As an African I sometimes feel like non-Africans should not interfere in how Africa operates and run its affairs and just how its people, however primitive, want to live their lives. By non-Africans one is referring to people not living in the continent but always, if not most of the time, trying to mind the continent’s businesses especially the so-called “rich and developed nations”.
But as you and I know our African leaders and of course its people some times need some kind of an intervention. This, however, should not be on every issue facing the continent. So it was after reading media reports in whichUS Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, criticisedChina’s investment in the continent that I felt like she should just mind the US business and leave Africans to do their own thing. This would include not dictating to the continent with which countries to do business.
According to media reports Clinton apparently warned the continent in an Africa 360 programme today against China’s “new colonialism” as it only seemed (to her) to expand ties with countries that were seen as elite. Clinton was quoted as saying in her five-day tour Africa tour when visiting Zambia today that: “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa. She reportedly said “When people come toAfrica to make investments, we want them to do well but also want them to do good”. “We don’t want them to undermine good governance in Africa.”
Clintonwarned African states to learn much from Asia on how governments can help support economic growth, implying that she did not see Beijingas a political role model. She said there were “a lot of problems” in Chinathat will intensify over the next 10 years, pointing to friction over Chinese efforts to control the Internet as one example. “There are more lessons to learn from the United States and democracies”, she said.
Mark Toner, Clinton’s Deputy Spokesperson said her trip to Africa was to showcase the US’s “trade policy with Africa and engage with government, private sector and civil society representatives from 37 different countries”. Toner said Clinton met Zambian President Rupiah Banda to “participate in events to highlight US government initiatives to improve the lives of the Zambian people”.
Just on Wednesday this week the Guardian newspaper reported of a study which had found that Harvard and other major American universities were working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which were going to force thousands of people off their land.
The newspaper reported that researchers indicated in the study that these “foreign investors” were going to profit from what were termed “land grabs” that have often failed to “deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world”.
The study on land acquisitions had found that in seven African countries, Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other UScolleges with large endowment funds had invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money, the Guardian said of the study, is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management which runs one of continent’s largest land acquisition funds run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers. Researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute quoted in the study believed that Emergent’s clients in theUS may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.
An unnamed Emergent spokesperson denied the “land grab” claim but admitted to the newspaper that the deals were handled responsibly. The unknown and nameless spokesperson is quoted as saying: “Yes, university endowment funds and pension funds are long-term investors”.
“We are investing in African agriculture and setting up businesses and employing people. We are doing it in a responsible way … The amounts are large. They can be hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not landgrabbing. We want to make the land more valuable. Being big makes an impact, economies of scale can be more productive”, the nameless and unknown spokesperson of Emergent told the Guardian.
The reason why I believe Clinton is a hypocrite is because at the time when the Guardian reported on the US’s Harvard and other companies’ land grab in Africa not once has she or any other US official criticised the said companies or what was revealed of them in the study yet she was quick to warn African against China’s investment. If that is not hypocrisy then what is it? Or it is only okay for theUS companies and any other countries to invest in African except the Chinese?
The Chinese and Middle Eastern firms have been identified as “grabbing” large tracts of land in developing countries in the continent to grow cheap food for home populations while western funds are behind many of the biggest deals in the continent, according to Oakland institute, an advocacy research group. Both Vanderbilt and Harvard’s investment funds declined to comment after the Guardian sought its comments, except the Harvard saying it was not company policy “to discuss investments or investment strategy”.
The Oakland Director Anuradha Mittal told the Guardian that investors overstated the benefits of the deals for the communities involved. He said “companies have been able to create complex layers of companies and subsidiaries to avert the gaze of weak regulatory authorities. Analysis of the contracts reveal that many of the deals will provide few jobs and will force many thousands of people off the land”.
For example, inTanzaniathe memorandum of understanding between the local government and US-based farm development corporation AgriSol Energy, which is working with Iowa University, stipulated that the two main locations (Katumba and Mishamo) for their project are refugee settlements holding as many as 162,000 people that will have to be closed before the $700m project can start. The refugees are said to have been farming the land for over 40 years.
The report further noted that inEthiopiaa process of “villagisation” by the government was moving tens of thousands of people from traditional lands into new centres while big land deals are being struck with international companies.
The largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the land is said by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, was negotiated between a Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development and a local co-operative run by absent chiefs, according to the study.
The 49-year lease of 400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000 (£15,000) would allow the company to exploit all natural resources including oil and timber. The company apparently headed by former US Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas said it would apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of pounds a year in revenues.
In Mozambique, where up to 7m hectares of land is potentially available for investors, western hedge funds are said in the report to be working with South Africans businesses to buy vast tracts of forest and farmland for investors in Europe and the US. The contracts show the government will waive taxes for up to 25 years, but few jobs will be created.
Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia said: “no one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security. He aid the “agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors”.
Mittal said the “scale of the land deals being struck is shocking”, that the “conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and increase the risks of climate change”.
The Guardian reported of a research by the World Bank and others which had found that nearly 60m hectares – an area the size ofFrance – was bought or leased by foreign companies inAfrica in the past three years. “Most of these deals are characterised by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms”.
So forClintonto accuse the Chinese the way she has is quite worrying considering what this report by the Oakland had found. Isn’t this hypocrisy at its worst?
Even Frederic Mousseau, a Policy director atOakland, mentioned cases of small villagers who were seen by “speculators” as “squatters especially when “taking over agricultural land who are “forcibly removed with no compensation”. He said this was “creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat to global security than terrorism”.
Mousseau said with more than one billion people around the world are living with hunger, the majority of the world’s poor depended on “small farms for their livelihoods, and speculators are taking these away while promising progress that never happens”.
Or I am just crazy to think thatClinton’s a hypocrite on what foreign investment is good for the African continent and from which country?
Well, I hope I am not…