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Africa, Act Or Lose Agric-Business To Land Grabbers

November 14, 2011
Nigeria Exchange

By Farouk Martins


Tanzania is the case in point of how land grabbers are going to turn Africa land into what Africans neglect to do for themselves. Africa did it in the days of cocoa farmers in Ghana at the time of Nkrumah; expanded to food crops and meat production. As Awolowo in Nigeria’s Western Region whose industrial achievements were known as first in Africa. Since most of the gold and diamond were looted as oil today, both turned their parts of Africa into cooperatives primary food industries with small entrepreneur family farmers. So were groundnut pyramids under Ahmadu Bello in the North; palm oil and coal power in Eastern Nigeria under Okpara. But Nyerere’s Ujamaa was murdered before it could even succeed. 99 years leasers have replaced insightful African leaders with corporate bums demanding free land, tax breaks, unresticted immigration of staff and profit out. The same corporate interest that made sure Nyerere did not succeed in Tanzania is back as Kilomo Kwaza Agriculture First, to do what Africans can and had done: arable land into world food basket at foreign dictated prize; and corn into biofuel for machines. 

The blue print of big corporations to grab Africa arable land was a point of discussion recently at Harvard University where Oakland Institute came to sensitize students to land grab in Tanzania. The panel included Anuradha Mittal and Jeff Furman that pleaded to students to see through the placard of deceit of do-gooders that are actually out to rape Africa for more than 30% returns in profit for their shareholders. So corporations peddle fat returns on poor people to Ivy Leagues to invest some of their endowments. It is always said if you can hold your nose, you can make a killing profit in Africa; arable lands too? These are the same companies that introduced genetically modified crops to Indian farmers forcing them into loans they could not pay the banks back. In the process they lost their lands in foreclosure and resorted to suicide since everything they had was invested in rosy projection for shareholders’ benefit. In Iowa USA small entrepreneur independent farmers have lost business to big corporations widening income inequality.

Whenever these new generation of African politicians go out of the Continent lying that their frequent trips to Europe and America is to attract foreign investment, Africans must be leery. These politicians talk about free trade zones that will generate jobs when in fact the only jobs for Africans are low skill poor paying positions while most of the well paying jobs go to the foreign staff. The zones are purposely tax shelter designed to shortchange governments of revenue and generate fat profit. Free trade zones to who? In Katumba Tanzania, Burundi refugees were granted citizenship, a gesture that drew wide praise all over the world. However, in return for the citizenship, they have to be uprooted from the land they have farmed, cultivated with strong community affinity for about 39 years so that big international companies can take it over and plant genetically modified seeds of their choice for export. Of course the price will be dictated with little input from Tanzanians. A deal that was negotiated in Iowa by their Tanzanian leaders. 

Less labor intensive equipments are imported into Africa high density populations to generate limited jobs and sales for their home choice. Natural friendly fertilizers that are used by cooperative farmers to feed Africa when food was abundant can be improved locally as the rest of the world has gone green using environmental friendly fertilizers. Their so call biotechnologies are present in African universities they ignored. These universities have departments like University of Agriculture, Benue State where hybrid seeds are developed and regional West African Rice Development Association. These African politicians that negotiate African loans and their agents that make sure the loans of about 650 billion dollars since the seventies are paid hold about half of the loans in their private account outside the Continent. A relationship that allow politicians, their cronies to negotiate; and agents that get commission or position making sure the loans are paid back. These Africans hold half as assets in private bands while liabilities, responsibilities and debts, are publicly owned by their people as debtor-countries. 

So, African looters hold Africans to ransom in foreign countries. These foreign countries can confiscate their assets as illegitimate money laundering since the method of their acquisition will never be tolerated in their local transactions. Indeed, the Government of Abacha in Nigeria repudiated these odious loans, only to be paid back in interest and penalty by succeeding governments. In return, the Country was given triple AAA rating by conniving agencies whose interest aligns with lending banks. The difference between these big corporations either from China giving loans to African countries that are secured by long term contract to control mineral resources and those criticizing China in the western world is choosing between a bad and a worse deal. It is up to Africans to stand up for themselves, especially youths with greater stake in the future of their Continent. The steel Industry built by the Russians in Nigeria has never been profitable. Indeed, it has turned into a sink hole draining other resources. Ghana lost its “golden” base to foreign corporations and advisers. 

World criticism of China on long term contract as land grabber has been helpful since some of the loans have been forgiven in deals with poorer countries and better deals to help Tanzania built gas-fired power plants, natural gas pipeline, mine coal and iron ore. On the other hand, no amount of criticism, not even from the Arch Bishop of the Church of England, changed the minds of Paris Club countries when they took the biggest transfer of payment by odious loan from an African Country to wealthy nations. If Africans cannot turn their greatest strength of arable land into local agricultural power house using all the technologies from home universities, foreigners will do it with the help of unscrupulous politicians and international Africans agents working for World Bank, IMF and other trade organizations. Africa’s neglect in pursuit of prestigious edifice is their gain. Developing countries want free and fair trade where they can sell their finished agricultural products at their own price.