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May 02 2012

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.


April 04 2012

Swaziland: King Demands Cows From the Poor

Multimillionaire King Mswati of Swaziland demands cows from the poor: “King Mswati III of Swaziland’s demand that his impoverished subjects supply him with cattle to slaughter for his birthday party has been met with anger and scorn. The king is estimated to have a personal fortune of US$200 million while seven in ten of his subjects earn less than US$2 per day.”

Sponsored post

March 10 2012

Swaziland: New Union Wants Democracy

Tthe newly launched trade union in Swaziland hopes to press for democracy: “The new group is expected to discuss how to step up its campaign for democracy in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.Major protests are expected in April and May this year.”

September 05 2011

Swaziland: King Mswati Must Go

Richard Rooney posts a press release from the Botswana National Front in support of progressive forces in Swaziland: “The Botswana National Front (BNF) joins the rest of the progressive forces who are currently in solidarity with the people of Swaziland during the Global Week of Action against Swaziland (5th-11th September) led by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign.”

June 29 2011

Swziland: AFP Correspondent Phone Bugged

AFP correspondent in Swaziland says her phone is bugged: “At first I believed it must be some kind of mix up at the phone company. People who tried calling me when my phone was off told me they got through to someone else who said not to worry he would call me. They then heard the sound of dogs and children’s voice and he never came back on the line.”

April 13 2011

Swaziland: Protest leaders, journalists arrested

Written by Ndesanjo Macha

Union leaders and activists in Swaziland took to the streets of Manzini on Tuesday and Wednesday demanding political reform and calling on King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, to return power to the people.

Riot police fired tear gas at protesters, arrested union leaders and journalists. Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) has called on Swaziland to avoid “a repeat of crises we have seen in conflict-ridden Libya and Ivory Coast.”

Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) has called on authorities in Swaziland to allow the media to report freely on anti-government protests following the harrasment of 10 local and international journalists.

Nastasya Tay, the Eyewitness News reporter, was detained by Swaziland police on Tuesday:

Nastasya Tay, the Eyewitness News reporter detained by Swaziland police during the protests yesterday (12 April 2011) and escorted out of Manzini, has been speaking about media freedom in the kingdom.
Lutfo Dlamini, the Swazi Foreign Minister, had told South African journalists that the media in Swaziland were free to report anything they liked.
Not so, says Tay, who went on to say that people in Swaziland were too scared of the authorities to speak to the media.

Another journalist, Rob Hartgers, tweeted about his detention in Manzini:

Btw: got detained by police twice today in Manzini, together with other journo's. No freedom of speech in #Swaziland

Two journalists working for Agence France-Presse (AFP) were also detained on Tuesday.

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign and the Swaziland United Democratic Front have released a statement saying that repression will not dent democracy campaign in Swaziland:

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) and Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) are outraged at the continuing repression being meted out to those organisations making up the democratic constituency in Swaziland on the second day of their campaign for justice. Reports that leading trade unionists and other activists have been re-arrested, forced underground, subjected to bullying tactics and having their peaceful and completely legitimate meetings disrupted and criminalised. To emphasise on this situation, reports have just been received that a meeting of SNAT is currently being surrounded by armed security personnel, and the likelihood of further attacks is imminent.

A statement from PUDEMO talks about “uncompromising and rough attitude of the state’s security agents”:

*PUDEMO Statement on the workers protest action: issued on 13April 2011*

Today members of the trade union movement were unable proceed with their protest action because of the uncompromising and rough attitude of the state’s security agents. As witnessed yesterday, the workers were again targeted harassed and intimidated in the streets of Manzini. Scores of the worker activists were further detained in the notorious Manzini Regional Headquarters. Seemingly almost all the workers who were in the city have experienced detention in the last two days, turning Swaziland into a police state where people are detained for talking to their cell phones or standing and chatting in threes. Again today scores were forcefully prevented from excersing their freedom of movement from their areas to join the protest action.

More union leaders have been arrested, Swaziland Commentary reports:

The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) offices were raided yesterday at around 12:30 pm by close to 20 police officers and the staff officers of the federation were assaulted.
We report today that; the Deputy Secretary General of the Swaziland Processing and Allied workers union, Comrade Wonder Mkhonta, Comrade Ntombie Langwenya, of Swaziland National Association of Teachers, women’s wing committee and Comrade Moses Buthelezi have been arrested and they are detained in Hlathikhulu Police station.

The coordinator for the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Mary Pais Da Silva, has also been arrested:

Mary Pais Da Silva, Coordinator of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, who was arrested yesterday (12 April 2011) while in the middle of a telephone interview with a journalist at South Africa’s Talk Radio 702, was back on air today to talk about what happened next.

She describes the treatment she received at the hands of police officers:

This below is a personal account of the treatment I received at the hands of police officers today:
1. Two male comrades and I were at the SFTU offices where we were sending out information to our international friends on the happenings of the protest action billed for today.

2. At roughly around 1230hrs, an army of male police barged into the offices and whilst I was in the middle of a telephonic, live interview with talk Radio 702 and headed directly to me and began punching and slapping me on my face.

She concludes:

I will not be intimidated by these bullish antics of the government. Bashing me only strengthens my resolve in the role that I play in the democratic movement in Swaziland.


Has Swaziland turned into a police state?:

It is quite something to watch the machinery of the Swazi state swing into action. I don’t think I have ever seen so many cops on the streets in my life (and I lived through apartheid). If you are driving on Swazi roads right now you will get stopped and checked any time you drive anywhere. If you are travelling on a minibus you will also be required to get out of the vehicle and have your bag searched for weapons. However, if you are not in a minibus you will probably get a ticket for some minor infraction on your vehicle. For some reason every offence in Swaziland costs E6o (that is R60 and €6).

Jinty Jacson says that the president of the Swaziland Union of Students, Maxwell Dlamini, is missing:

Maxwell Dlamini, one of the main organisers behind national protests due to begin tomorrow is missing. So are 3 other youth leaders - while another is on the run, fearing for his life.
Dlamini, who is president of the Swaziland National Union of Students (that’s him above addressing the crowd on March 18th calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation) was on his way back from the border last night. He had gone to South Africa to help plan the demonstrations since organisers did not feel safe doing so in Swaziland.
He was last seen at a police roadblock very near our place in Mbabane last night. Amongst the others who have gone missing are the deputy president of the banned PUDEMO youth organisation, SWAYOCO – Sifiso Mabuza, (who told me in March being arrested is part of his job and he is used to it. He said, “We are saying to people of Swaziland they must get ready. They can’t keep getting crushed by police then they go home and keep quiet”.

For more reports, follow “Swaziland April 12 uprising: reports from the ground” from Free Africa Media.

#Swaziland on Twitter:


For the latest on the situation in Manzini in #Swaziland…catch updates from #EWN's @NastasyaTay on @702, @947Highveld and @ewnupdates…


#Swaziland's #Democracy movement gains momentum, Brandan Reynolds' Business Day Cartoon, Wednesday 13 April 2011:


protests in #Swaziland died but people defiant and ready to make a new plan to go out on the streets a local journo tells me.


@ACTSA_UK. #Swaziland protesters not giving up.

March 28 2011

Swaziland: Anger at revolution snub

Written by Ndesanjo Macha

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) has criticized the reporting of the proposed ‘uprising’ against the government on 12 April 2011 by the Times of Swaziland: “In particular, it takes issue with comments attributed to Dr Judy Smith Hohn of the Institute for Security Studies, in South Africa.”

Swaziland: Swazi Media Commentary

Written by Ndesanjo Macha

Swazi Media Commentary is a blog about the struggle for human rights in Swaziland.

January 28 2011

Swaziland: My work with social centers

Written by Ndesanjo Macha

Josh writes about the project he is working on in Swaziland: “Basically, my office operates 4 Social Centers in my town. There are 6 wards but only 4 Social Centers. The basic duties of the Social Centers are first it is a pre-school that operates during regular school days, second is a base for the Caregivers.”

October 20 2010

Swaziland: The Swazis who dare to demand democracy

By Ndesanjo Macha

Mathews writes about activists who dare to challenge the King of Swaziland: “The Swazis are losing patience with this conspicuous consumption, however. In August 2008, hundreds of women marched through the streets of Mbabane, the capital, to protest against a shopping trip for nine of the king’s wives to Europe.”

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