Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Africa and the New Colonialism

In his brilliantly written essay Capital Gains (Granta), novelist Rana Dasgupta makes us meet MC who is just 28. He operates five shopping malls across India, and he has another 1,400 acres under development. MC tells Rana that "that is just the beginning" and that "he is moving on to much bigger plans". What are these bigger plans? Let me quote from the essay:

‘We’ve just leased 700,000 acres for seventy-five years; we’re opening up food processing, sugar and flower plantations.’

He is so matter of fact that I’m not sure if I’ve heard correctly. We have already discussed how laborious it is to acquire land in India, buying from farmers at five or ten acres a time. I can’t imagine where he could get hold of land on that scale.

‘Where?’ I ask.

‘Ethiopia. My father has a friend who bought land from the Ethiopian president for a cattle ranch there. The President told him he had other land for sale. My dad said, This is it, this is what we’ve been looking for, let’s go for it. We’re going in there with [exiled Russian oligarch] Boris Berezovsky. Africa is amazing. That’s where it’s at. You’re talking about numbers that can’t even fit into your mind yet. Reliance, Tata, all the big Indian corporations are setting up there, but we’re still ahead of the curve. I’m going to run this thing myself for the next eight years, that’s what I’ve decided. I’m not giving this to any CEO until it meets my vision. It’s going to be amazing. You should see this land: lush, green. Black soil, rivers.’

MC tells me how he has one hundred farmers from Punjab ready with their passports to set off for Ethiopia as soon as all the papers are signed.

‘Africans can’t do this work. Punjabi farmers are good because they’re used to farming big plots. They’re not scared of farming 5,000 acres. Meanwhile, I’ll go there and set up polytechnics to train the Africans so when the sugar mills start up they’ll be ready.’

Shipping farmers from Punjab to work on African plantations is a plan of imperial proportions. And there’s something imperial about the way he says Africans. I’m stunned. I tell him so.

‘Thank you,’ he says.

‘What is on that land right now?’ I ask, already knowing that his response, too, will be imperial.

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If you read the essay, and you should, you will also find MC later admitting that there are many many super rich young businessmen like him in India.

It's not just MC and rich businessmen like him who are eying Africa. There are many countries who are leasing land in Africa to ensure their food security. A new land grab is on as food is becoming the new oil:

Governments and investment funds are buying up farmland in Africa and Asia to grow food -- a profitable business, with a growing global population and rapidly rising prices. The high-stakes game of real-life Monopoly is leading to a modern colonialism to which many poor countries submit out of necessity.

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But what happens, as Horand Knaup and Juliane von Mittelstaedt ask, in a globalized world when colonies arise once again? We will have to wait and see but it may not be a peaceful reaction.

1 comment:

Yusuf Martin said...

I have said, previously, elsewhere, that materialism and hedonist narcissism are which drive the new colonialism. No to mention a mistaken belief in all that glitters must be American. My essay in New Malaysian Essays 2 is a quick nod to this.