AFRICANGLOBE – This week the African Union celebrates its 50th anniversary. How far has the continent come in those fifty years?
For one thing, the land that Africans fought to reclaim from foreign colonisers is being once again taken away from them, this time not by force but through purchase — their leaders are literally selling it from under their feet.
This is perhaps the most urgent continent-wide issue the African Union needs to address.
More than 60 per cent of the African population lives in rural areas and depends on land for its survival. However, reports show that in 2010, up to 123.5 million acres of African land — double the size of Britain — had been grabbed from peasants with the help of their governments.
According to Human Rights Watch, as many as 70,000 people in western Gambela region in Ethiopia have been relocated, against their will, to new villages that “lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities.”
Quoting one of the victims, the BBC in one of its reports said the Ethiopian government told them an investor was coming who would develop the land alongside the locals.
“They didn’t say the land would be taken away from us entirely,” the victim said.
The investor, Bangalore-based Karuturi Global Ltd, will lease a total of 311,000 hectares in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, all land is owned by the state and is leased out to private individuals and companies. In some places, communities often have pre-existing communal claims on the land, which are not acknowledged by the state.
In Tanzania, the government plans to evict Maasai communities from their 4,000 square kilometre ancestral land.
The eviction is reportedly to protect wildlife, which the government says is a major source of income from hunting and safaris and is under threat from overgrazing by Maasai cattle.
According to CNN, under the plan, most of the conservation corridor will still be accessible for grazing but no one will be allowed to live there. The other 1,500 square kilometres will be a “game controlled area,” where hunting is permitted with controlled access.
Maasai leaders claim they will be evicted from their own land and will lose about 40 per cent of their grazing land.
The land is located in the lush hills of Loliondo, northern Tanzania.
During colonial times, the area was a hunting ground for European royalty. Today, it is Emirati royals and other wealthy visitors who are being granted the rights to hunt, fanning a controversy that has simmered for two decades.
The hills are where the Maasai take their cattle to graze during the dry season. To restrict their access, the Maasai say, is “a death sentence.”
For rural Maasai, cattle provide milk, meat, and blood, and can even be used as currency. The survival of the cattle is the community’s survival.
Oxfam International reports that Asian and Middle East companies have bought 560 million acres of farmland, mostly in Africa and often at bargain prices, with some reportedly at less than $1 a hectare.
Quoted by the BBC recently, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said tax avoidance, secret mining deals and financial transfers are depriving Africa of the benefits of its resources boom.
Firms that shift profits to lower tax jurisdictions cost Africa $38bn, twice as much as the continent receives from highly tied money from donors.
“It is like taking food off the tables of the poor,” said Mr Annan.
According to financial results released in mid-May, six companies with large British ownership will take home $238 million of the total $451 million declared in dividends and fees due to shareholders.
Yet the world is awash with stories of “Africa rising,” condoned by the AU, while the profits are made at the expense of Africans who benefits very little.
By: Ray Naluyaga