African “land grab” continues, even as the United Nations
this week called an emergency meeting to deal with the
crisis of famine and death in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.
governments have been criticized by advocacy groups for
investing in land in South American and African countries,
which purportedly would be used to feed their own people,
rather than feeding those who live on the purchased or
said to have leased hundreds of thousands or millions
of acres of land on both continents include Saudi
Arabia, China, and Belgium. Although it is not clear what they intend
to do with the food they raise on the land these countries
have taken over, it may be that they will bring the food
back home for their own people’s consumption or perhaps
they will simply put it up for sale on the world market.
however, it was reported that American educational institutions
have been investing in land. Harvard University and Vanderbilt
University, both well endowed,
are singled out in reports by the British newspaper, The
Guardian, and by the Oakland Institute, an advocacy
group based in San Francisco.
say that the universities are investing through British
hedge funds, particularly through the London-based Emergent
Asset Management Ltd., an investment firm. Emergent’s
proprietary “Geo-Political Model”, the firm asserts, “is
deployed by our managers to identify thematic trends in
the global political economy.”
has six sub-themes in its model, including: the evolution
of a multi-polar world; scarcity of commodities; polarization
of culture and religion, for example, East to West, Christianity
to Islam; weapons technology and proliferation; disease
and, finally, global warming and the implications of climate
Somalia, it would seem that some of the firm’s
sub-themes come together to make for a perfect investment
opportunity. Those would be, at the least, scarcity of
commodities, polarization of culture and religion, and
climate change. For Emergent investors, unrest and natural
disasters are opportunities for profit. In some places,
when most of the sub-themes are present, they are the
opportunity of a lifetime for freewheeling global investors.
researchers say that Emergent’s U.S. clients may have
invested as much as $500 million in the most fertile land
and expect to get a 25 percent return on their investments.
Compare that with the average passbook holder in an American
bank, which is doling out just one-half of one percent
on hard-earned savings. Former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs
currency dealers are said to be running Emergent’s African
land acquisition fund.
can any small investor expect to receive a 25 percent
return, except for the random Ponzi scheme. Yet, some
of the biggest and richest U.S. universities are planning
to rake in that kind of money from an area that is being
devastated by continuing political and social collapse,
a long drought, crop failure, and famine that has endangered
the lives of as many as 11 million people.
do claim, however, that they are not “land grabbing,”
but that they are investing to improve the land and make
it more productive and “more valuable.” Probably, the
key is their definition of “productive,” because, for
the most part, it depends on what’s on the land that is
purchased or leased, sometimes for as long as 99 years
at very low rates.
how Somalilandpress.com puts it:
largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9 percent
of the land is said by Norwegian analysts to have been
bought in the last few years, was negotiated between a
Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development and a local
co-operative run by absent chiefs. The 49-year lease of
400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000
(£15,000) allows the company to exploit all natural resources
including oil and timber. The company, headed by former
U.S. Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, says it intends
to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide
it with millions of pounds a year in revenues. In Mozambique,
where up to 7,000,000 hectares of land is potentially
available for investors, western hedge funds are said
in the report to be working with South African businesses
to buy vast tracts of forest and farmland for investors
in Europe and the U.S.
The contracts show the government will waive taxes for
up to 25 years, but few jobs will be created.”
of the reasons that few jobs will be created is that for
both oil exploitation and forest clear cutting, expert
workers from developed countries would be the main workers
hired and, after the devastation, there would be little
left to “improve.” The 400,000 hectares in Equatoria of
which they speak is about 988,400 acres. At the rate of
$25,000 for a 49-year lease, the land is being leased
for about 2.5 cents an acre. (One hectare is the equivalent
of about 2.471 acres.)
one should believe that these investors are there to feed
starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,”
said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia
(SMNE). “These agreements, many of which could be in place
for 99 years, do not mean progress for local people and
will not lead to food in their stomachs. These
deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders
and foreign investors.” SMNE describes itself as a non-political
and non-violent social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians.
the assessment of Obang Metho reiterates one of the persistent
problems of indigenous peoples around the world. When
the developers or foreign investors come in to accomplish
their goals, the people are left with little or nothing
after the foreigners leave. It has happened time and again.
In previous times, it was colonial powers that conquered
by the power of the gun and bomb.
in the milieu of the global economy, with its International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the various “international
aid” groups, conquest can be achieved through economic
and political means. According to the World Bank’s own
research and that of others estimates that nearly 60 million
hectares (the area of France is about 67 million hectares) has been bought
or leased by foreign companies in Africa
just in the past three years.
famine devastating countries in the Horn of Africa and
countries adjacent to it could go on for six months, according
to UN estimates. The likelihood that it will go on longer,
however, is very high. In Somalia, Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda-connected group
that has held sway in much of the country, reportedly
has announced that it will allow aid to come in, to keep
desperate people alive. The refugee problem is mounting,
as people flee their homes looking for food, water, and
international “investors” are engaging in activities that
are antithetical to the policies of a modern democratic
society, which espouses principles that include freedom,
equality, and opportunity for its own citizens. They are,
in fact, engaging in activities that are more successful
than an invading army and they are carrying out enterprises
that would make a successful colonial empire proud.
what Harvard and Vanderbilt are doing in Africa is little
different from what other institutions and governments
are doing in what are essentially defenseless countries
filled with people who are powerless against the policies
of their own governments. In the past, a government with
integrity would have intervened in these very real cases
of foreign policy initiatives (private trade that has
the effect of diplomacy) by private corporations. What
the hedge funds, other corporations, and governments are
doing in developing countries should not be allowed to
occur out of sight of the world’s people. And, for whatever
reason, that’s what is happening. Except for papers like
The Guardian, very little is exposed to the light
and that paper has very little circulation in the U.S.
plunder of the land of peoples who are in desperate need
should not be happening. No country should be giving long-term
leases to hedge funds and other entities for 2 ½ cents
per acre, while the people go hungry and have few prospects
for the future, because the resources of their land have
been taken from them. There is a role for international
agreements, other international bodies, and the United
Nation in these instances. At the least, these “investments”
should be exposed to the light of day on a regular basis.
is an obscenity that there are 11 million human beings
who are in danger of dying from what could be a long period
of famine, while in the same region of the world, private
institutions and asset management companies are making
investments of hundreds of millions of dollars and expecting
a return of 25 percent.
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became
a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early
1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in
New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click
to contact Mr. Funiciello.
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