Powell Network Blog

February 18, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Colin Powell School @ 11:17 am

Originally posted on Roosevelt Institute at City College of New York:

Join us on February 28 at 4:30 p.m. for the Inaugural Anne and Bernard Spitzer Lecture: “Post-Atlantic America: A Conversation with Reihan Salam” Reihan Salam, a policy analyst, is the lead writer of National Review online’s The Agenda, a policy adviser at Economics 21, a fellow of the National Review Institute, a CNN contributor, and a contributing editor of National Affairs. He will be joined in conversation with Raj Menon, the Bernard Spitzer chair in International Relations, and Dan DiSalvo, assistant professor of political science at City College.

  • DATE: Thursday, February 28, 2013
  • TIME: 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • PLACE: Room 250, Shepard Hall, CCNY campus
  • WHO: Free and Open to the Public
  • Register Now. Seating is limited!

Reihan Salam %22Post Atlantic America%22

Originally posted on: Neighborhoods and Nations The blog of the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service.

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April 27, 2012

We’ve Moved!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Colin Powell School @ 4:00 pm

colin powell center blog ccny

The Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service has launched a new blog! For fresh writing from our alumni, community partners, fellows and staff, head to Neighborhoods and Nations.

All of the posts from the Powell Network Blog are archived there as well.

November 28, 2011

Somalia: Is Military Action the Answer?

Kenyan military personnel prepare to fuel a supplies helicopter at the Garrisa airstrip near the Somali-Kenya border October 18, 2011. Reuters

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short blog post at the Africa in Transition Blog of the Council on Foreign Relations about my thoughts on Kenya’s invasion of Somalia, and the possibility of defeating al-Shabaab and ending the Somali conflict. With the invasion approaching its 7th week, and Ethiopia wading into the fray, the Islamist group seems to have been cornered from all sides. But will this spell their doom?

Some Somali observers however think otherwise. Some suggested that the idea of defeating al-Shabaab through military means is not only simplistic, but also highly improbable, and gave a host of reasons why it will fail. Others looked at Somalia’s recent past, including the Ethiopian invasion of 2006 to justify fears as to why military action will never work, while others drew on the country’s complex sociopolitical dynamics as a reason why enforcing peace is impossible. Still, others raised doubts as to whether Kenya and the AU have the military capacity to sustain an invasion in Somalia for long.

Nevertheless, while many of these reservations are understandable, it should not dampen hopes of ending the Somali conflict— even if it means invading the country to save it, and preventing al-Shabaab from holding the entire region hostage. Whatever the motivations from previous interventions in Somalia, the problem is no longer confined to Somalia as in the past, and has become a case of “the lesser of two evils”. While doing something does carries risks, doing nothing puts the whole region at risk.

Why is Military Action Necessary?

The reasons necessitating military action are numerous—from stopping al-Shabaab infiltration into neighboring countries to its ties with al-Qaeda. Through the two decades of conflict in Somalia, hostilities were more or less confined within Somalia – until al-Shabaab raised the stakes by conducting raids into neighboring countries, and engaging in other terrorist activities that directly threaten the security and stability of its neighbors.

What are the Consequences of Failure?

The consequences of failure will be disastrous. It will mean periodic famine that will kill thousands and force millions across borders to equally impoverished countries. It will mean more al-Shabaab infiltrations in to neighboring countries, and more piracy in the high seas of the Indian Ocean. It will threaten international stability and provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda linked militants and their sympathizers. The list goes on and on.

Thoughts?

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow (Class of 2008/2009). He is currently a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

August 11, 2011

An Opportunity to End the Conflict in Somalia

Members of Somalia's hardline al Shabaab rebel group ride on a pick-up truck north of the capital Mogadishu. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

When the Somali Islamist Group, al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu last week, the move presented an excellent opportunity for the Somali government, and the African Union (AU) to consolidate their forces, and strengthen the defenses around the capital. Much more than that, it presented an opportunity to unify a country devastated by over 20 years of conflict, and to extend the now emboldened transitional government’s authority to other parts of the country.

Before the withdrawal from Mogadishu, al-Shabaab had tightened the noose around the few neighborhoods of the capital the western backed transitional government controls. International isolation, or perhaps fear of entanglement into the Somali conflict by outsiders emboldened the group to go as far as pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda, and to conduct terrorist attacks outside Somalia. Over the past few years, it ruled most of southern Somalia under strict Sharia law, complete with beheadings and amputations of people it suspected of breaking Islamic laws. Al-Shabaab seemed invincible, and it was poised to take over the whole country—until a few weeks ago.

Somalia is now suffering from the worst famine in many years, and instead of easing the suffering of the Somali people; al-Shabaab became an impediment. The group restricted the movement of much-needed humanitarian supplies, and prevented people from seeking help outside the areas it controls. While the drought and famine are a natural phenomenon, the suffering that resulted is not. The policies of al-Shabaab, and its refusal to accept foreign aid in many cases has contributed to the devastation. The group’s inability to provide leadership in the face of the drought and famine has undermined its credibility, so much that it has lost the goodwill it brought when it emerged as a stabilizing force in 1996.

Nevertheless, the international outcry over the deaths of thousands of children from the famine, and months of fighting with African Union forces backed by private security firms sponsored by Western governments weakened the group’s hold on the capital, forcing a precipitous withdrawal of all its forces from the city. The hasty withdrawal exposes al-Shabaab’s weaknesses in the face of real pressure from both within and outside of the country. It also creates an opening for the African Union and Somali government forces to expand their reach and authority to other parts of the country for the first time in decades.

Sadly, the will to act forcefully is what was, and is still missing on the part of the international community, especially the African Union. Nigeria and other African countries who pledged to provide troops have so far failed to follow up with their promises, and the organization was criticized for not mobilizing support for the famine victims. The black hawk down debacle still haunts the United States, and prevents it from fully engaging in the Somali conflict. While money is being spent on security contractors, and for the training of Burundian and Ugandan forces that make up the bulk of the African Union forces, more needs to be done in terms of long-term tactical support. These forces are still inadequate and ill-equipped to mount any type of serious operations outside Mogadishu. If al-Shabaab is allowed to recover and regroup, it might be able to seize the capital again.

Now that al-Shabaab seems to be vulnerable, all those who really care about the suffering in this country should step up support for the Somali government and the African Union forces. The international community, through the African Union should provide more funding and logistics, and encourage other African countries to increase the number of AU forces in the capital to allow for not only its defense, but also for a potential expansion into the countryside. This will free up large areas of the country so that humanitarian assistance can freely flow to the country. While important, it is not enough to just send food and medicine to Somalia and to the refugee camps of Kenya. Only through expanding the government’s authority to most of the country will suffering on this scale be avoided in the future. A final resolution should be sought, and now that al-Shabaab is on the run is the perfect opportunity.

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow (Class of 2008/2009). He is currently a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

August 9, 2011

Reflections on West Africa

Filed under: Uncategorized — medjallow @ 5:10 pm

I recently returned from a three-country tour of West Africa. It was my first trip back since I left in 1999, when the Charles Taylor-backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded my home of Freetown, Sierra Leone. My recent trip took me to the Gambia via Senegal, and then to Sierra Leone, marking an emotional and exhilarating homecoming. Much more than that, the trip was an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the struggles of a continent I hold dear and to assess the changes that have taken place since I left. For more on my trip, click here.

July 10, 2011

The Newest Country on the World Map

Filed under: Uncategorized — hashimhassan1 @ 12:19 am

 

On July 9th, Southern Sudan finally enjoyed the fruits of its long quest for freedom, which it has been seeking since the independence of the country from British colonial rule in 1956. The Republic of Southern Sudan (SS) has become the newest, and the 193rd, country on the world map. The map of Africa has been redrawn, and the number of African Union member states has increased to 54. Once the largest country on the continent, what is left of Sudan will now rank second, after Algeria, in terms of land space.

It all happened in January of this year, in a historic referendum, which was characterized by the international monitors to be the fairest in Sudanese history. Southern Sudanese participated in record numbers, and more than 99% cast votes in favor of secession from the North. This was their right, enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and other actors from the international community. Not only was the process smooth and transparent, but it also took place without violence.

As SS prepares to celebrate and build their new nation from scratch, some critical issues remain unresolved, including the division of oil revenues and debts, border demarcation, and citizenship rights. Sudan has been the third largest oil exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, and the economies of both Sudan and SS rely heavily on oil revenues.

Prior to July 9th, the Government of Southern Sudan and the Northern Sudanese government shared this oil revenue equally. With the independence of SS, the division of revenues will change: SS will get 75%, while the North will get 25%. This puts Northern Sudan in a critical situation, since it does not have any other viable exports. This loss prompted the Northern government to publically threaten SS, saying that the oil pipelines, which run through Northern Sudan, will be cut off if the South does not give them their full royalties.

Security-wise, the situation between the two states will remain tense for months, if not years, until they reach real agreements on the critical remaining issues. Border demarcation is a major one – their disagreement with the International Court of Justice on the issue of Abyei is a clear signal as to how they will handle this issue and others.

In May, the two governments almost went into war over Abyei, a disputed area and an oil-rich region. Abyei is home to both indigenous Dinka and nomadic Arab cattle-herders and the population is split on the question of nationality. The incident took place when the North attacked the area and took it over, claiming that they wanted to protect it from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The SS government in Juba did not reciprocate, but stated that they “are not going to war over Abyei.”

Al Bashir government interpreted this as cowardice, and went on to attack Southern Kordofan, attempting to disarm the SPLA by force. By taking these actions, the Northern Sudan has broken the security arrangements set forth under the CPA, since the SPLA were allowed to disarm within six month after the spilt of the South. With thousands of civilians displaced, and the continuation of the bombardment of the villages and towns in the oil and mineral rich state of Southern Kordofan, the security situation remains dire.

One possibility is that the ongoing tensions over Abyei may lead SS to attempt to annex it unilaterally. The SS government has already incorporated Abyei into its new constitution and has been making the case that the territory historically belongs to SS, given that the Ngok Dinka are the indigenous ethnic group of the region and should be the only ones allowed to vote in the referendum.

Many of the Darfuri rebel factions are already taking refuge in Juba, where many have organized, using it as a base. Moreover, the Nuba fighters of Southern Kordofan, who were part of the SPLA and fought alongside the South, will continue to fight against the North, seeking their fair share of the wealth and power.

The independence of SS is a major step towards the freedom of a long-oppressed people, but challenges remain. It will take years before these issues are resolved.

June 28, 2011

ICC Warrant for Qaddafi Could Escalate the Libyan Crisis

Filed under: Uncategorized — medjallow @ 5:04 pm

International Criminal Court's (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo arrives at a news conference to comment on the arrest warrant issued for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in The Hague. Reuters /June 28, 2011.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Colonel Qaddafi, his son, and his intelligence chief, but this move will likely escalate the Libyan crisis, and further alienate the African Union (AU).

The three were accused of   “crimes against humanity, and of the murder and persecution of civilians” from the period between February 15 through the 28 in Benghazi and other Libyan cities. The decision immediately raised concerns, especially in the African Union, which has an uneasy relationship with the court. The AU envoy to Libya, South African President Jacob Zuma  had earlier accused the NATO bombing campaign as an assassination attempt on Qaddafi’s life, and yet another western interference in an African country. The move by the ICC will likely embolden Qaddafi; a-la- President Bashir of Sudan who is still in power despite an ICC warrant for his arrest. Further, it will jeopardize AU mediation efforts, and undermine the courts’ credibility if Qaddafi is offered a deal with guarantees of immunity as part of any future agreement.

Sudan is a perfect example why the ICC should not rush into issuing arrest warrants when hostilities are continuing, and certainly not when the accused are still in power. There is no incentive now for Qaddafi to leave. Before the Bashir warrant in Sudan, there was talk of a negotiated end to the Darfur conflict, even the idea of Bashir stepping aside and allow for a withdrawal of Sudanese troops and militias from the region. What the warrant did was antagonize Bashir and his die-hard supporters. It did not only escalate the crisis in Darfur, but threatened the whole of Sudan, jeopardizing the fragile peace between the north and the south. While some might argue that these are unrelated, the most important calculation for Bashir is to save his skin by manipulating the peace process in both Darfur and Southern Sudan, so he could remain in power indefinitely. He knows that he is assured some type of immunity as long as he remains president. Qaddafi and his cronies will undoubtedly learn from the Bashir playbook, and do everything to remain in power.

The ICC decision also risks damaging hopes of a negotiated settlement to the crisis, as the issue of the arrest warrant will now be used as a bargaining chip, and even a precondition for negotiations. How can one expect Qaddafi and his co-accused to negotiate in good faith when they very well know that it offers no incentive for them? They will try everything to secure some type of deal, and if that happens, two scenarios will be at play. If  the crisis is resolved politically and Qaddafi and co are offered some type of immunity in exchange for leaving Libya, then the warrant  will be undermined, and the ICC will lose its credibility. If on the other hand the conflict escalates because Qaddafi decides to take a last stand against the prospect of a trial in The Hague, then the Libyan people will suffer a longer and more brutal crisis. Both of these scenarios will not bid well for the ICC, especially if the conflict becomes a tribal war of attrition. The Libyan leader still has some supporters among his tribe in western Libya who are armed, and ready to defend him.

Finally, the ICC remains very controversial in Africa, and this latest warrant for another African leader will not help the courts’ image. It will make cooperation difficult. President Bashir of Sudan is running around different countries just to prove that he can, and other countries are reluctant to arrest him even though they are obligated to do so. Many in Africa still see a double standard with the ICC, and its perceived African witch-hunt, especially when similar human rights violations are occurring in Syria and Bahrain. But more importantly, the AU is trying to mediate a political settlement between Qaddafi and the rebels. The warrant will be an impediment to its efforts, making it harder to gain any type of concession, or good faith negotiations from a government that now feels its back is against the wall.

There is no question that Qaddafi is guilty of human rights abuses. The issue of concern is whether publicly issuing arrest warrants will do anything to minimize the suffering of the people on whose behalf they are issued. The ICC should look at the ways in which it issues arrest warrants, carefully consider the implications, and not cower to political pressure.

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow (Class of 2008/2009). He is currently a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

 

 

 

 

June 20, 2011

Is Democracy Possible in Africa? The Case of Nigeria

Filed under: Uncategorized — conike00 @ 12:10 am
Tags: , , ,

An election poster is pasted on an electric pole along a road in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

13 down and 12 more to go! That’s the number of presidential elections that have taken place and are still coming up on the African continent (including the islands) in 2011. Although the “Arab Spring” has ineluctably branded the year as a year of revolution in Northern Africa (and the Middle East), it is the less-publicized events in sub-Saharan Africa that will fundamentally reshape the notion of democracy on the continent, for better or for worse.

The recent upheavals in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and even Burkina Faso, have made many reconsider the effectiveness of democracy in facilitating development in Africa. Some still believe that it will someday work. After all, it has worked in other countries, and there is clear evidence that democratic nations tend to have accountable governments which is key to ensuring growth. Others have dabbled with the idea that democracy is just not fit for Africa. They support their opinions by citing the long list of rigged elections and post-election violence that seem to have further weakened the prospects of ever achieving a functioning form of democracy.

Personally, I am more in line with the former group. Obviously we can’t categorize every single African country because each political situation is different but there are positive signs of change in the political dynamics of certain key nations. There is a growing popular demand for accountability and social justice throughout the continent by a population that, empowered in part by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, is becoming even more defiant. If you had asked me five years ago what my biggest fear was concerning politics in Africa, my answer would have been that it was the feeling that people had become so inured with their inadequate and often oppressive governments that they had lost the zeal to engage in politics. So to hear about mass protests and increases in voter turnout in certain nations, I am encouraged and reassured that the goal of democracy is still an achievable one.

Let’s take Nigeria for example. If I was to describe, in a nutshell, Nigerian politics prior to the April elections, I would probably refer to it as an ethno-religious game of musical chairs between North and the South but with members of the Southeastern region excluded from key positions. The fact that there hasn’t been a president from the Southeast of the country since its independence makes the election of President Goodluck Jonathan a very significant turn of events. Also, in a country with a tradition of military regimes and rigged elections, knowing that the elections were deemed the most transparent in decades by national and international observers marks a new beginning in the electoral politics. These are good signs for democracy in Nigeria for two reasons. The first is that it mounts pressure on the current administration to address the underdevelopment and marginalization of the Southeast, especially in the oil producing areas that have been neglected by the federal government for over 50 years. But more importantly, it provides the opportunity for the new administration to forge a government that is truly representative of the ethnic plurality within the nation.

It is with cautious optimism that I write this though. Having a president from a minority group does not in itself signify change, it only opens the door for the opportunity to effect that change. And although the past elections might have been credible, the results depict an even more polarized nation with a vast majority of the North voting for their regional candidate Mr. Buhari and the South voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Jonathan. This leaves the president-elect with the daunting task of reconciling the South with an especially angry North. He must now answer to previously marginalized groups in the South without alienating the voices of those in the North (and the rest of the country as well). Achieving this will require him to team up with Northern leaders (perhaps even collaborating with Buhari, if possible) to attempt to appease public dissent with his presidency in the North. And with the ongoing riots and an opportunistic Boko Haram (a Muslim sect hostile to democracy and anything non-Islamic) taking advantage of the chaos to reap havoc, President Jonathan has a very difficult presidency ahead of him.

But that’s democracy, isn’t it? Nobody said it would be easy but it’s definitely not impossible. No country today with a functioning democracy achieved it without conflict so the recent upheavals throughout the continent shouldn’t be used as an excuse to lose hope in democracy. And with an increasingly globalized world, it is becoming much more difficult to cover up repression. Leaders now have to be accountable to not just their citizens but to the watchful eyes of the international community. Civil society is burgeoning throughout the continent and the youth are becoming a lot more vocal. Widespread democracy in Africa is probably still decades away, but strategic incremental steps towards it are being made.

Chukwudi Onike is an alumnus of the Colin Powell Fellowship program. He graduated with a BA in International Studies in 2010 with a focus on conflict resolution. 

June 19, 2011

The Nuba Mountains could become the Next Darfur

Filed under: Uncategorized — hashimhassan1 @ 6:28 pm

The Nuba Mountains, a disputed region in central Sudan, was given a special status the so-called Popular People’s Consultation under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Kenya in 2005 between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan. According to the CPA, the Nuba Mountains has been ruled by joint force of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), representing the South, and the National Congress Party (NCP), representing the North. Since the CPA was signed, the United Nations International Mission in Sudan (UNIMIS) has managed to maintain peace between the two sides, but with the prospect of Southern Sudan becoming its own country on July 9th, the situation has changed.

The NCP government, ruled by Omar Al Bashir, promised to recognize the independence of the South. However, as the secession date approaches, things have gotten out of control and tensions are running high, particularly after the Government of Northern Sudan took control of the Abyei area, another disputed border region, in clear violation of the peace accord. The international community has asked that the government of Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei, but they have so far refused to do so.

Following this same tactic, the government of Northern Sudan is now attacking the populated areas of the Nuba Mountains from the air in an attempt to disarm the SPLA forces in the region before the independence of Southern Sudan. President Al Bashir said that he intends to cleanse the region of Nuba SPLA supporters, mountain-by-mountain, home-by-home. According to an account from one of my relatives in the area, government security personnel have been going door-to-door, arresting and killing opponents. In the last few weeks, the conflict has led to an exodus of Nuba people fleeing their homes, and some have already taken refuge in mountain caves. Most are internally displaced, but nowhere in the North is safe, because Nubians are targeted as potential SPLA supporters. As of now, the North and the South are at a critical juncture with a possibility of a full-scale war breaking out.

In fact, if the international community does not act quickly to protect civilians attacked and displaced, the Nuba Mountains could quickly become the next Darfur. In the past few days, reports indicate that government forces have indiscriminately targeted women and children and paid militias. This is not the first time that the Nuba people have found themselves caught between Northern and Southern forces. The first genocide in the Nuba Mountains took place between 1985-1995, leading to mass displacement and death.

Immediate action must be taken to head off a major humanitarian disaster. First, I urge the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to provide UNIMIS forces in the region with a clear mandate to protect civilians. Second, the UNSC should use article seven of the UN charter to protect civilians in the region. Charter VII provides the Security Council with powers to do whatever it takes to maintain peace and protect civilians against any aggression. Moreover, the United States government should intervene through brokering a ceasefire agreement and bringing an end to hostilities between the fighting parties. Additionally, international organizations and other NGOs should provide humanitarian assistance to families most affected by the conflict, particularly women and children. I urge my fellow American citizens to take to the streets in protest of these gross human rights violations and urge President Obama to keep his promise to protect civilians in Sudan. The United Nations must take a strong stand to protect lives and prevent another genocide in this region, which is very vital in the North-South CPA accord. A decisive move by the international community, particularly by the African Union, United States Government, and European Union can mitigate this conflict before it escalates. If nothing is done, the outcome will be catastrophic and will be yet another stain on the world’s conscience.

June 17, 2011

Hedge Funds and Land Grabs: A New Scramble for Africa

Filed under: Uncategorized — medjallow @ 4:20 pm

Women wash clothes near the village of Lungi Acre outside the Sierra Leonean town of Makeni, November 17, 2010. Farmers in this iron-roof village in Sierra Leone say they didn't know what they were getting into when they leased their land for a biofuel crop they now fear threatens their food harvests. REUTERS/Simon Akam

Hedge Funds are reviled in the United States for their role in the U.S. economic crisis, but their activities in developing countries, especially in Sub Saharan Africa has been limited — until a few years ago.

A controversial report by the U.S. based Oakland Institute, an independent policy think-tank accused Hedge Funds representing corporations, institutions, and individuals  in the United States and Europe of acquiring huge swaths of land across Africa, often under dubious circumstances, with little accountability to government regulations, or regard for the livelihoods of local populations. This trend, the report claims, is leading to food insecurity, displacement of small farmers, environmental degradation, and subsequently political instability and deepening poverty. To many, it represents a new scramble for Africa, only this time by private corporations, and in some cases, emerging market economies rather than by European powers.

While their influence in developed economies like the U.S. and Western Europe is well known, Hedge Fund activities in the developing world, especially in Africa have steadily increased under the radar. The report cited case studies from six African countries – Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Mozambique where these companies have expanded land holdings, from just a few thousand acres a few years ago to millions of acres of farmland. Large-scale land acquisitions for commercial purposes in Africa are not new. Colonel Qadhafi bought and leased hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Mali, while the South Koreans leased huge concessions in Madagascar. The Saudi’s, the Emirates, and the Chinese are all in on the land deals. However, Hedge Funds and their subsidiaries are acquiring land at an unprecedented scale. In 2009 alone, they bought or leased nearly 60 million acres of land across Africa, an area roughly the size of Texas. According to the World Bank, land deals across the continent covered about 110 million acres in 2009, growing tenfold from the previous year.

Some non-governmental organizations have raised alarms over the massive land grabs across the continent, but some governments have defended these land deals, claiming that they provide much needed foreign direct investments (FDI). According to one Ethiopian official, “it’s not land grabbing, they are just looking to generate foreign currency to support their county’s development efforts. It is better than begging,” he added. This sentiment is widespread across the continent as governments neglect the needs of their people for the sake of attracting foreign investments, often with serious implications for small-scale subsistent farmers.

Kofi Annan, former U.N secretary general was quoted in a recent New York Times article describing this new influx of Hedge Funds as a new “scramble for Africa,” recalling European colonization of the continent in the 17th and 18th century. “We have seen a scramble for Africa before, and I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind,” Annan said. “If the food security of the countries, rather than profiteering is not the main goal, it is straightforward exploitation.” In fact, the Oakland Institute cited multiple accounts where families were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and livelihoods, often with little or no compensation to make way for export commodities, such biofuels, and cut flowers.

In Sierra Leone, the government embarked on a series of agricultural reform programs, with the aim of using agriculture as a way to develop a battered economy. For a country recovering from civil war that effectively destroyed its agricultural sector, investing in food security and other self-sufficiency projects is one way, according to “experts” to attract foreign investments. Nevertheless, the Sierra Leone government ever desperate for foreign investments gives anyone a free pass, as long as they claim to bring jobs for the millions of unemployed people it cannot provide jobs for. In fact, as the report reiterated, the Sierra Leone government makes no secret of its agricultural development strategy, looking at these deals as attracting Foreign Direct investments (FDI) through “a market-led approach” for private sector development of commercial agriculture.

Two companies currently operating in Sierra Leone were specifically singled out in the report. Quifel International Holdings, a Portuguese owned firm acquired nearly 130,000 acres of land in northern Sierra Leone, cultivating everything from oilseed to pineapple, sugarcane, mango, etc. The other is a Swiss owned renewable energy subsidiary — ADDAX & ORYX GROUP. ADDAX is reported to have leased 20,000 hectares of land in Bombali district, also in northern Sierra Leone, growing sugar cane for ethanol production. These operations were set up with lofty promises of employment opportunities for people, and accountability for a responsible use of the land, but the realities on the ground, after just a few years of operations has been disappointing. A June 2011 land deal brief by the Oakland Institute accused ADDAX of employing only about 200 people, with no dedicated monthly salaries, benefits, or job security after promises to employ 4,000 people. In the case of Quifel, it claimed that villagers were hired only as casual laborers, and paid less than two dollars a day for a period of only a month, after which they are let go. It also promised to provide stable employment for thousands of Sierra Leoneans as part of its acquisition agreement.

These companies have used their official connections to wrest arable land from poor farmers, even though their unfulfilled promises of better schools and stable employment and wages as part of the deals they signed are not being met. It draws eerie similarities in my mind to 17th and 18th century European explorers infiltrating Africa, grabbing land and slaves, with the collusion of local chiefs to plunder the continent of both its human and natural resources. While I am not against a genuine opportunity to attract foreign investment for rebuilding battered economies, I am against misguided government policies, collusion of corrupt governments with Hedge Funds, and the impunity of well-known western institutions, corporations, and individuals in benefiting from this illicit enterprise.

See the full Oakland Institute Report here.

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow (Class of 2008/2009). He is currently a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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