Its been almost a month since I posted. I will try to do better (good thing no one reads this).
The reason I haven’t posted: I have been working constantly on both the RCT evaluation of Peace Education and Community Empowerment and Conflict Risk Evaluation (PEACE CoRE) I am doing with colleagues CB and RB and the data I have been collecting on land conflict with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Liberia. Cleaning and analyzing data takes a lot of time. However, for both projects I am finally starting to see the beginnings of the story emerge from all the numbers. Small small.
Very little is known about the exact terms of land deals in Africa. Negotiations usually happen behind closed doors. Only rarely do local landholders have a say in those negotiations. Few contracts are publicly available. Yet, together with applicable national and international law, contracts define the terms of an investment project, and the way risks, costs and benefits are distributed. Who has the authority to sign the contract and through what process greatly influences the extent to which people can have their voices heard.
A new report from the International Institute for Environment and Development. Between January 2004 and March 2009, outside investors acquired 1.1 million hectares in Ethiopia, 1.6 million in Liberia, 2.6 million in Mozambique and 3.9 million in Sudan. Most of this land will be used to grow crops for food. As local landowners and land users find themselves with restricted access, the rush to acquire property in Africa raises the question: food security, but for whom? Interestingly, the author shines a positive light on Liberia for having fairly transparent contracts that take food security into account.
Its a been awhile since I have had time to put more than 140 characters down. Even as I write this, a stack of reports from auditors following up on our survey sits in front of me, crying out for analysis.
So much is happening- someone recently remarked to me that spring 2011 is like 1989 and September 11th all rolled into one.
Anyway, on the land business (as they say here in Liberia), I found this article in Guardian to be an nice summary of the global rush for farmland. The scope feels huge, even in a big country like Ethiopia:
Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.
The article opens with the fact that Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of humanitarian good and development assistance. Politically motivated assistance from the US probably explains some of this funding. The article doesn’t elaborate further on whether leasing farmland to foreign countries on the cheap and growing food for export is problematic when some people in your country go hungry, but it leaves an open question.
News reports of the ongoing crisis in Cote D’Ivoire remain thin. In the past days, the focus has been on three military helicopters from Belarus delivered to the Central Ivorian town of Yamoussoukro. Apparently when the UN officials tried to verify the presence of the helicopters at the airport, but they were unable to do so. As a result, diplomats in New York had to tone down the accusations that Belarus had indeed violated the arms embargo.
In Liberia, there are reports (mostly from twitter) that up to 70,000 people have now fled the political violence. Perhaps the biggest development is the increasing number of refugees in Zwedru, in the south-eastern County of Grand Geddeh, an area where many residents initially reported favoring of Gbabgo during the elections in November. Reports from Northern Cote D’Ivoire suggest that electricity and water are totally shut off.
I wonder about the back story behind Belarus’ military support of Gbagbo, if indeed it is taking place. Will the embargo actually do anything to protect civilians, especially if Gbagbo continues to make it extremely difficult for UN staff to operate in Cote D’Ivoire? It is hard not to be cynical.
I have been curious for some time about what is going on in Saudi Arabia. Finally some analysis from Jadaliyya and the WaPo , one highlighting the currents for change, the other reminding us that “revolutions aren’t necessarily going to help those we hope will win” (Emphasis mine).
Sorry, but I think the knee-jerk anti-revolution protect-US-interests-against-Islamist-threat rhetoric coming out of US public policy circles has already been established as dumb. What is going on right now in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries may be messy, but it is also Osama bin-Laden’s worst nightmare. The US got a bum deal buying “national security” based on terrorist-breeding torture and fossil fuels that wreck out environment. Any leader whose nickname is “King of Humanity” (Abdullah’s favorite) is probably most at home with the “Brother Leader” in the Bab al-Aziz bunker under Tripoli.
That said, it may be true that the revolution isn’t going to take place in Saudi yet, despite the “Day of Rage” planned for March 11th. So far, analysts seem to agree that what happens in Bahrain is extremely important, which make sense given similar sectarian issues and repression. It is a mistake, however, to think that the relative wealth of the Gulf states and their fairly successful co-optation of dissidents is sign protests won’t take place. If anything, a lack of a coordinated opposition and some level of successful economic development supported the revolution in other Arab states. King of Humanity, watch out.