Land Deals in Africa: World Bank Group

Reports and Briefs

Established in 1944 with the objective of reducing poverty, the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance as well as advisory services to enhance development in poor and transitioning countries.

Despite its praiseworthy goals, the World Bank’s activities and undue influence over policy making in developing countries have come under heavy criticism over the years. Countless protests have denounced the Bank’s neoliberal agenda, which includes unfair conditionality policies, austerity measures that deny people’s right to healthcare or education, support for environmentally destructive projects, and sham debt relief. The Bank’s 1980s structural adjustments programs (SAPs), impoverished millions in developing countries after imposing the withdrawal of state intervention and sweeping liberalization of economies as conditions to receive loans. The SAPs came under heavy attack from all quarters of civil society until they were officially withdrawn in 2002.

Oakland Institute’s report exposes the role of the Bank’s private sector branch, International Finance Corporation (IFC), in fueling land grabs, especially in Africa.

En 2013, la Banque Mondiale classait le Mali parmi les pays africains ayant fourni le plus d’efforts pour améliorer le « climat des affaires » depuis 2005. Malgré la crise qui a secoué le nord du pays de 2012 à 2013, il est resté le premier parmi les huit nations de l’Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA) au classement Doing Business 2013. En 2014, le Mali a perdu ce leadership en arrivant juste derrière le Burkina Faso au classement général (155e place). Le pays reste cependant un des « bons élèves » de la Banque Mondiale en Afrique sub-saharienne.

In 2013, Mali was classified among the African countries that made the most effort to improve their business climate since 2005 by the World Bank. Undeterred by the 2012-2013 political crisis, the country retained its top ranking out of the eight West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) nations in the Doing Business 2013 report. In 2014, Mali lost this leadership, coming at the 155th place, just behind Burkina Faso. The country, however, remains a good student of the World Bank in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite unreconciled tensions following the three-decade-long civil war, militarization of the state, human rights violations, and more than 200,000 civilians in displacement camps, the World Bank generously increased Sri Lanka’s ranking in the Doing Business assessment in recent years. During and after the war, the Sri Lankan military seized large tracts of land through forced evictions and by occupying land abandoned by civilians fleeing violence. Many of the lands were deemed “High Security Zones” during the war, but are now being converted into “Economic Processing Zones” for foreign investors rather than being used for resettling displaced populations. The Bank’s measurements do not factor in this theft of resources nor the overwhelming human rights violations, affording the country a high ranking.

Since 2004, the World Bank has provided continuous “investment climate advisory services” to Sierra Leone. Business reforms and Bank-piloted programs such as Sierra Leone Business Forum and the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency led to the World Bank classifying Sierra Leone among “the top 15 economies that improved their business regulatory environment the most” since 2005 and rank the country third in the regional “Protection of Investors” category. In the agricultural sector, reforms around land, mapping of parcels, and fast-tracking land leasing processes have attracted investors eager to develop large-scale monocrop plantations of sugar cane or oil palm, which deprive local communities of their resources and undermine human, social, and environmental rights in Sierra Leone.

Senegal has made numerous reforms in an effort to garner a higher ranking in the Doing Business evaluation. The latest round of reforms, likely to be praised by the World Bank, favor land grabbing in Senegal, a country where large-scale land deals have become increasingly frequent in the recent years. Since the late 1980s, the World Bank has influenced the Senegalese public policy at the expense of households’ livelihoods, and in recent years has pushed for even more withdrawal of public and social action, promoting instead economic liberalization and trade facilitation.

Le Sénégal ne cesse de dégringoler dans le classement Doing Business. Le pays a perdu 32 places depuis sa 146e position sur175 pays en 2007 jusqu’à sa 178ème sur 189 pays dans le dernier rapport. Le président Macky Sall s’est plaint que le classement 2014 n’ait pas pris en compte les mesures du troisième trimestre 2013, telle que la suppression de l’autorisation de transaction, l’amélioration de la protection des investisseurs par l’adoption de décrets révisant le Code de procédure civile, ou encore la facilitation du transfert de propriété. Ces réformes de nature à plaire à la Banque Mondiale sont favorables à l’accaparement des terres au Sénégal, où déjà plusieurs grands investissements ont été mis en oeuvre ces dernières années.

The Philippines is now hailed as a top ten reformer as a direct result of making economic, regulatory, and administrative policy changes following the advice and direction of the World Bank. As a result of these changes, in 2013 the Philippines became the third most popular destination for foreign investment in land in the world, with 5.2 million hectares acquired since 2006.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Foreign direct investment in the country has more than doubled in past years, and the World Bank has been actively promoting foreign investment in the agricultural sector despite the numerous health, social, and environmental problems associated with industrial plantations in Nicaragua. One of the most damaging activities is the production of sugarcane for ethanol. The crop is in high demand, as is the manual labor for cutting cane, but the rise of sugarcane production comes at a steep cost in terms of human lives.

El Nicaragua es uno de los países más pobres del hemisferio occidental. La inversión extranjera directa en el país fue más que duplicada en los últimos años, y el Banco Mundial promueve activamente la inversión extranjera en el sector agrícola, a pesar de los numerosos problemas sociales, ambientales y de salud que están asociados con las plantaciones industriales en Nicaragua. Una de las actividades más perjudiciales es la producción de caña de azúcar para la producción de etanol. Hay una gran demanda para este cultivo, así como para la mano de obra que corta la caña, pero el aumento de la producción de caña de azúcar es costoso en términos de vidas humanas.

Since the first World Bank Doing Business survey in 2008, Liberia has implemented a series of reforms to improve the “ease of doing business in the country,” leading to its classification among the “top ten global reformers” of the 2010 Doing Business ranking. The subsequent worldwide advertisement of the country’s success attracted foreign direct investments (FDIs). In the agricultural sector, this resulted in giant palm oil and rubber producers acquiring more than 1.5 million acres of land, leaving communities without fundamental resources to sustain their livelihoods.