by Babatope Falade
Lately multilateral institutions have reinforced the narrative that Africa has over 50% of the world’s uncultivated land. They draw the import of this to be a projection of $1trillion by 2030 for Africa’s economy if the available uncultivated land is put to best use and attracts the appropriate foreign investment.
Currently, the food activity/consumption is put to be $313 billion in Africa. Trust the investment herd, they have been investing and buying African land. That is a welcome development.
However, we need to understand the nature of these transactions, implications for subsistent and local farmers. Africans need to know what the dynamics are locally, in their various countries and how the investment from foreign investors would affect their micro-economics.
I agree that development comes at a price, but that price must not be a figure which people cannot afford. They say foreign investments would lead to creation of jobs. That is a fundamental rhetoric when investors are about to moot and execute their intentions of acquisition and wealth creation. In a continent that is bedevilled by poverty, corruption and poor regulatory framework, acquisition of subsistent land and unused land that could further serve as a micro way of maintaining poor people may actually lead to increased reduction in quality of life where any quality ever existed.
British prime minister, David Cameron estimates that Africa received foreign aid of over 300 million dollars while over 891 million dollars found its way out of the continent. The bottom line is that this acquisition of land may be counter-productive for the common African. This may sound cynical, but it’s a pragmatic view, bearing in mind the regime under which African leaders and negotiators operate.
Namibia and Zimbabwe are countries to study in the regard of the framework for this argument of counter productivity in terms of equitable development.
In Namibia a country of 2.4 million people where the white constitute just 6% of the population, non-black groups constitute less than 8% and blacks make up 76%. However, 50% of the arable land is in possession of 4,000 white farmers. Some who are not even present in the country, since they operate an international business model. This situation was produced during the period of colonialism. It is not just based on equitable development. The blacks in that nation are languishing due to this situation. They have no land to create wealth for themselves, and the British enshrined a “willing buyer, willing seller law” in place to ensure that their investment is protected. This was a neo-colonial move and it’s still plaguing them till date. The “willing buyer, willing seller doctrine” provides that when the government ever attempts to redistribute land, they have to buy and if they offer the best price or even over-price, the potential seller has to be willing. They cannot be coerced to selling.
In Zimbabwe the “willing buyer, willing seller” was also in operation, thus Robert Mugabe turned a demon overnight by attempting to give the original owners of the land justice.
The aim of this piece is not to whip or incite racial or colonial sentiments. Foreign direct investment is the toast of any modern day country. Infact we welcome it, but we must be wary that our governments in our various African countries don’t negotiate negatively for us. Then our leaders have to show that those that may likely be put out of work would get their lives right. In a continent where many depend on the land to create wealth, this may be taking away of the only thing they know. The disadvantages seem to be more than the advantages. Sometimes everything is not about how much growth we record, it’s about livelihood. We need to answer that question. The question of livelihood, in the event that foreign investors buy up all our land. I don’t see people getting by easily, if they are not empowering them with some form of alternative knowledge. This is still a continent where the transition to a knowledge economy has not kicked off properly, unlike the developed ones. They can afford to have land concentrated in a few hands.
We need to take it slow and not sell our land, only to want it badly later. We can indulge foreign investors, but we must ensure that equitable development is put in perspective and too many concessions are not given to foreign investors.