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Tanzania leads East African
countries in secretive land investment deals, with the government signing off
huge chunks of land to foreign governments and private investors, a new survey
shows. And East Africa — a region where land is usually an emotive issue — tops
the global charts on dishing out farmlands, edging out Southeast Asia, South
America and Central Africa.

Tanzania recorded at least
58 deals involving an estimated 2.2 million hectares, according to the Land
Matrix Project, a new online database.

Kenya follows with 13 deals
over an estimated 633,500 hectares. Uganda comes in third with four deals over
an estimated 76,512 ha; while Rwanda tails with just a single deal over an
estimated 3,100 ha. There is no information on Burundi.
While the entry of foreign
investors purportedly comes with positive trickle-down effects like provision
of jobs and economic growth, some security analysts and humanitarian
organisations said this trend is exposing EAC countries to possible food
insecurity, instability, social unrest and conflict in coming years. Indeed, it
has already sparked land invasions in northern Tanzania.
Foreign governments that
seek this land import most of their food and so they want it mainly to grow
food and export it back to their countries. A section of politicians in
Tanzania have been pushing for land reform that would see the seizure of big
tracts of land owned by rich individuals and their transfer to poor, landless
people — this was promised by both Cha cha Mapinduzi and Chama cha Demokrasia
na Maendeleo (Chadema) candidates in the campaigns before the recent
by-election in Arumeru East constituency in Arusha.
While the single land
investment in Rwanda is from next-door neighbour Uganda, Tanzania’s are mainly
from Germany, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Korea, and Netherlands; while Kenya’s
deals come in from Canada, UK, Japan, Qatar, the US, and Switzerland.
Ironically, a majority of
the countries, particularly in Africa, that are giving their land away
routinely suffer from famine and starvation.
The Land Matrix Project has
been created by the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of
Bern in Switzerland; the Paris-based Centre for Agricultural Research for
Development; the German Institute of Global and Area Studies; Germany’s lead
development agency GIZ, and the International Land Coalition. The matrix, its
creators said, systematically collates and seeks to verify information on
large-scale land acquisitions, from 200 ha and above, that have been concluded
since 2000 with the aim of providing a quantitative response to a global trend
where rich countries are swooping down on poorer ones and picking up huge
pieces of land on the cheap.
An accompanying report –
Transnational Land Deals for Agriculture in the Global South — says that there
has been a slowdown in the scramble for land, which peaked in 2009, because of
“the easing of commodity prices, the financial crisis and new realism about the
risks of the investments concerned.”
It is also possible, the
report adds, that the slowdown “may also reflect a new wariness about
announcing very large-scale prospective deals, and a shift in media interest to
other topics.”
The wariness may result
from the fact that for a time now, as these transactions have grown in scale
and intensity, many commentators, including former UN secretary-general Kofi
Annan, have expressed fears that a new Scramble for Africa is underway. The
interactive matrix has recorded 1,217 agricultural land deals, which amount to
83.2 million hectares of land in developing countries or 1.7 per cent of the
world’s agricultural area.
Out of these deals, only
information about 625 — 51.4 per cent, or 43.7 million ha — have been evaluated
as coming from a reliable source, reflecting the deep secrecy in which these
transactions are shrouded.
Past studies show the rush
for African land has been facilitated by incoherent land tenure systems that
self-interested elites have maintained as they are.
In Uganda, for instance, the
government has been developing a comprehensive national land policy since 1983
and has yet to complete it. The policy, according to one of its drafts, is
essential for the sustainable management of land resources since the majority
of Ugandans are dependent on land for employment and survival.
No adequate reason has been
given to explain the delay, fuelling speculation about the intentions of the
government. Beginning in 2005, when land became a highly volatile and political
issue, it tried to speed up the process and has since worked out four drafts.
But Esther Obaikol, the
executive director at the Uganda Land Alliance, says it is frustrating that the
Cabinet has been sitting on the last draft for two years now without the
slightest indication when it intends to move on it. Daudi Migereko, Uganda’s
current Minister of Lands, says they are waiting for the Cabinet secretariat,
which determines the Cabinet’s agenda, to set a date for it.

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