Large-scale foreign investments in farmlands are incompatible with national self-determination.
It is, and always has been, the large-scale investments made by national governments in home-grown farmers/peasants which reduce rural poverty, improve the nutrition of local communities, consolidate national peace and sovereignty and enhance a country’s standing in the world. Contrary to much-hyped propaganda, large-scale direct foreign investments in farmland, whether buying or leasing, and independence are not only incompatible, but seldom result in economic prosperity in the countries in which such investments are made. Therefore, the optimism leaders have vested in farmland sell-off schemes are both misguided and misplaced; African leaders with their foreign partners should therefore invest in African farmers not farmlands.
Foreign Governments, companies and individuals engaged in land-grabbing in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World today need to be exposed for what they really are: actual agents of a form of colonialism far more insidious than the one hatched up at the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885. Similarly all leaders in the continent facilitating this process of land hand-over to foreigners need to be exposed as ‘quislings’ – traitors – to those who fought and died so that we can live in liberty and dignity in this great continent of ours.
This treachery on the part of many of today’s African leaders is confirmed by the fact that most of the land deals are secretly signed because no right thinking person can suggest that commercial deals can be categorised as State security matters; the secrecy stems from the knowledge that what they are doing is patently wrong and because they know that if their people realise what they are up to they will be kicked out of office, just the way the Madagascan people did to Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009 after he leased off, or to be precise rather gave away for free, half of the country’s prime land to Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean conglomerate, for 99 years.
While African Chiefs in the 19th century could justifiably be excused for their loss of land to the colonisers due to illiteracy and naivety, current African Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament, cannot possibly plead ignorance when the history books are full of such lessons and they are more often than not among the most highly educated of their citizens.
John Foster Dulles, former American Foreign Secretary (1953-59), once remarked: “There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation; one is to gain access to its people by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.” That has been, and still is, the cardinal foreign policy of all so-called developed countries towards the nations of the South. Although military force is deployed from time to time, as the world has recently witnessed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya and Mali, today’s major instrument of colonisation is through control of economic resources – land and water sources being the most crucial.
In the 1980s and 90s the same elements buying up African lands today, (foreign banks, hedge funds, pension funds, the World Bank’s IFC – International Finance Company, International Monetary Fund (IMF), sovereign funds and other multilateral lending agencies) dishonestly forced loans upon African and other developing countries of the world. At one time these lenders instituted a “floating rate of interest” system which made the loans virtually unpayable. To add insult to injury, the lenders then forced the bitter pill of “Structural Adjustments Programmes” (SAPs) down the throats of the debtor nations, conditions which demanded the removal of subsidies on essential services such as health and education, as well as the privatisation and liberalisation of state assets.
These privatisation and liberalisation processes were designed to sanction the ‘legal’ stealing of state assets by a selected few to create local pliant elites who would in turn facilitate the foreign take-over of the country’s economy in the name of free-trade and globalisation. Those are the elites who are today literally overseeing the reversal of the noble decolonisation work accomplished by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). And tellingly the IMF conditions have now been dropped because the process of re-colonisation is complete – the African countries, their resources and her people – are now effectively again in foreign hands.
In international law, lenders to sovereign countries are not allowed to take over assets of states against unpaid debts; but with structural adjustments programmes (SAP’s) that is exactly what the IMF and the Northern governments did to Africa and other Southern nations. The leaders in the South knew, or should have known, that they were not obliged by law to let foreign lenders take over their countries’ economies over their debts, whether honestly or dishonestly contracted. Why then did they do it? I do not believe for a moment that all leaders in the African continent are traitors, but there is a measure of naivety and a fear of saying no to the Northern political and economic bandits; and that fear is driven by greed and selfishness.
The fundamental question is: if these Northern governments and institutions forced loans on Africa in order to serve their interests what makes anybody think that the ongoing take-over of our farmland and its assets are meant to serve our national and continental development? How can the continent be served by taking away its independence? Can anyone really get fooled into thinking that external investors seek control of our arable land, rivers, aquifers, lakes, minerals and forests in the name of developing our countries? Only a totally naive or ignorant, or perhaps insane, person would swallow such an argument.
In the last fifty years while the Africans were singing and dancing to celebrate their hard-won independence, but not thinking how to consolidate and defend that independence, the descendants of the former colonisers and their associates were busy thinking how to get back the colonies; and they have came up with an excellent answer: “let their own kind occupy their State houses, let them have their national anthems, let them establish their own talking shops called Parliaments and Cabinet ministers, let them open embassies in our countries and make them feel they are among equals; but let us keep control of the economy. In that way they won’t feel they are effectively colonies still.” And that, as it happens, seems to be the case in many of our nations in Africa today.
The truth is, the real power in any country is in the land; a fact that is even more true in Africa; control the land then you will control the people of that country. Has this fact not dawned on our leaders, why then are they giving away our freedom?
The triple objective of conventional colonialism had been loot, land and labour and for over a hundred years European colonial powers grabbed African land and introduced poll tax systems payable in money with the aim of forcing the natives to work on settler farms as they traditionally lived outside the cash economy. And throughout that period the colonisers systematically exploited and looted Africa’s wealth. One British colonial officer in Kenya once described the Maasais of East Africa as the richest uncivilised people on earth; but by the time direct colonialism ended the Maasais were no longer the richest people. Where did their wealth go?
Colonial plantocracy never enriched any country in the world and never will. In Tanzania they had a word for it – Manamba; and these schemes impoverished villages and districts on a grand scale by taking away the young and able-bodied men and women to work far from home; and because they were never paid enough these people were incapable of having any savings, nor had spare cash to send home or bring back with them when they eventually returned. Tunduru district in Southern Tanzania is in fact the worst case scenario of this form of colonial exploitation; I am from there, I have seen it first-hand.
Therefore to bring back manamba in order to fill the stomachs of foreign citizens and the petrol tanks of their vehicles with bio-fuels is the worst form of abuse that the leaders in Africa can possibly subject upon their own people – the people they claim to have the best interests of at heart. I have always believed that human beings are fools but it is regrettably dawning upon me that we Africans are perhaps the biggest fools. I hate to say this but it is true. After all, how can any right-thinking person possibly acquiesce to this staggeringly stupid notion of giving away to foreigners our land and water resources which are the very basis of, not only our independence, but of life itself?
And this is happening when the sound of guns fired to liberate these same lands from the very people to who we are handing them back to in a plate, are still ringing in our ears; it is less than 50 years since millions of our people fought and died to reclaim African lands from the shackles of colonialism! No words can fittingly characterise this betrayal of our war dead and of our future generations. African leaders, what have these enemies of our continent fed you that you are willing to betray your own?
Leaders in Africa need to avoid the copying of foreign concepts and cultures for the sake of conforming with political and economic systems that are neither relevant nor appropriate to Africa. For example, in the developed countries of the North only 15% of the people are farmers, feeding the rest of the population which is the exact opposite of the current African situation whereby 85% of the population are peasant farmers feeding themselves as well as the 15% who constitute urban dwellers. Today’s African situation existed in the developed countries of the North before their industrial revolutions, but they did not get out of that condition through “heavy investment in the agricultural sector”, but through industrialisation; therefore, to argue that Africa can grow out of the existing status through heavy investment in the agricultural sector by foreign investors is utter and total nonsense.
Furthermore, the so-called developed countries’ post-industrial revolution land tenure system is not practicable in Africa today for another reason. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of capitalist countries of the North live within welfare state systems, but there are no such facilities to provide such a safety-net for Tanzanians and most other Africans.
Secondly, in Europe the overwhelming majority of people do not rely on agriculture for their livelihood, but are employed in industry, service sectors and the welfare state. In Tanzania and Africa as a whole, our service sector is minuscule and we do not have any industry to speak of and with the widespread globalisation and free market the chances of us building our own industrial sector in the near future is negligible. In other words, the African Union is presiding over the systematic de-industrialisation of the continent of Africa through a tranquilised dependency on cheap foreign imports, a trend made popular by market fundamentalism and globalisation trickeries.
Therefore, to advocate a system in which all land in Tanzania could end up being controlled by just 20 per cent of the population (and not all even native Tanzanians as is the case in Kenya today) is clearly wrong because it means condemning to penury and/or death by instalment the remaining 80 per cent who would have no land, no job and no welfare state safety-net. This situation would also inevitably result in the poor migrating to become the urban dispossessed in shanty slums like Kibera, in Nairobi, a social shame we have so far avoided in Tanzania.
Land bank schemes.
These externally induced land banks are primarily intended to strip our land from its present legitimate owners, the ordinary men and women of Tanzania, or so-called peasants, and put it at the disposal of foreigners who can easily bribe their way through to acquiring land. It is criminal; and what is far more criminal is the way in which they have stage-managed the whole process and made it look like it is in our national interest. Land bank schemes being rolled-over across Africa are primarily calculated at serving the interests of foreign multinational companies, foreign government and individuals; and the pliant African elite will then be able to dish out land to foreigners at will through their purposely created national investment centres to speed up the process, leaving the natives high and dry. African leaders supporting these schemes are aiding and abetting the enemies of our continent and if they are not aware that that is what they are doing then they are dangerously incompetent or downright stupid.
Africa can learn a great deal from India where the world can find the worst form of landlessness and the worst form of poverty. In October 2012 tens of thousands of landless Indians marched on New Delhi to demand the redistribution of the lands which their Government is making available only to the rich. The march was organised by a group called Ekta Parishad or Unity Forum and its founder, Rajagopal PV, poised this rhetorical question to Andrew Buncombe of The Independent newspaper of London: “Why is there no land for the poor, but land for the rich? … people say there is no land for the poor, why is it that when Tata or Vedanta or any other big company say they want land, they can find 5,000 or 10,000 acres in 15 minutes.?”
The answer is land banks. So even in Tanzania, the land in the so-called “banks” will ultimately only be available to the rich; the poor who have no money and do not qualify for bank credits, will have been disfranchised forever; and it is these same poor people who would have been forcibly moved by the State from these tracts of land to create the land banks in the first place. This in effect is robbing the poor because they are poor and it is criminally insensitive and corrupt.
National investment promotion centres.
Similarly, the national investment promotion centres like the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) promoted by the World Bank Group is not meant to serve the interests of Tanzanians but foreign investors as such agencies are there to facilitate the hand-over of land and other state assets. These agencies remove land from the hands of elected politicians who are accountable to the people and put it into the hands of a clique running a quango, accountable only to foreign interests, and are suitably positioned to respond to the needs and desires of foreign investors driven purely by profit rather than to serve the best interests of the people.
Now is the time to ask: does Tanzania really need the TIC? Is there anything that the TIC does which cannot be performed by the Ministry of Land and Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Industry and their related government departments? The TIC has already cost Tanzania the Island of Lupita on Lake Tanganyika and another island in Mafia. How much more does the country want to lose before we expose the TIC for what it really is, a quasi-colonial organisation instigated by foreigners to serve their own interests? Let us trash it in the dust-bin of history before it trashes the Tanzanian people. President Magufuli, please note that the TIC is another boil that needs to be lanced urgently.
The existence of the TIC makes the land-control system open to abuse. The sale of Lupita Island on Lake Tanganyika and Mafia are the best examples here. The buyers claims to have valid papers from the TIC, while the Lands Ministry, which have the final say on the sale or lease, does not know anything about it. It is that kind of confusion which national investment promotion centres like TIC are meant to create. The investor has already built a hotel on the Island and the government will be likely forced to accept a fait accompli as it is impotent to do much else.
In my opinion, so as to send a clear message to others that this kind of corruption will not be tolerated, then the Government needs to nationalise the resort; otherwise this sort of crime will be repeated over and over again. Land banks and the so-called national investment promotion centre, are instruments of African re- enslavement, and they need to be scrapped now before the system gets thoroughly entrenched and the thieves (both internal and external) benefiting from this scheme become too comfortable, too powerful and therefore untouchable. Land banks and investment centres are also aimed at creating a European post-industrial revolution land-tenure system which allows a handful of foreigners, in cohort with local lackeys, to control all the prime land and reduce the majority of the citizenry to seasonal, low-paid labourers working under conditions akin to the enslaved vassals of colonial plantations.
In the question of foreign investments in farmland African leaders are traitors perpetuating policies calculated to keep their peoples in permanent enslavement; the only exceptions being Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and the former leader of Madagascar, Andry Rajoliena. Fifty other African leaders are not ruling in the best interests of our continent, which is an appalling record.