This week I am working with the IFCampaign at the G8 in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. The G8 leaders are discussing trade, taxes and Transparency and a good deal of parternships will be announced regarding G8 countries and role in developing countries. I will be blogging about any initiatives. This is the first in the series of blogs.
In May 2012, a few months before he passed away, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi while attending the World Economic Forum on Africa was asked a question that intrigues most African citizens. Why do African leaders- revolutionaries turn to looting their own countries once in power? The brainy later leader of Ethiopia responded by highlighting foreign corporations’ role in impoverishing Africa. He hinted that African leaders, in their quest to find jobs for an increasing unemployed population, were being held hostage by corporations that come in to invest.
“The vast majority of the loot[ing] is done by properly organized companies through all sorts of accounting gimmicks,” he said. “I think that is the most insidious form of corruption. It affects everybody, including those whose hands are not in the till.”
True as it may be, the response was just one sided. It didn’t explain personal greed and hold onto power of African leaders who amend their once revolutionary constitutions to serve not their country but their kith and kin as they preside over corrupt and corruptible governments. In their quest to hold onto to power, they use anything and anyone who puts in place a semblance of development and foreign corporation find this and exploit it fully.
Ultimately, the most affected aren’t the leaders who are comfortable in their palaces –most of them for more than two decades in power. The real losers in this are ordinary people in African countries.
As the G8 meet in Northern Ireland, the spotlight has been brought back to taxes and role of multi-nationals in developing countries. It is not just tax evasion and tax holidays that governments provide them that hurt developing economies but land grabbing has also become an every day reality in most African countries. Some companies involved are from these G8 countries.
In August 2001, the Ugandan army violently expelled over 400 peasants families from their land in the district of Mubende and leased the land to Kaweri Coﬀee Plantation Ltd, which is full subsidiary of the German Neumann Kaﬀee Gruppe (NKG) based in Hamburg.
Over 10 years the company has used the land to establish a large-scale coﬀee plantation. FIAN, an international human rights organization the right to adequate food has issued reports on efforts by 400 evicted families to get justice in vain.
Both the company and Uganda government in this case have denied local peasants their rights as listed down in the international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
FIAN, an organization working on right to food lodged a formal complaint to the Germany’s National Contact Point (NCP)for OECD Guidelines for Multi-national Enterprises but still the matter is not yet solved.
In the same district, in 2010, a UK-registered – The New Forest Company (NFC) was involved in what Oxfam described as illegal eviction of some 20,000 Ugandan peasants from arable land to plant trees.
The company had been given a go-ahead by the Uganda National Forestry Authority , which licensed NFC’s operations in 2005 and permitted the company to evict the residents in Mubende and Kiboga districts whom they said were encroachers. NFC had attracted investments from International and European banks to expand their Ugandan plantation.
After the international spotlight NFC suspended operations in Uganda to give way for negotiations and mediation.
For the last 20 years the Ugandan regime headed by President Museveni has concentrated more on attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) at the expense of local investment. Most of these foreign companies in agriculture come in the name of employment but what they really do is increase food insecurity as more land meant for food production is given up through investment deals.
The announcement by G8 of developing country partnerships on land transparency is a step in recognizing the role of G8 based companies in depriving thousands of farmers from developing countries like Uganda their land and the right to food. The transparency initiative has been strongly promoted by the UK and Germany governments.
The initiative transparency is however to be achieved through the voluntary disclosure of information about land deals by the investors themselves, by civil society and by the governments of G8 and those of selected developing countries.
This leaves such land grabbing matters to voluntary disclosure and I am afraid it will not solve a lot of the problems.
FAIN has indicated G8 efforts of transparency alone will not solve land grabs.
“Communities affected by land grabbing can only claim their rights – including the right to refuse land deals – when they are sufficiently informed about the deals well before the signing of investment contracts,” read the statement from FAIN, “Even after contracts are signed, communities must be ensured the right to review and re-negotiate contracts, since all negative impacts are not likely to be evident during the period of initial negotiations.”
Besides this initiative, G8 needs to give more support to the global guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests led by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The regulation of G8-based companies involved in land deals is needed. As Ugandan lawyer Peter Gwayaka said the G8 leaders should put in place measures to ensure such companies are punished especially in cases where governments in countries like Uganda chose to protect the company instead of the local peasants.
These populations that are pushed out by big corporations are the same that we constantly see the world calling for more aid.
While the initiative in the G8 countries is a show that the governments are beginning to address the global pressure on land for food and fuel and its effects on world’s poor, it is far from solving the problem. More work on the ground needs to be done for local communities to have their rights to land well kept as governments push in favour of foreign companies.