Do current African leaders overstep their mandates?

Leaders of the European Union and their African counterparts pose in a group photo during the recent EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, Belgium. African leaders have come under fire over the manner in which they grant foreign powers and multinationals with land concessions leaving their own people landless. Leaders of the European Union and their African counterparts pose in a group photo during the recent EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, Belgium. African leaders have come under fire over the manner in which they grant foreign powers and multinationals with land concessions leaving their own people landless.[/caption] In the field of farmland leases and sell-offs (commonly referred to as land-grabbing) the current crop of African leaders may well be accused of exceeding their mandate to the point of treachery to their continent, their people and to future generations of Africans.

Land is the property of all the people in a nation; it does not belong to any single leader or any particular government. Politicians are trustees of a nation’s future and as such are entrusted to govern for the benefit of their nations and peoples.
How come then African leaders are today doling out our farmland to their foreign associates in perpetuity as if it were their personal property? And at a time when the continent’s population is growing in tidal waves?  By 2050 the number of people in Africa will double to 2 billion.
Land and independence are two sides of the same coin and one cannot exist without the other. Therefore, to invite foreigners to take over our farmlands in perpetuity is tantamount to literally giving away independence itself, which no African leader is authorised to do, either legally or morally.  Thus leaders of any government claiming to bat for their country’s freedom, progress and prosperity by giving away land to be used for the sole benefit of foreigners on 99 year contracts (which in practice means forever) are at best delusional and at worst are acting far beyond the scope of their authority — which could safely be termed as either gross abuse of power or actual treachery against the state.
Countries go to war for one reason and one reason only — to protect what are called vital national interests. Any talk of military missions to spread or defend democracy abroad is utter claptrap. Corollary to this is that the farmlands being freely confiscated by foreigners today, in collusion with our leaders, will tomorrow be turned into “assets of core or vital interest” which are therefore worth foreign states going to war to defend. Consequently, wars of liberation will start all over again and again with the loss of millions of African lives.
The US embargo against Cuba has been in place since 1959, simply because Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Revolutionary leader nationalised American casinos and plantations. America has intervened in every banana republic in Latin America since the 1900s to protect American planters. The West’s intervention in the Gulf has nothing to do with democracy but rather its desire to gain access to oil — a commodity of vital importance. This, then, is the fate awaiting our children and their children tomorrow, which is why the on-going land give-aways are equivalent to treason.
Only a few leaders in the continent, with their pockets stuffed with money from foreign land-grabbers, are the beneficiaries in this FDI (foreign direct investment) in farmlands, while the rest of us are net losers on a large scale. In pre-colonial Africa land was vested symbolically in the hands of the chief in trust for the whole community and no member of such communities was, at any time, allowed to go without land, because in Africa land is life and to render Africans landless is as much a death sentence today as it was in the past. The traditional symbolism of entrusting land to our leaders for fair distribution among their people has been carried over into almost all post-colonial constitutions in Africa.
However, contemporary constitutions have just grafted the format of this customary African system of land control onto their constitutions, without also embedding its spirit. In traditional societies the chief owned the common land on behalf of a particular tribe, but every member was at all times guaranteed land to live on and from.
I have seen this system at work first hand as my father was a chief. However, many of today’s African leaders seem to think they literally own the land, rather than symbolically; while some of them are sitting on vast tracts of land or giving it away to foreigners, their people are dying by instalments through poverty caused by landlessness. This is a cynical abuse of a very noble tenet.
To illustrate this assertion I would like to give my country of Tanzania as an example, although what I say is also true of every other country in Africa at this moment in history.
During President Nyerere’s time in office land was state property, not government property, trusted to the President on behalf of the people, just as it is today stated in our Constitution. But that is where the similarity ends. While under Nyerere substantive land rights were in the hands of the users – the people – not the President; today those rights have been hived off to an unelected, unaccountable quango called Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC). President Nyerere had powers to retake State land and create publicly-owned farms, ranches, national parks, and game and forest reserves, whose profits were ploughed back into the state coffers.
What a contrast to nowadays when the TIC is dishing out land to foreigners to grow bio-fuel for overseas car tanks and food crops to fill the stomachs of non-Africans, with any profits being  repatriated in full overseas. While Mwalimu Nyerere put in place safeguards to stop any particular government from stealing land from the Tanzanian people, governments since Mwalimu’s time have changed the land code eight times in eleven years to put in place a system which legitimises such theft of land from the people by a small and privileged elite. To make the Tanzanian people’s inability to access common land total, the current government is flirting with the idea of “Land Banks”, which in my view are out-and-out criminal institutions. The sole purpose of  these  land banks are to speed up the process of land acquisition by foreigners through the removal of people’s automatic right to the common land to which they have previously had free access. If these land banks are instituted a corrupt oligarchy, who do not need the land for their livelihood, will be lining their pockets at the expense of those who need these farmlands for their survival. This is not only a criminal scheme but also potentially a murderous one.
The argument that the TIC and the land banks are above reproach, because they are created by an Act of Parliament, is a huge red herring; after all the Apartheid system in South Africa was created by an Act of Parliament but this did not make it morally tenable. Moreover, a land bank-type scheme was created by an Act of Parliament in Mexico in 1850 with exactly the same aims of facilitating the way for foreign investors – and what was its outcome? 830 people and corporations confiscated 97 per cent of Mexico’s 1.9 million square kilometres with 17 individuals controlling 20 per cent of the land previously under the ownership of over 15 million Mexicans.
It was this Act which made the Mexican Revolution of 1910/20 inevitable which left an estimated 2.1 million people dead in its wake. So before our leaders jump onto the bandwagon of foreign-induced land bank schemes, they need to read about the Mexican Revolution first.
Even though it happened over 100 years ago we have a lot to learn from it.
Any Parliamentary Act should be considered useful and valid only when it serves the best interests of the majority of people and the country at large, not sectional or group interests; the TIC and similar establishments throughout Africa are failing to meet this criterion by a wide margin.
The president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, Lester Brown, has written a book titled, ‘Full Planet, Empty Plates’, in which he asserts that, “Food is the new oil and land is the new gold”.
All oil and gold producing countries outside Africa are super-rich today because they are selling those commodities at top prices to the rest of the world — not giving them away. Similarly, the industrial countries of the world are super-rich because there are selling their capital goods expensively to the world — not donating them. Furthermore, no African was ever invited to own or even to share the oil fields of the Gulf or the industries of the North.
 * Source  The Citizen.Harid Mkali can be reached through Email:,

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