Since the beginning of the 21st century, Africa has found itself in the midst of a new wave of colonization. As if the fact that the people, labor force, mines and petroleum of the old continent were consistently seized by the colonial forces until today was not enough, this time, its most precious and fertile lands have begun to slip away bit by bit.” (Maino: 2016).
In recent years, the transfer of lands in Sub-Saharan Africa to foreign investors has gathered momentum. Some 40 million hectares of land in the region was being bought or rented by international investors for the purposes of mining and agriculture. There has been what has now being popularly dubbed “vulturization of Africa”. Yes, the vultures have come to live and stay until they suck black blood dry.” These land grabbing acts are not solutions to end hunger, and malnutrition, neither are they solutions for poverty and famine. Certainly, they have nothing to offer in terms of employment or guaranteeing food security for the people. Rather, they are exploitative. Land grabbing exploit the masses of their land, aggravating an already worse situation of poverty and insecurity of food. Indeed, there are many insidious threats underlying the land grab phenomenon.
Mining and Foreign direct investment in agriculture threatens food security everywhere. In Sierra Leone, land deals are the conflict hidden explosives of our time. Let us make no mistakes. It is a powder keg in the attic which when it explodes blows the entire house down. The country’s fragility report still points that Sierra Leone continues to be fragile even though indicators show a transition to resilience.
Political oppression and bribery defined in various ways have wooed African States into signing agreements accepting foreign investors on their own terms and interests without taking cognizance of national interests, local people, environmental health, and food security. The question that needs to be answered and which African states have not adequately examined is: “who benefits?” Most rural peasants have regretted the actions of their governments resulting in loss of their land, their heritage, fought and won by the blood, sweat and tears of their ancestors. One female household head named Satta did not realize that her land had gone forever, taken over by foreign investors without her knowledge and consent. By means of selling and renting arable land to foreign investors, small scale lands used by local people, 70% of whom live on agriculture, are also taken out of their hands. Domestic agriculture, the mainstay to generate income for farmers to meet their daily basic needs has been destroyed by the invasion of monstrous projects that are not of their making. As a result of foreign investor occupation and domination local farmers’ rate of poverty and wellbeing has deteriorated rapidly. This is a situation that has caused food shortages to increase and hence dependency on importation of food from foreign markets, again a process that favors industrial countries. Who benefits?
During the National Conference of Paramount Chiefs on the theme “Our Land, Our Constitution, Our Country” organized by local actors and their international partners to discuss contemporary issues relating to natural resources management especially land in the face of the current influx of multinational companies engaged in foreign direct investment involving land, the event remains on record as the only one that brought together all female paramount chiefs to sit together with their male counterparts to discuss their common destiny…LAND.
As one legal practitioner observed at the conference “land is a highly emotive subject which carries with it a strong sense of identity, and regarded as a highly important resource without which humanity cannot develop.”
A recent study into the socio-economic situation of small farmers concludes that the inequality gap between investors and local communities continue to widen on an unprecedented scale. A system of unilateral benefit and blatant exploitation causes disputes, tensions, suspicion and its resultant conflicts between the two sides to escalate. How much have rural peasants lost in terms of nutrition, health, food and daily subsistence and quality of food. Take the case of Sahn Malen, where Socfin has spread its tentacles into 70% of arable land. Tell me how are owners of the land going to fend for themselves and families?
In reality, when the ambitions, desires and greed of some of our foreign investors are combined with the corruption and degeneracy that are rampant among the majority of African governments, those who end up suffering are again the innocent rural, largely uneducated masses who suffer. What we have not reckoned with is the fact that, while making way for large scale investor projects, many groups are exiled en masse from their ancestral land. A glance of Socfin controlled areas in Pujehun district forced migrations of small scale farmers, the consequence homelessness and starvation and increasing domestic burdens on friends and relatives, usually outside their home district.
Confronting the State.
In the structuration of civil society in Africa especially Sierra Leone I would argue that care should be taken to include associations and institutions that pose not only manifest but also latent capacity to hard-dialogue the state. On this basis, civic public associations (trade unions, student unions, mass media); and indigenous development associations (farmers and traditional women’s unions). In these worrying issues of land grabbing, whether manifest or latent, should not however be at the expense of cooperation, exchange, cooptation and other coupling elements which characterize the dynamics of state-civil society relations (it should be remembered that neither the state nor civil society can act or survive independently of the other). Silence is not golden. Boldness and speaking out is a requirement for the consolidation of democracy. In the face of land invasions, many civil society organizations hid their heads in the sand. It is worth noting that confrontation should not be taken to mean a complete rejection or de-legitimization of state authority. Civil society also has a responsibility to legitimize state authority when that authority is exercised in accordance with the norms of democracy. Let me state that while the ability of our many civil society groups and organizations to confront the state for purposes of enthroning democracy is emphasized in the structuration of civil society, it is also essential that the association accepts and supports the state when its authority is exercised democratically. This is a major requirement for our democratic transition and consolidation.
In other words, the enjoyment of democracy according to its tenets is based on the ability of citizens particularly vulnerable groups in rural areas to speak truth to power-whatever that means, it points to leaders, those who bear state duty and responsibility should listen and listen well.
Now my question: should we exclude ethnic and other traditional associations and movements including religious groups which usually pursue exclusionary and parochial interests from civil society?. No. Their inclusion is perhaps the distinctive mark of civil society in Sierra Leone and the vast majority of the citizens relate to the state through them. I think that in a democracy, governments are not impervious to demands for change. In the land grabbing case, the scope of participation by various constituents has been the inability to reconcile their differences and form stable coalitions to resolve common problems garnered from the activities of foreign investors.
More than ever, what we need are home grown solutions to our nation’s food security. Let us respect the views and concerns of the largely illiterate rural masses to generate their own ideas about improving food security. Socfin and Addax having/with an overbearing exploitative tendencies with a desire to feed on the people for 50-100 years cannot offer a solution.
A scoping report for the UNDP (Moyo and Foray 2009) has warned that urbanization, foreign and domestic investment, mining and property development are excluding the poor from land access and is a potential source of instability in the future. Reforming the customary land tenure system in my view would greatly improve Sierra Leone’s potential for growth in agriculture and industry.
There is enormous pressure to mine in Sierra Leone’s natural resources. The activities of Sierra Leone’s two large-scale mining companies result in land degradation through loss of vegetative cover, soil erosion and contamination of water sources. Small scale mining of diamonds and gold raises similar issues on a different scale. Artisanal mining results in deforestation and land degradation; and stagnant water collects in excavated areas which are abandoned by miners, providing breeding ground for mosquitoes. It is painful to reckon that these ponds have not been utilized for the purposes of farms to provide protein to farming communities. Again, I would ask the question “whop benefits?”
States’ obligations and Conflicts.
Human rights obligations can also attach to private individuals, international organizations and other non-State actors. States are obliged to cooperate with agencies to eliminate obstacles to development. Moreover, individuals have general responsibilities towards the community at large and, at a minimum, must respect the human rights of others.
However, the State remains the primary duty bearer under international law, and cannot abrogate its duty to set in place and enforce an appropriate regulatory environment for private sector activities and responsibilities. National legislation and policies must detail how the State’s human rights obligations will be discharged at national, provincial and local levels, and the extent to which individuals, companies, local government units, NGOs or other organs of society will directly shoulder responsibility for implementation.
Conflicts and other forms of grievances swept under the carpet or ignored can be recipes for violent confrontation. Conversely, and more positively, non-violent conflict can help create space for dialogue and generate impetus for social change. Yes, the villagers might not have darkened the doors of formal school but their illiteracy does not indicate that they do not know what is good for them. While development is not a zero sum game, all entitlements cannot be realized for all people at once. Clashes of interest are inevitable, and development actors can profoundly influence the pattern of winners and losers nationally. One question that we need to ask ourselves is: do we speak truth to power? Are we enjoying our human rights provisions in the 1991 Constitution? How bold are rural dwellers to claim their rights? What space exists for agricultural leaders to confront Non State actors in claiming their human rights without fear of being arrested as in the case of MALOA with what can be boldly attributed to manufactured charges? What is the role of civil society in advocacy and creating awareness of citizens’ freedom of expression provided under international human rights treaties and the 1991 Constitution now under review?
Finally periodic dialogue is a sina qua non between foreign investors and farmers to scale down the production (of what?) and hand over to those who care about their future. And I must make bold to say that this includes mining companies that are not benefitting the people generally or to cater for its nutritional and food security needs.
Let me end on this cautious not: “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders and millions have been killed because of their obedience. Our problem is that people all over the4 world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the ground thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” (New Kind of Human 2016).
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders and millions have been killed because of their obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity and war and cruelty remain silent. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the ground thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” (New Kind of Human 2016).
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders and millions have been killed because of their obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the ground thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” (New Kind of Human 2016).Repetition
In this era of food crises, there is every need to focus generally on its causes, consequences and alternatives to address food security. It is not late to in the interest of the nation’s wellbeing and food self-sufficiency of the masses to where possible request companies like Addax and Socfin to draw down because of the damage they have caused in promoting hunger in their areas of operation. Communities no longer have places to grow their crops, no available land for hunting or cultural activity sites. This is unfortunate. Sierra Leone urgently needs a reversal of land deals. We must understand that the credibility of democracy depends on the effectiveness of its response to peoples’ political, social and economic demands, promoting checks and balances between formal and informal institutions of governance; effecting necessary social changes including public participation and awareness and responding to key challenges such as food security.
As Maino notes “the lands and cultivated areas that are used for sustenance agriculture by the local people for their nutritional needs and livelihood are being allocated for the planting of industrial and biofuel purpose crops such as oil palm, sorghum, sugar cane and rubber, to name a few under favor of incentives by foreign investors. This situation causes food shortage to increase and since there is intensive use of pesticides and artificial manure, it leads to water poisoning and dire shortage of clean and safe drinking water for affected communities.
The methods of agriculture and mining have decimated the majority of local species, of “seweis or grass cutters, of monkeys, deer etc. their niche is gone forever. Talk about local medicines that are found in the forest, bush yams and other roots, all gone to allow mining companies to operate to the disadvantage of local people whose land, the only destiny they have, are now owned by ‘vultures’ for the next 50 to 100 years.
In fact, by means of selling and renting arable lands to foreigners, small scale lands used by local people, 70% of whom live on agriculture, are also taken out of their hands. Domestic agriculture and production are being destroyed. As a result, while foreign firms are continuously developing, the poverty rate of the local community is increasing day by day.
I propose in this treatise to mention that the entire land deals in Sierra Leone be revisited. The Copper Mines in Zambia brings fresh experience because having sucked the country dry, the investors abandoned the mines forcing the Government to sell it out for 25 Million dollars. Who will take it over? It is common knowledge that the same partners in the mining business hijack the industry. But why don’t we learn?
There is urgent need to reduce the ever widening inequality gap between investors and local community. This system of investor benefit and blatant exploitation causing disputes, daily tension and suspicion far and wide cannot be swept under the carpet as tensions can escalate as soon as the disadvantaged recognize they have lost their destiny.
It is not sitting on the fence but seeking what is in the national interest. Our solution to the current land deals is our ability to solicit the views of stakeholders by national consultations. The nation can be guided in areas such as procedures and processes viz, drawing up contracts, liabilities of investors, interests of the local communities within and without operational areas, human rights protection and limiting the amount (of land) accessed or rented to investors. Of national interest also is forcing companies to draw down and finally close to give scope to nationals to take over.
The issue of who can invest in mining and agriculture is also critical for empowerment of our nouveax riche who can synergize to invest in agriculture and mining.
Friday February 10, 2017