and 300,000 ha (740,000 acres) of oil palm on the land on the tropical east.

The Daewoo announcement came after the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the push by some countries (notably China, Malaysia and Middle eastern nations) to secure farmland overseas could create a neo-colonial system.

I was relieved to hear that on March 18, 2009, the new leader of Madagascar cancelled the deal.

Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia are joining a growing list of countries in Africa, leasing huge tracts of land to foreign corporations for agricultural use. Countries including China, Kuwait and Sweden are snapping up land in poorer nations, especially in Africa, to grow food or bio-fuels for use in their countries.

A few weeks prior to that, there were reports in the Egyptian press that Uganda had leased land to Egypt for the purpose of growing food. This report was denied in Uganda, however, more recently there were reports in The New Vision that Egypt was soon to start growing food in Uganda though the details of the land deal have not been made public and the initial denial by local authorities makes the whole deal suspect.

A few weeks ago there were reports on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa Service that an American businessman had acquired a lease for large tracts of Southern Sudan for agriculture. The food crisis and the resultant search for arable land for food security are sparking another scramble for Africa’s land.

I wonder how many other behind-the-scenes transactions are currently underway in the continent that will only be announced when the deals have been signed and perhaps money has exchanged hands. I am afraid that we are selling our inheritance on the continent for a pittance, or the proverbial Esau’s bowl of stew and when the time of need comes with our fast growing population it may not be accessible to us anymore.

All presidents on the continent have recently been hosted in unprecedented numbers in China, India and Japan. One reporter commented that African presidents attended the China meeting in numbers even better than is registered in the African Union Heads of State summits.

It is quite clear that Africa is being courted once again; this time especially by Asia whose large population is in ardent search for agricultural land, energy sources and raw materials. Our continental experience in relating with other continents has been one of exploitation and judging from my reading of current trends I am afraid we are heading for another season of rape and exploitation.

It is not inconceivable that in a few years that piece of real estate in Madagascar would have been developed with infrastructure, ports, beaches and airports. It would then be teeming with Koreans while the impoverished Madagascans are looking in over the fence; the seeds of increased social unrest would have just been sown in that country.

I have followed these developments with a troubled heart. There are many questions I have pondered:

I am concerned that today’s leaders in various parts of the continent are following the same path that the chiefs and kings of the last centuries followed in failing to come together to resist the colonisation of the continent.

During the scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th Century, European powers staked claims to virtually the whole continent. French claims extended over about 3.75 million square miles; British claims over about 2 million square miles. In Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa, White settlers seized large areas of land. Only Ethiopia managed to stave off the onslaught of European occupation.

The Congo became the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium, an ambitious, greedy and devious monarch whose lust for territory and wealth was largely responsible for igniting the scramble for Africa.

In 1885, the Congo was internationally approved as the personal property of this devious monarch, an area of nearly 1 million square miles, 75 times the size of Belgium and one thirteenth of the African continent.

In 1931, half of the land of South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was stipulated for the use of White settlers who, at the time, numbered no more than 2,500. In South Africa some 87% of the total area was declared white land.

In the highlands of eastern and southern Africa and along the Mediterranean coast of Algeria and Tunisia, European settlers acquired huge land holdings; in Kenya, the fertile white highlands were designated for their exclusive use.

Today, just over a century later, we are still experiencing the ripples of these acts of greed, avarice and theft in the social and political upheavals currently being experienced in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya and Congo. With all the news focus in the world press today on Zimbabwe, there is very little mention about the unjust wanton grabbing of land by the White settlers, forcing off the indigenes from 80% of the arable land. This is the historical root cause of the troubles in that land.

I am afraid that we are witnessing another scramble for Africa’s land and resources and the leaders of Africa who are entrusted with the protection and enhancement of her peoples and resources, seem powerless, voracious or too myopic in their understanding to save us from the recurrence of another catastrophe.

Isn’t it time to create non-political think tanks that will generate ideas for the leaders on the continent, if they are willing to listen?

Some leaders on the continent are often too entangled in politicking to either think or make clear-headed decisions on behalf of their people. Decisions made for political expediency are often not in the best long-term interests of the African people.

The writer is a dentist and civic leader
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Source: New Vision

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