The new scramble for Africa

Al Jazeera | 20 September 2013
Nigerian politician Nkoyo Toyo

The new scramble for Africa

On Friday 20 September on Al Jazeera’s talk show South2North, Redi Tlhabi debates the new scramble for Africa.

Tlhabi says at the beginning of the show: “Escalating energy and food prices have triggered a global scramble for Africa’s land and water resources. Eager to feed their growing populations, countries are buying up prime farmland in Africa at rock-bottom prices.

“Land eight times the size of the United Kingdom has already been bought up. Many see the investments as a great opportunity for Africa. Others call it a tragedy, saying local populations lose their livelihoods to make space for new land owners.”

Tlhabi is joined by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian politician and Oxfam trustee Nkoyo Toyo and Philippe Heilberg, a land investor from the US.

Chissano says: “The scramble for Africa has never been good… But investment is welcomed if it is done in a win-win situation where the people benefit from this investment.”

Toyo adds: “We hear that at least 33 million square hectares of land have been acquired in just less than 10 years.”

She continues that, with 60% of this land now being cultivated for export, these investments are increasingly not addressing the needs of the continent.

Heilberg argues that the statistics from the UN are highly distorted; he says that his own figures have been doubled in some accounts. While he admits that there have been some clear land grabs, he believes that in those African countries with small populations and large territories there can be win-win situations.

“Land is cheap in Africa, but there are many reasons why it’s cheap,” Heilberg says. “In many parts of the continent there is little to no infrastructure whatsoever… The frontier markets offer incredible risk-reward opportunities if you’re willing to take that risk, because when the growth happens, it’s exponential. I like situations like that.”

Toyo warns that much of the new scramble for Africa has not benefited the local population. “We are seeing incidences of violence; we are seeing incidences of forced evictions; we are seeing incidences of homelessness, farm lands being taken away...”

She says one of the challenges is that many of the victims are not involved in the sale process in any way and calls for The World Bank to pause its funding of land deals in Africa until governments have put the framework, rules, regulations and principles in place to guide these kinds of investments.

This week’s episode of South2North premieres at 19h30 GMT on Friday 20 September and also screens on Saturday at 14h30, Sunday at 04h30 and Monday at 08h30.

For more information, visit, where all episodes are available to watch online.

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