It is the tradition at World Social Forums (WSF) to focus a considerable amount of time, energy, resources and attention on issues faced by people in the host region and country. The 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal that I had the privilege of attending was no different. Africa and African issues suffused the WSF throughout the forum.
One of these issues was the massive land grabs that are taking place all across the continent. Appropriately called the New Scramble for Africa, it is eerily similar to the mad rush by European colonial powers during the last quarter of the 19th century to divide Africa up among them. This time, however, actors include both multinational corporations and nations such as China, India, South Korea and various Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia among others. Grassroots International ally GRAIN’s magazine Seedling has a special issue on the New Scramble. Our ally and grantee Fahamu estimates somewhere between 20 and 50 million hectares of African land is already part of this grab. To put it in perspective, 50 million hectares is twice the size of the United Kingdom! And it likely won’t stop there.
And at stake once again are Africa’s resources – its minerals (like in the Democratic Republic of Congo) and its land (from Madagascar and Ethiopia to Senegal and Namibia). African land is being sought in 90-year leases either to grow food crops for export to those countries with scarce arable land or to grow fuel crops like jatropha and palm oil for ethanol, even as almost 300 million Africans are hungry. Or, simply for speculative purposes! Grassroots International’s partners like the Via Campesina, which has members in a number of African countries, and allies like FIAN, the Network of West African Small Farmers’ and Producers’ Organizations (ROPPA), Fahamu and the African Biodiversity Network among others are at the forefront of challenging this destructive neocolonial land grab. The Via and these organizations held a number of workshops on the threats posed by land (and water) grabbing to African small farmers, herders, foresters and fishers, as well as to indigenous communities that has been reported by FIAN on farmlandgrab.org.
Thandi Winston has written a good piece on this land grab that has been published on TerraViva and Common Dreams, which quotes the Via’s Zimbabwe member Elizabeth Mpofu, and our ally Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute. Another useful piece is by Gisele Henriques that was published by the Guardian.