This is a hard column for me to write this week. Africa is in trouble. That’s not a comment that is hard to believe or one that is new to make.
It is one, however, that speaks to a modern assessment beyond mere colonialism and European exploitation. Yes, the African union is squarely on its positive job, moving Africa inexorably closer and closer to a paradigm-changing unification, possibly a Union of African States or Confederation of African States. Yes, Dr. N.D. Zuma, the exceedingly competent African woman who is the newly elected chair of the African Union Commission, which runs the daily operations of this vast organization with the extremely challenging mission, is publicizing an engaging, lively “I Have An African Dream” vision statement for the Africa that is coming. Yes, Africa is today among the safest, most profitable places to invest capital for quick returns, according to the money magazines. Yes, Africa is on the move, steadily forging new pathways in education, in technology, in marine agriculture, etc.
But, Africa is also being bought up rapidly, as if there is a fire sale on African acreage. More than 125 million acres of African land has already been leased or purchased outright (which is more than twice the size of England), with most buyers from Europe or the USA. Except for the African governmental elite who engineer the deals, in general, Africans themselves are not benefiting from these real estate transactions. In fact, it is the usual practice for the new owners to evict wholesale the African occupants of the purchased properties, and/or to build structures to overuse and exhaust the land without providing any tangible benefit to it or to the African residents.
According to current statistics, Africa is the geographical home to one quarter of the world’s hungry, and Africa presently exists as the only continent which has not yet been able to grow and produce enough food for its own needs. This is while holding nearly half of the world’s arable farm land.
With the current spate of increased land-grabbing on the continent by multinational corporations, foreign equity firms, non-African governments ( including Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia) and others, there is little hope of expanding Africa’s food security and production to the higher levels needed for its increasing population (Africa now has more than 1 billion people in residence). Instead, the future looks clearly like much more environmental degradation, expanded dependence by Africa on foreign aid donations, and the continuing marginalization of its farming and herding communities.
The accompanying problem concerns the topic of water scarcity. According to the Oakland Institute, a top think tank and research organization headquartered in California, the present land grab occurring in Africa is intimately linked to a major water grab. The vast majority of the land purchases are connected to extracting huge volumes of water from Africa’s dwindling natural supplies. The Institute basically says that the amount of irrigation necessary right now for the land purchases already made, far exceed what Africa can sustain—and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The Institute reports that there must immediately be a huge investment in sustainable water management projects, including water harvesting, storage and scaled-down irrigation schemes. Otherwise, Africa will simply become a long-distance farmland for producing and exporting food for everybody else while African people starve and die of thirst.
This will be 21st century African slavery by another name on African soil. We who care better start strategizing right now on what to do about this situation. The point of no return is rapidly approaching.
And this is but one of the major problems I referred to at the beginning of this column. The other is the gigantic expansion of Africom bases on African soil under President Barack Obama’s watch. That is the subject of next week’s article.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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