Transnational resistance against land grabbing in Mali

The bus of Afrique-Europe-Interact on its way to Sanamadougou (March 2015)

May 2015

Transnational resistance against land grabbing in Mali 

Renewed protests by the inhabitants of Sanamadougou and Sahou

By the European section of Afrique-Europe-Interact

The two villages, Sanamadougou and Sahou, in Mali, have been fighting for the past five years against eviction from their land by the large-scale investor Modibo Keita. This is the reason for yet another large-scale action by the farmers on the 2nd of June 2015 – followed by an open-ended sit-in by the affected farmers. The transnational network Afrique-Europe-Interact (which consists of grassroots initiatives in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Tunisia, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands) supports this protest, specifically requesting to money donations and solidarity actions outside Malian embassies in Europe (1). After a long period of stagnation, in May 2014 several campaigns in Mail and Germany succeeded in putting considerable pressure not only on the responsible investor but also on the Malian authorities. The fact that Modibo Keita received a credit over 16.8 million euros from the African Development Bank in September 2014 only because he deliberately made false statements concerning the current state of the conflict over land between him and the two villages, only became public through these protests and seems to have contributed to this pressure. The following text summarises the current situation – including giving an account of the history of 5 years of resistance in Sanamadougou and Sahou.

Massive Human Rights Violations since June 2010

On the 31st of May 2010, the Malian large-scale investor Modibo Keita and his company Moulins Modernes du Mali signed a 30-year lease agreement for 7.400 hectares of land in the M'Bewani zone. It included an option to obtain a further 12.600 hectares during a second stage. However, the local circumstances did not suit Modibo Keita – especially because there was no access to any nearby irrigation canal. Therefore, he offered several villages – located 30 kilometres further south -to swap their land for ridiculously little money, gifts or substitute land. They all declined, only one village swapped 800 hectares for a small piece of irrigated farmland. Modibo Keita took advantage of this location in order to greedily stole more pieces of land, among them in Sanamadougou and Sahou – including some agricultural areas that have been used by Sanamadougou and Sahou since pre-colonial times. As a result, the inhabitants increasingly face starvation and an increasing number of people have to emigrate.

For the past five years the villagers have pointed to the imminent problems with numerous letters, petitions and public campaigns without success. Additionally, with the support of CMAT – the Malian alliance against landgrabbing („Convergence Malienne contre les Accaparements de Terres“) – they have made the effort to bring the issue before the court in Markala (2). The case was finally opened on 22nd February 2012 but remains unresolved until today. Not even the written summons by the Minister for Land Use Planning and Decentralisation to the governor of Segou to put an end to Modibo Keita's ongoing human rights violations (22nd March 2013) has lead to an alleviation of the problem.

On the other hand violent actions by state security forces have taken place – at first instance on 18th June 2010 when Modibo Keita without warning had numerous trees essential for agroforestry cut down. More than 40 farmers were arrested, others suffered serious injuries. In the aftermath, brutal attacks – including raping women – particularly by members of the gendarmerie kept taking place.

In April 2014, when the office of the Prime Minister set up a Government Commission of Inquiry (N° 0011/PM-CAB, 4. April 2014), it finally seemed that the issue began to be tackled. It is all the more disappointing that its final report largely follows the views of Modibo Keita respectively the official bodies („Rapport de mission relative a la Saisine de la Primature“). Indeed it is stated that the administration of the Office du Niger has failed to pay attention that the inhabitants of both villages are sufficiently informed. Its conclusion also demands that so far outstanding compensation money is paid out. Yet, at the same time it states that the distribution of land was carried out in strict accordance to the lease agreement, that extensive indemnities had already taken place and that numerous village inhabitants were in support of the project. In a letter from 21st July 2014, the village chiefs have vehemently objected to this: They point to the fact that so far no indemnities whatsoever have taken place and that above all they could not agree to the seizure of their land. Moreover, 90% of the village inhabitants were in opposition of the project. Instead, the investor would mobilise inhabitants of the neighbouring village Diado to join official appointments who then claimed to be inhabitants of Sanamadougou and Sahou and praised the project. (3)

The case has been examined in a recent report that has been published by the renowned American Oakland Institute (4). Additionally the human rights organisation FIAN, which operates in over 50 countries, extensively addressed the issue in a 100-page- report in December 2014 (5). Furthermore, numerous journalists and delegates of the Malian and international public have visited both villages, among them activists from our network, who have visited Sanamadougou and Sahou seven times since January 2014. The last visit of a Malian/European delegation took place in March 2015.

Developments since Summer 2014

It is no coincidence that Afrique-Europe-Interact has sought cooperation with Sanamadougou and Sahou. As early as 2012, Afrique-Europe-Interact has built close relationships with individual villages and farmers’ collectives in Office du Niger – a dynamic resulting in the founding of the grassroots federation of small-scale producers COPON, which is also a member of Afrique-Europe-Interact. In practice, the transnational network has supported Sanamadougou and Sahou with four tons of millet to alleviate the food shortage that still exists today. Furthermore, Afrique-Europe-Interact has written numerous letters to the Malian president and Malian governmental and administrative authorities, and in addition, has organised several solidarity protests outside of the Malian embassy, the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the Federal Chancellery. On the 27th of November, with the financial support of Afrique-Europe-Interact, a big farmers’ assembly took place in Sanamadougou, in which several Malian journalists participated. Another gathering, essentially organised by COPON, with several hundred of participants took place in Niono on the 4th of April. Here, the situation in Sanamadougou and Sahou was also one of the key topics.

As one of the results of these activities Afrique-Europe-Interact was invited on the 19th of February 2015 for a meeting at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn, in which participated: four representatives from the network and eight members of: the Federal Ministry, the Germany Investment and Development Company (DEG), the KfW Development Bank and the German embassy in Mali. At this meeting Afrique-Europe-Interact was amongst others informed that the committee of the African Development Bank had only agreed to grant the credit to Modibo Keita under two conditions: First, that no more court proceedings were pending: second, that the families affected had received financial compensation. Modibo Keita claimed both conditions had been met. However, as Afrique-Europe-Interact has learnt at its latest delegation visit eight weeks ago, both these assertions were inaccurate. More precisely: The court proceedings that started on the 22nd of February 2012 have not finished, they have merely been suspended; only 8 families (7 in Sanamadougou and 1 in Sahou) have accepted compensation— which is a logical consequence of the fact that the villagers do not want financial compensation, but the return of their land.

The central question of the unfinished court proceedings is: How do the areas farmed by Moulins Modernes du Mali correspond with the region assigned in the lease contract? The issue is that the relevant territory is described only rather vaguely in the contract. The contract’s wording:

“The property is bordered as follows:

  • in the North by the property of FORAS and the property of ECORICE;
  • in the South by the Fala de Boky- Wéré;
  • in the East by the property of SOSUMAR;
  • in the West by the property SOSUMAR.”

Afrique-Europe-Interact has had comprehensive talks with the inhabitants of Sanamadougou and Sahou about these boundaries. Moreover, the representatives of the network have examined the area described in the contract by motorbike. As a result, two things became apparent: first, that the boundaries set out in the contract do not correspond to the observable reality regarding the cardinal directions; second, that the area seems to be significant larger than 7,400 hectares described. Additionally – and this is arguably the biggest contradiction – the canal Fala de Boky-Wéré which, in article 5.6 of the contract, is stated to be the location of water abstraction, is approximately 20 to 30 kilometres away from the agricultural land currently used by Moulines Modernes du Mali: an entirely different canal is utilised for the actual water abstraction. Together, these issues demonstrate that the controversial question about which areas are officially intended for use by Moulines Modernes du Mali have not been solved – and will probably only be solved, if a cartographic map, that is equally accessible to all affected parties, is utilised.

Finally: Against the background of the unfinished trial in Markala, the villages applied to the courts on the 3rd of May 2013 that the works be temporarily suspended until the original trial was concluded. However, this case was dismissed by the court for substantive and formal reasons. It needs to be emphasized that the information that served as a basis for this decision is still in need of elucidation. For example, the corresponding verdict from the 19th of June 2013 states that Moulines Modernes du Mali had established the boundaries of its areas based on GPS data. This is, however, implausible, as one of the key problems is precisely the absence of any clearly defined boundaries in the contract.

Concerning compensation, Modibo Keita presented the African Development Bank with a list of all the names of those families that supposedly have received compensation in Sanamadougou and Sahou. Afrique-Europe-Interact has received this information from an employee of the German embassy in Bamako who has viewed this list. This information caused some indignation among the inhabitants of the villages. According to the villagers, only a small number of families accepted a – merely symbolic – compensation for the loss of their land, at an early stage of the conflict: specifically, one family in Sahou and seven families in Sanamadougou. To substantiate their statement, the inhabitants of Sanamadougou and Sahou have compiled two lists that detail the names (and signatures) of all families that have not received any compensation. In this context, the fact that the villagers almost unanimously reject compensation should not be overlooked. The main reason for this rejection is that they question the lawfulness and political legitimacy of Moulins Modernes du Mali ’s actions. From their perspective it is even more incomprehensible that the rumour that many families had accepted compensation continues to persist – despite numerous and unambiguous rectifications from both villages (the last time in the aforementioned letter from June 2014).

Current Situation

The two villages have since retained a renowned human rights lawyer in Bamako to reopen or continue the proceedings at the court of competent jurisdiction in Markala. In Addition, at the end of April, Afrique-Europe-Interact has once again written letters to the Malian president and Malian governmental authorities and administrations, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the anti-fraud department of the African Development Bank. Against this background, it is of course encouraging that not only the Malian Primeminister has written a letter to Afrique-Europe-Interact holding out the prospect of finding a solution to the problems. Moreover, the authorities in charge have sent land surveyors, which – together with the inhaitants of Sanamadougou and Sahou – have paced off the fields and surveyed them. This demonstrates overall that the resistance, which has long been supported by several different actors (in particular by the CMAT), slowly starts to have an impact. And that is a good sign. Because it is a fact also that Sanamadougou and Sahou are not the only villages affected by land grabbing. In this respect, we want to conclude by pointing out that Afrique-Europe-Interact and COPON support other communities as well. For example, in the community Siengo Extension in the Zone N'Débougou a case of suspected fraud could be revealed concerning a project of the German Development Cooperation. Here, instead of distributing the newly irrigated land as intended among the inhabitants of Siengo Extension, the areas were appropriated or sold to wealthy third parties by the village chiefs in collaboration with employes of the Office du Niger. Noteworthy here also: A few days after Afrique-Europe-Interact had presented this case on the basis of its own investigations to the German embassy in Bamako (in the presence of the Malian contact person for the authorities of the Office du Niger), the Office du Niger held out the prospect of a redistribution of the land.

(1) Concerning the donations a particuler crowdfunding campaign has been set up: https://www.betterplace.org/de/projects/27746
(2) CMAT consists of the following organisations: AOPP : L’Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes, CAD-Mali : Coalition des Alternatives Africaines Dettes et Développement, CNOP-Mali : Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes du Mali, LJDH : Ligue pour la Justice, le Développement et les Droits de l'Homme, UACDDDD/No Vox: Union des Associations et de Coordination d’associations pour le Développement et la Défense des Droits des Démunies. Besides public relations work and legal advice, CMAT has also participated in organising several demonstrations.
(3) The report and the letter of the villages are only available in French: Read report and letter (fr.): http://afrique-europe-interact.net/1311-2-Lettre-Sanamadougou-et-Sahou-Juillet-2015.html
(4) Cf. http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/understanding-land-investment-deals-africa-mali
(5) The report is only available in French: http://www.fian.org/en/news/article/detail/land_grabbing_and_human_rights_in_mali/

More Informations about Sanamadougou and Sahou can be found on german, english and french at the web site of Afrique-Europe-Interact: http://www.afrique-europe-interact.net

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