The Great Land Grab: The Discovery of a New Aquifer in Namibia

Cross-linked with Future Challenges’ site

Namib Desert, photographed by Scott A. ChristyNamib Desert, photographed by Scott A. Christy

The arid nation of Namibia has a newly discovered aquifer called Ohangwena II, that spans its northeast region, which flows under the boundary between Angola and Namibia. The country is considered one of the driest in Sub-Sahara Africa, as it is largely covered by the Namib Desert. This is especially significant because the nation faces further desertification in the face of climate change.

The 800,000 people who live in the area currently depend on a 40-year-old canal that crosses the Namibia-Angola border for their drinking water. The new aquifer could supply water to the residents of Northern Namibia (who comprise 40 percent of the population) for an estimated 400 years. Historically, the scarcity of drinking water sources in the area has limited the scope of development. The discovery of the aquifer Ohangwena II means new opportunities and new challenges.

In response to this discovery, Namibia’s Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry announced on July 11, 2012 that his ministry will host a water investment conference in September to bring together the major players in the water sector. This includes the private sector, as financiers and equipment manufacturers would be essential to attracting private investment. Notably absent from the list of attendees are local residents of Northern Namibia.

The opportunity here is ripe. Public-private partnerships can ensure that all Namibians have access to safe water sources. However, the challenge of balancing profit with sustainability looms overhead. GRAIN’s report entitled, “Squeezing Africa Dry: Behind Every Land Grab is a Water Grab” warns of the dangers of privatizing water resources in the context of increasing water scarcity and increased propensity for water conflicts. These dangers are already seen at the Ethiopia-Kenya border and near Ethiopia’s Alwero River in the Gambella region, where deadly conflict brewed over Saudi Star Development Company Continue reading

Why Invisible Child’s #Kony2012 Campaign Gets No Applause From Me

In short: #Kony2012 #StopKony misrepresents N. Uganda, spreads misinformation abt Kony/the LRA, denies Africans’ agency and is imperialist. It raises the perennial question of “Who represents Africa?”

For example: This tweet (one of many prime examples) succinctly exemplifies all that I critique in this piece:

In fact, it reminded me of my post-colonial readings of Karl Marx. Reading this quote from his “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden” spurred me deeper into my anti-colonialist, post-colonialist fervor. Literally translated from German, “Those who cannot represent themselves must themselves be represented,” the quote revealed to me just how insidious the narrative of “saving” and “speaking for” the subaltern is.

HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 CAMPAIGN?

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. Certainly, if you think that Uganda is in Central Africa, you should not be disseminating (mis)information that could have implications on policy.

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

[Also, I suggest a little light research into Invisible Children’s spending practices.] Continue reading

Forcible Resettlement and Land Grabs in Ethiopia

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s Blog

Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest aid recipient, and one of Africa’s most food-insecure nations. Simultaneously, Ethiopia is one of most militarized nations on the continent, with a history of both internal and external uses of force.

More recently, the forcible resettlement of semi-nomadic groups in the western Gambella region has troubling implications for a nation with high rates of malnutrition and food insecurity, whose citizens overwhelmingly rely upon small-scale farming.

In Ethiopia, the average cost in USD for leasing a hectare for year ranged from $1.25 to $10 before 2009, increasing to $26-$42. While urbanization is changing the population makeup, land deals are still salient for the 83 percent of Ethiopians who are rural dwellers. The increased use of Ethiopian land for biofuel diverts land from food production which is especially important for a country that has consistently been Africa‘s biggest recipient of food aid.

As more Ethiopians become dependent upon the global food market, they also become more vulnerable to fluctuations in prices. Food prices in Ethiopia have recently shot up 50 percent, while the Ethiopian Birr has been devalued in light of the nation’s import-oriented economy. This is in addition to the fact that when food prices spiked in 2008, 6.4 million Ethiopians became dependent upon emergency food aid (this number had dropped to 4.9 million by 2009). Taken together, these factors pose a grave threat to the food security of a nation already dependent upon food aid.

While 10% or Ethiopia’s mostly-rural population (or 7.8 million) is dependent upon food aid, the government has forcibly resettled 70,000 semi-nomadic people (many of whom belong to the Nuer and Anuak tribal groups, the latter of which has faced a history of violence and discrimination in their ancestral homeland) in the western Gambella region as part of a “villagization” program, threatening assault and arrest to all who resisted.

The Ethiopian government currently plans to relocate 45,000 households in Gambella by 2013. The Human Rights Watch (HRWalleges that this resettlement program is part of a plan to relocate 1.5 million people in Ethiopia in order to lease 3.5 hectares to foreign investors. In the last two years, the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture has rented out more than 350,000 hectares to 24 investors for large-scale commercial agricultural operations. Continue reading

Land Grabs and Post-War Development in South Sudan

Cross-linked with Bertelsman Stiftung – Future Challenges’ Blog

Land grabbing in Africa is not merely an issue of outside investors- governments and hedge funds- buying or leasing land. Land grabs are not simply the case of small farmers being acted upon by hedge fund managers, multinational corporations or governments.

In some cases, land grabs take place amid continuous conflict, in the grey area between state government jurisdiction and local government jurisdiction. In the case of land grabs in Magwi County, in Eastern Equatorial State, South Sudan, land grabbing occurs in the context of post-war development and state-approved foreign military presence which potentially undermines local (county) government authority.

South Sudan, which officially became an independent country on July 9, 2011, is Africa‘s newest autonomous nation. Because South Sudan is a newly independent nation with a history of conflict, land issues are of particular importance. Since 2002, the partly leading South Sudan‘s government, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), has turned away from its communitarian positions in favor of land privatization, emphasizing a need for and policy that allows for the commercialization of agriculture.

Most land (up to 90 percent) is owned by the state, but customary, communal land tenure is a common practice for Sudanese people- many of whom make a living in agriculture and fishing.

In the southeastern region of South Sudan, there have been allegations of Ugandan troops being involved in land grabs and illegal logging. Uganda Peoples‘ Defense Force (UPDF) troops have allegedly been distributing South Sudanese land to Ugandans. This is a salient issue in light of years of conflict and the resultant upheaval and displacement in northern Uganda. Continue reading

Land Grabs and Deforestation in South Sudan

[Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ blog]

According to a report issued by the Oakland Institute, hedge fund land grabs in Africa are a contributing factor to “food insecurity, the displacement of small farmers, conflict, environmental devastation, water loss and the further impoverishment and political instability of African nations.”

The implications of land deals in the Republic of South Sudan are particularly troubling in the light of the fledgling nation’s turbulent history and its relations with the Khartoum government. South Sudan was granted autonomy from Khartoum on July 9, 2005, and officially became an independent country on July 9, 2011. However, South Sudan’s autonomy and independence could well be under serious threat from land deals.

In March 2008, Nile Trading and Development Inc (NTD), a Dallas Texas-based company headed by former US ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, leased 600,000 hectares of land in Mukaya Payam, Lainya county in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State. The 49 year land lease was bought for 25,000 USD (about 75,000 Sudanese pounds). The lessors were the Mukaya Payam Cooperative, a fictitious cooperative “made up of influential natives from Mukaya Payam and other neighboring payams (districts)” and the contract was signed by the Mukaya paramount chief, Scopas Loduwo.

This deal comes to about 0.04 USD per hectare for the duration of the lease and the contract allows for an additional 400,000 hectares to be leased to the company with virtually no limit placed on the use of the land and its resources. The contract reads:

The development, production and/or exploitation of timber/forestry resources, including without limitation, the harvesting of current tree growth, the planting and harvesting of megalopolis-paulownia, palm oil trees and other hardwood trees and the development of wood-based industries; and
Agriculture, including the cultivation of the jetropha [sic] plant and palm oil trees (and the exploitation of any resulting carbon credits).

In reporting this deal, the largest land deal to date in South Sudan, the Guardian pointed out that Nile Trading and Development Inc stands to profit heavily as it gains millions in revenue from UN-backed carbon credits. This is in addition to the profits garnered from the exploitation of the land’s forests and farmland. Once the trees are logged, the land may be reforested or turned into farmland, but the contract also allows NTD to explore and drill for oil and other minerals.

As late as July 26, 2011, the people of Mukaya county refused to give the land to NTD, stating that the paramount chief and other members of the ficticious Mukaya Payam Cooperative did not consult with the community before agreeing to the 49-year land lease. Such a lack of transparency among the most influential members of the Mukaya is a further blow to indigenous land and water rights.

What are the possible environmental effects of this land deal?

The contract allows Nile Trading and Development (NTD) unlimited use and exploitation of the natural resources of the 600,000 hectare plot of land. This includes logging, harvesting palm oil, and mining for oil, all of which could contribute to deforestation and the degradation of the topsoil in South Sudan. Continue reading

The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading