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Western greed portends doom in Africa

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 14th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When the British finally left Africa in the mid-twentieth century, nobody expected them to return, or at least not so soon. Yet, the imperialists have returned, this time using economic might instead of rifles to conquer the land.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Investors, led by the British, are buying vast swathes of African farmland and ranchland, and making tremendous profits in the process. And while nobody will begrudge and investor his profits, the problem is that these land purchases are displacing thousands of native people. 

Last June, investors from around the world gathered for a summit in London. At the summit, talk focused on buying African farmland for profit. Already, 5 percent of Africa is back in the hands of western investors. And British investors now control farmland in African that is the equivalent of 2/3 of the UK's total farmland. 

Investors say they're helping by applying modern farming methods to their African estates. On the one hand, this is true. Using modern machinery, chemicals, and methods, the farms are booming, reliably producing abundant harvests. However, these farms are displacing native people who have lived on the land for generations.

Often, locals are paid very little to give up the rights to their land and relocate elsewhere. Usually periods of distress make the best buying opportunities. When locals have to decide between starvation or violence, or giving up their land for a few euros they can spend on food and relocation, most choose the latter. And when stability returns, the farms set up and go to work. 

Unfortunately, for the locals, modern equipment makes labor unnecessary so each farm has the potential to deprive hundreds of people of their livelihood and sustenance. And it does not matter that food production increases under modern cultivation, for very little of the food, if any is consumed locally. Once harvested, food is transported to the nearest port where it can be shipped overseas and fetch the best prices. 

This isn't the first time this has happened. In the 1840's a fungus destroyed potato crops in Ireland, at a time when the potato was the primary stable of the Irish diet, thanks to the impoverished condition of the people. As potatoes were destroyed, the Irish people starved. Those that could fled the country, seeking work in British mines and factories if they could get it, or voyaging to the Americas where they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, and joined the Union army by the thousands only to be slaughtered in the American Civil War. 

The tragedy is that this didn't have to happen. During the Irish Potato Famine, Ireland was still producing abundant crops. The problem is that those crops were being hauled away and sold overseas for better prices. 

Will this repeat in Africa? By displacing the locals and imposing western farming methods on African lands, the new imperialists have already reenacted the first conditions of disaster. All that's left to complete the scenario is a humanitarian crisis. When that day comes, how will the imperialists respond? Will they share their abundant food resources with the native people? Will they ship food away from the hungry for profits? 

History suggests the latter answer will be the case, and if so, woe to the African people who will suffer once more under the heel of imperial greed.


 

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