The Second Scramble for Africa?

Recently, a Cameroonian tribal leader and I got into a discussion about the fact that China is currently buying up African lands and has been for the past decade. At first, I could not look past the fact that foreigners could completely destroy a tribal culture; however, later on I noticed the pros of such arrangements.

making_the_kampala_convention_work_for_idps_africa_november_2010

 Negative aspects:
As soon as foreigners intrude and buy up African land, culture deteriorates. Tribes dissolve because their lands are sold and this wipes out their distinct customs/traditions. Losing their identity, these African people will have great difficulty picking up a new lifestyle in a different area of the continent. Additionally, local businesses that have been doing well for themselves are being shut down by these foreign investors, who want to rebuild Africa in their own image. Rebuilding Africa will also have huge environmental consequences. Drinking water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and more are tremendous risks that Africa is facing due to intense construction by investors.

The rush for land is out of control and some of the world’s poorest people are suffering hunger, violence and greater poverty as a result – Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking

Positive aspects:
Currently African farms are typically producing between 30 and 60 bushels a hectare; North American and European farms get 120 to 160 bushels from the same hectare because of better technology and investment. Foreign investors would improve farming techniques, therefore acquiring more foods and resources for others to use. This would lead to a bigger scope of markets, which naturally is economically beneficial. After a longstanding underinvestment of African agriculture, this could be the continent’s chance to gain access to capital, technology, and knowhow. Already most African countries are growing by 7% – 9% due to the foreign investors. If it takes a Chinese invasion to do it, it still might be worth it.

 [Deals with foreigners] could deliver the investment capital, technical know-how, jobs to local farmers and predictable food security for Africa” – Ugandan development economist Dick Kamuganga, @Kamuganga

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So, is this “land grab or development opportunity“? In end effect it can be viewed as both, but there are many ways to improve this “scramble for Africa”. First of all, clarity is needed about the costs and benefits of a particular investment from the start. Honest communication between locals and investors with prior, informed consent establishes the basis of any effective business transaction. If foreign investors manage to do this with local Africans, both parties might benefit. Furthermore, if land contracts become transparent and structured, sustainable development can be maximized. The most important aspect is for investors to respect and follow local rights. At this moment there is a huge gap between the theory and practice of the protection of local rights. Contracts that address the monitoring of investments and that clarify the distribution of revenues are necessary. If these are established, then this alleged land grab might truly become an opportunity for Africa.

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