Land Grab: A Violation of Human Rights and Disregard for the Basic Essence of Governance

Land Grab: A Violation of Human Rights and Disregard for the Basic Essence of
Governance by Abdul-aziz Abdulatif

From Zimbabwe to Madagascar, Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and majority of African
countries government are using various means to disposes the locals of their
lands in the name of promoting agricultural investment, provision of housing
estates and industrial revolution.

However, experience all over has shown that the laudable objectives behind
the seizures and compulsory acquisition of land by the authorities are as
good as the paper on which they are written. They have not only failed
improved local living standard but has further marginalized and impoverished
the poor.

For instance, the conventional wisdom is that the white settlers who
descended on Zimbabwe, just over a century ago, appropriated all or most of
the best land, and that the indigenous majority was confined to inferior land
across the country. However, the same laws created to stop the white
Zimbabweans from growing foods are now been used against black farmers and
plot holders who do not support the people in power. Of course, the outcome
is the desperate food shortage with both urban and rural areas now dependant
either on food aids and maize imported by the government from Malawi and
Zambia. Infact, an amendment to the law in Zimbabwe now say government no
longer has to serve the land owners with a notice of acquisition, now it just
has to state its intention to take the land in the government gazette.

In Madagascar and Senegal government were taking away lands they deem to be
customary, traditional and unproductive, and assigning same to investors by
means of all-powerful injunctions, without ever engaging with local residents
with a view to compensating them adequately thereby promoting poverty,
unemployment and hunger amongst their own people. This lack a binding
regulatory framework compelling investors to account for local populations is
clear violation of human right and has sparked furious unrest and opposition
to government policies in some countries.

Development countries especially African countries are elated that
international investors are invading their territory, purchasing agricultural
land in some of the most fertile regions, they have described this as
“agricultural investment” but civil society are crying fouls that their
action amount to land grab because the positive effect of such investment
are yet to be felt.

The end to this seem not be in sight, because political liberalization in
African is a more problematic process. Powerful actors have continued to
disregard constitutional provisions and maintain patrimonial control by
developing creative counter-strategies to any change that can bring succor
and freedom to the common man.

In Nigeria, my country and Kenya land grabbing is taking dynamic method
through irregular and shoddy privatization of public landed properties.
Government official and their apologist are now acquiring public enterprises
in a manner that are less transparent and controversial.

Privatization itself is not a bad idea, as experience over time has shown
that government in this part of world cannot effectively manage business
enterprise. But corruption has remained that omnipresent obstacle that has
eroded the very essence of the exercise. Superior technical bids most times
do not decide the successful bid for a firm while landed assets of government
corporation are manipulated and converted to personal belongings by the
government officials and their apologists.

The list of controversial sale of government asset in Nigeria remain
inexhaustible, from Ajaokuta steel rolling mills, Delta steel company,
Katsina steel rolling mills, Daily times of Nigeria, NITEL e.t.c. are enough
examples to attest to the above.

The public bidding being introduced for government houses is nothing but a
back-door means of giving undue advantage to the wealthy class while stacking
the odds against the civil servants of various grades who see the bidding as
the opportunity of a lifetime to own a house and reduce the post-retirement
ordeal of getting a house to live in with their families.

To sum it up, the rich, privileged and powerful men in the corridor of power
across various countries are disregarding due process and corruptly acquiring
landed assets. It is quite disheartening to see how established official
guidelines for sale of government houses can be brought under subterranean
pressure and even amended to the disadvantage of common people by clandestine
vested interests.