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The War for Food

February 7, 2013


THE newest Western plan to invade Africa was hatched in May 2010 by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy together with pliable African leaders he had summoned to a crucial meeting in Nice.

The minutes of the summit should offer clues to the events that followed in Tunisia, the traditional French pocket borough, and thence to Libya, Egypt etc.

Sarkozy’s essential message to the African leaders was: are we going to remain bystanders to China’s growing domination of Africa? China of course had arrived there in a big way in the 1970s, not to necessarily challenge the surviving colonial order but to disrupt the Soviet influence in the continent. The rivalry surfaced in the form of the internecine stand-off between contending militias in the birth of Zimbabwe. China won the battle with Robert Mugabe emerging the victor. The West tried hard to dislodge him, but Mugabe survived the subterfuge, which Muammar Qadhafi couldn’t.

French warplanes, supported in various ways by the United States and the United Kingdom, have recently been bombing Mali, targeting alleged Al Qaeda hideouts. Almost certainly the trigger for the new war in the heart of agriculture-rich Africa came from the food shock of 2008. That’s when the predatory hunt for arable land intensified not only in Africa, but in Latin America and Asia, including in Pakistan and India. Much like the role assigned to Pakistan in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, with its mix of facile democracy and an authoritarian exigency, was groomed as the new and reliable staging post for the coming assault on Africa.

We all know the Sarkozy project didn’t end with the dismantling of Libya’s sway over sub-Saharan Africa. In Mali, a Libyan multinational corporation, firmly under the West’s clasp, has been awarded 100,000 hectares of prime agricultural land to grow export crops and rear livestock. The indirect seizure promises to be just as rewarding as capturing a country by force.

The $25 billion project includes building one of the largest irrigation canals in Africa allowing Mali’s precious water supply to be used by Malibya, the firm mentioned above. The project is intended to develop agricultural industry through foreign direct investment — a strategy aggressively promoted by the World Bank. In reality it has already violently displaced hundreds of families and demolished entire villages. Farmers are deprived of their livelihood and the capacity of the local people to feed themselves is hampered.

Earlier this week in Delhi, we heard eyewitness accounts of “egregious human rights abuses” inflicted by the Ethiopian government on its people to make way for agricultural land investments, primarily for Indian carpetbaggers. The Oakland Institute’s findings titled Unheard voices: The human rights impact of land investments on indigenous communities in Gambella, urges Ethiopia to put an end to forced evictions of indigenous peoples in areas targeted for land investment. Besides the Chinese and the Saudis, Indians are taking the lead in the unfolding human disaster. Unheard voices, which builds on the Oakland Institute’s impressive in-country research on land investments in Ethiopia, also features testimony of two indigenous human rights defenders who travelled to New Delhi. They pleaded with Indian businessmen (in vain) to ensure that their investments respect human rights. According to the report, Indians make up the majority of private investors in Ethiopian agricultural land.

Obang Metho of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia and Nyikaw Ochalla of the Anywaa Survival Organisation testified to the human rights abuses against Anuak community members in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, one of several regions targeted for land investment.

“When the Ethiopian government met with [the investors], the local people were never consulted and were never compensated. The decision was made without involving the people”, said Obang Metho. “For the indigenous people, [their land,] their one identity and existence as a people for their survival has been taken away by the very government that is supposed to protect them.” The story is not dissimilar to the plunder under way in the tribal regions of India.

According to the Oakland Institute report, since 2010, the Ethiopian government has displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous persons from their ancestral lands and has made these lands available to investors. This relocation process, which the Ethiopian government calls “villagisation,” has reportedly destroyed livelihoods, rendering small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival.

The exploitation spurs protests and organised agitations. Last August, the military responded to an April 2012 attack on a large commercial farm in Ethiopia’s agriculture-rich Gambella region with alleged arbitrary arrests, rape, and other abuses against scores of local villagers. Forced displacement, inadequate resources, and other abuses against Gambella’s population reportedly persisted in the second year of the government’s “villagisation” programme.

On April 28, 2012, unidentified armed men attacked the compound of Saudi Star Agricultural Development Plc., a company that has leased thousands of hectares of land for rice farming in the Gambella region. The gunmen killed at least one Pakistani and four Ethiopian employees. Gambella residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that in the following days and weeks, Ethiopian soldiers went house to house looking for the gunmen in villages near the Saudi Star camp, arbitrarily arresting and beating young men and raping female relatives of suspects.

The Sarkozy project to evict China from Africa has not worked. On the contrary, the new military campaign garbed as an anti-terrorist hunt has assumed the role of a road-clearing party for a fresh collective subjugation of Africa. Indian businessmen, who have always been at hand to join any colonial project, are in the thick of it.