We believe that this is a scandal and it’s a scandal that needs to be stopped because land grabs render people refugees, they make people become refugees in their own God-given land. They make people go hungry and making people go hungry is a violence against those people. You take away their rights of livelihood from the people; you take away their rights to shelter to food to clothing to anything they can do with the land…” An activist says prolific land grabbing across Africa is a scandal by African governments and foreign entities that robs Africans of their livelihoods and dignity. In the background of this, prolific land grabbing across the African continent by the international community in the hundreds of thousands of hectares, described as ‘the new scramble’ is taking its toll on Africans and contributing to the food and subsistence crisis there.
Much of the land being purchased is being used for crops and bio-fuels for outside markets, not Africa. African governments are in a frenzy to sell the land without considering the cost to their own people as the money flows in. Oxfam confirms that this trend is threatening Africa food security.
Press TV has interviewed Justine Mutale, Diaspora Spokesperson, IF Campaign in London about this issue. Also contributing the program is Nnimmo Bassey, former executive director of Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria; and Ben Oguntala, founder of Developedafrica.com in London. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: You are the African Diaspora Ambassador for the organization IF. And you say if certain things were done then Africa could feed itself, we could rid the world of poverty.
But what about this particular issue (land grabs), how concerned are you about it on the continent of Africa?
Mutale: I am very concerned about land grabs and I do acknowledge that land grabs… some people might not be aware of this, but it is a wider segment of a wider policy by the international community starting all the way from the Washington Consensus that came into Africa and asked, or rather in a way imposed on Africa, to try and open their borders to international trade. It is part of the trade policy and it’s a policy that benefits foreign investors.
Land grabs also started with colonization. Before that, Africans had a right to their land, we had customary land, land that we inherited from generation to generation for our own use.
To talk about trying to feed ourselves – there was a time in some parts of Africa up til today you don’t need to have money to eat because we have wild fruits we have wild vegetables we have wild game, all you need is to just go out to get that food.
But the moment that a certain way of life was imposed on us where you have to exchange your labor in order to eat, where you have to work to earn money as in notes and coins in order to eat rather than your labor to labor to go and hunt, to go and harvest so that you can eat the food that you directly harvest…
Press TV: But we’re not going to go back to those lovely bucolic days so what do we do now in today’s world?
Mutale: We are not going back to that time, but even today we have capable Africans.
My own grandmother more than 5 generations ago, she owned a coffee farm in Zambia and she used to export her coffee to all over the world. And this coffee farm, at the time that title deeds and foreign land ownership was introduced has been taken away from our family.
It is something that I could have carried on, or one of my children or even my nieces and nephews could have done, but we found that this coffee farm, this land that my grandmother used to farm coffee and export – she even came to England on a trade fair to display her coffee – That land has been taken away from our family because we didn’t have title deeds.
Remember we had the right and access to use the land it was a customary or social contract.
Press TV: You heard Alex Amoah Sakyi (emailer comment) saying “I’m sure there are good intentions to generate revenue”.
Do you believe that there can be some good from these outsiders coming in, particularly from India because they’re leading the so-called land grab, or are you absolutely against any foreign involvement, any foreign acquisition of land even if it can generate more food for people who are living there and who maybe don’t have the techniques at the moment as Ben said, to scale up?
Mutale: I am totally against any foreigners coming into our land to take our land and to tell us…
Press TV: Not just to take, but to do a deal.
Mutale: Even to do a deal I’m totally against that. My Grandmother fifty years ago she managed to feed the country, we used to export her coffee, it’s just that the land was customary inherited so she didn’t own title deeds and when the title deeds were introduced to our countries and to Africa we found that our country lost out on that – I could have done it, my children could have done it or even any of my cousins… could have carried on feeding the country with coffee.
Press TV: So, what is your campaign, what is IF going to do about this – the campaign to which you belong?
Mutale: We believe that this is a scandal and it’s a scandal that needs to be stopped because land grabs render people refugees, they make people become refugees in their own God-given land.
They make people go hungry and making people go hungry is a violence against those people. You take away their rights of livelihood from the people; you take away their rights to shelter to food to clothing to anything they can do with the land that they have. You take that away from them and that is what the IF campaign is about is to stop land grab so that indigenous people can have their own dignity; can go back and use their land as they see fit.
All these generations we have been able to feed ourselves – until somebody comes and says you can’t feed yourself. We know we can feed ourselves. If these people they come and purchase the land in which natural resources – underneath we’ve got copper or diamonds – they buy it and then they suddenly own the copper and diamonds, which should have belonged to my family or to the family that lived on that land.
Press TV: In closing thoughts, what do you want to see now, what do you want to see happen next?
Mutale: First of all I’d like to say that what my colleague said about bringing the people to the negotiating table… It is not a fair playing field because the people you are asking to come to the negotiating table, most of the people in Africa are rural women in fact.
These are women that are subsistence farmers that grow food to feed their own children and own families and they are not educated in all of this jargon that comes about. SC/JR
Source: Press TV