Land Grabs

Friday, December 2

Kamoji Wachiira (Kenyan-born senior fellow with the Canadian
International Development Agency) presented this evening on contemporary land grabs.

According to Wachiira, it is estimated that an area the size of Europe has now been grabbed in Africa by external countries or corporations. This trend is accelerating rapidly, driven not just by
donor agencies but hedge funds, which are treating land as a possible derivative salable in the future on commodity markets, as well as to sit idly and speculate on.

The unfairness of this land grab is transparent. People are simply displaced from their land, with no consultation. Issues of food security are a clear result, with possible famine in these lands because all the production being done is in non-edible things like flowers (Kenya) or biofuels (Indonesia). Another impact is accelerated rates of environmental degradation.

Social movements in places like Uganda and Ethiopia have been very effective in educating civil society about these land grabs. This has started in places such as southern Sudan, where a new country was created and immediately found itself one of the world’s most well endowed sites in terms of water resources. Oxfam recently released a study that documents the displacement of roughly 25,000 people in Southern Sudan as a result of land grabs by a London-based corporation named the
New Forests Company.

In Land Grabs, you don’t need to import virtual water (the water needed to produce a commodity – a concept invented by Professor Anthony Allen), but you actually grab the land and control it. Resources thus flow to the wealthy. The dynamics differ in each country, but the underlying pattern is the same as a result of the global capitalist system. For example, China is not going to come and take South African land, but it will take land in Sudan.

Q from Patrick Bond: can you connect the civil war in Sudan to the concept of climate refugees (as Alex de Waal does)? This refugee problem becomes the source of xenophobia in places like South Africa. Perhaps the most fierce resistance is in the Mt. Elgon area in Uganda to the Danish REDD project.

Q from me on whether he knows Christian Parenti’s book Tropic of Chaos, which talks about these kinds of conflicts in terms of the convergence of triple catastrophe: Cold War flooding of areas with arms and conflict, neoliberal structural adjustment programs, and climate change. Result is conflict around resources that imperial powers like the U.S. represent as racialized ethnic strife, which leads to military solutions that further inflame conflict. Wachiira responds that exactly this is happening in horn of Africa, with U.S. now sending 500 military advisers into Kenya to deal with conflict with Somalia. The argument is that Al Qaeda is present in the horn of Africa and so U.S. must intervene.

Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is professor of postcolonial studies in the English department at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and the College of Staten Island. His latest books include People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons (O/R, 2020), Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017), and Extinction: A Radical History (O/R, 2016). A member of the Social Text Collective and the founder of the CUNY Climate Action Lab, he is a long-time climate justice activist.