SOME TRADITIONS ARE HARD TO STOP: The Scramble for Africa Continued…

The Scramble for Africa was a manifestation of colonialism and increased in force (notwithstanding slavery) after the outrageously racist Berlin Congress of the European powers of 1884.* The land-grab powers of Europe had started to fight amongst themselves about who would get what in Africa. To stop fighting, they got together and decided who would get what, with not one black person or African delegate to be found, questioned or even told, evidently.

Anyway, this article came from the Norwegian Council for Africa today and painfully reminds us—for those who didn’t know!—that the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is alive-and-unwell. One can only hope (pray, dream) that in this ‘land-grab’ by foreign business interests, some group(s) will truly have good intentions. Unfortunately, inside a model that puts shareholder profits (let alone owner profits) over human rights and dignity and freedom, virtually by law, this is profoundly difficult.

The short article, called The Second Scramble For African Land, is here (I actually quote most of it).

An excerpt:

Sub-Saharan African countries have of late become the target of a new form of investment that is strongly reminiscent of colonialism: investors from both industrialised and emerging economies buy or lease large tracts of farm land across the continent, either to guarantee their own food provisions or simply as yet another business.

In doing so, investors even deal with warlords who claim property rights, as in Sudan. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists in Europe are denouncing this land grab in Egypt, Sudan, Cameroon, Senegal, Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa as a new form of colonialism.

A list of the land grab investments of 2008 have been put together by the Barcelona-based NGO GRAIN, based on corporate reports. It confirms that several industrialised countries, like Japan and Sweden, rapidly growing developing nations, like China and India, and oil-rich countries, especially from the Arab Gulf, and even Libya, are buying large estates in Africa…

However, whether Africans will profit from these investments is another matter altogether. The wave of investments in foreign agricultural enclaves has led to new abuses.

“The most scandalous case yet is that of the U.S. investment banker Philippe Heilberg, who closed a deal with Paulino Matip, a warlord in South Sudan, to lease 4,000 square kilometres,” Hoering argued. Matip is a notorious warlord who fought on both sides in Sudan’s lengthy civil war. He is one of the profiteers of a dubious 2005 peace agreement, after which he became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region.

Heilberg, now CEO of the New York-based investment fund Jarch Capital, previously worked for the now battered insurance company American International Group (AIG). Heilberg has been quoted as saying that, in his view, several African states are likely to break apart in the coming years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.

“If you bet right on the shifting of sovereignty then you are on the ground floor. I am constantly looking at the map and looking if there is any value,” he told U.S. media.

That may be savvy, but it is also cynical. One can also, with that kind of leverage, work to improve situations, no?

The article continues:

While denouncing the scramble for land, human rights groups have called attention to the vagueness and imprecision of laws on land ownership in south Sudan. They cast doubt on foreign investors such as Heilberg being able to claim legal rights over such estates. The deal, which became public last January but was closed last July, has prompted human rights groups to denounce Heilberg’s venture in South Sudan as a cynical, neocolonial enterprise.

“This is a case that recalls the worse colonial land grabs in Africa,” Hoering added.

And on this posted-a-year-ago-video piece from Uganda Rising, I wrote the not particularly original line, “For the record, the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is ongoing.” I hope the quick summary of the land and resource grab is instructive, to even help understand the present day plight.

*And for history buffs or even activists, here is a description from David Lamb’s “The Africans,” of how the “Scramble for Africa” began legislatively, is illuminating—with a virtually complete disregard that people on the continent of Africa have meaning.

If Africa’s quest for unity has failed so far, if Africa’s presidents get along no better than the European powers did with one another during the colonial period, no one, least of all historians, should be surprised.

Let’s step back a century [the book was written in 1983] to the time when Africa was Balkanized and brought under European domination. It happened in Germany at a conference that not a single African attended…

The acrimonious disputes [between the European powers], though all were solved peacefully, caused much apprehension in Europe, and it was finally decided the world’s powers had better sit down to determine some game rules for Africa.

Delegates from fourteen countries assembled for the Conference of Great Powers in Berlin in October 1884.

Four months later, on February 26, 1885, they signed the general Act of the Berlin Conference, which provided that any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish possession of it. The Berlin treaty, along with other accords signed during the next fifteen years, defined “spheres of influence,” which partitioned the continent among European governments and reduced their rivalry for domination.

The disease of cruelty and violence, by its force and inhumanity, spreads the disease of cruelty and violence.

Whoa. Again, may we humans turn the tide to where business interests can not come before human rights. That, my friends, would be a great and fine day.

Lots of love to you, and to the vulnerable citizens in so many African countries,

Pete xo


One Response to “SOME TRADITIONS ARE HARD TO STOP: The Scramble for Africa Continued…”

  1. [...] the record, I wrote a little about this African land grab in April, here, and it is startling, bordering on criminal both from the outside, and the allowance by the [...]

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