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July 12, 2011

Unscrupulous politicians cashing in on Africa's land deals

by Andile Sokomani
The nascent but growing academic research and significant media attention around the recent spate of farmland acquisitions in Africa and other developing countries present some food for thought, if not thought for food. The news stories and research reports are peppered with haunting narratives of marauding multinational companies and acquiescent national governments intent on gobbling up swathes of farmland with scant regard for the food and livelihood security of local communities.

'Land grabbing' is the favoured term for describing this allegedly new neo-colonial drive by foreign companies and governments to acquire prime African agricultural land at ridiculously low prices. The culprits this time around are not just the usual suspects. Governments and agricultural corporations from the Middle East and South East Asia have joined North American and European multinationals in the 'new scramble' for African farmland.

While effective in capturing the popular imagination, these narratives tend to over-simplify and over-dramatise a fairly complex, multilayered, nuanced process. As some scholars have argued, they conceal the considerable degrees of attrition involved between proposed and concluded deals, as well as concluded deals and actual investments. The fact that most lands being allocated are on the basis of lease rather than absolute grant or sale is also in danger of distortion. The overemphasis on African states as victims of villainous foreign firms and governments also risks obscuring more significant but not necessarily obvious dynamics behind land acquisitions, including the role of domestic elites who have little qualms about using public office to advance private personal interests. As emotive as it may be, the phenomenon of land deals in Africa warrants more sober analysis...



more...Institute for Security Studies

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