The Environmental Cost of Euro-Arab Scramble for Africa

February 26th, 2009 | by addis portal |

The focus of this piece is to highlight how the selfish, unethical, and eco-hostile Euro-Arab ´investment´ in collaboration with tyrannical and genocidal Horn of African regimes is leading to apocalyptic and irreversible disasters on the environment, human lives and wild lives.
Today, 125 years later after the Berlin Conference (1884-1885), which offset the official European scramble for Africa, Europe is fully back to the continent, buying farmlands from brutal regimes in the Horn of Africa for crop and energy farming. A century ago, Europe used its direct military power (gun powder) to colonize Africa and ship Africa´s resources directly to Europe. Then, Europe, particularly the UK was hit by long economic depressions (1873-1896). This heightened era of industrialization and the need for raw material for their industries prompted Europe to loot African resources.

To some, it may feel like the scramble for Africa was a long gone story and no more relevant to talk about. Nevertheless, right after the waves of the current global economic downturn started to be felt everywhere, Europe along with rich Arab Nations, is back to grab the cheap lands and human resources of the continent in the name of ´investment in energy and food security´. During colonialism, military might was used as a weapon to subdue Africa. Currently, that form of power is replaced by monetary power, with huge disparities between exchange rates of European currencies and African ones.

This clear collaboration between irresponsible Euro-Arab investors and dictators unmistakably makes the involved Euro-Arab countries complicit in genocide and human rights abuses on the continent.

Reports indicate the growing Euro-Arab-Asian interest to buy land in Africa for the food security of their home population, not Africa´s. However, seldom do these reports link the the appetite for farmland and energy investment on the continent with the current global economic crises. Often, such moves are cast as if foreign rich countries are all out to save the continent from the drought and abject poverty that have been further aggravated by the global economic down spiral.

Farminguk.com reports on the heavy multi-billion land grab ventures by rich Arab nations in the designated under-developed African countries of Ethiopia Sudan and Kenya. The foreign countries are said to be lured by Africa´s fertile land and cheap labor. They include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Hadco, a Saudi agricultural company has just spent US $ 90 million in Sudan and has spent as much in Ethiopia; the Emirates sates purchased 70,000 acres of land in Sudan alone. What is described as ´Ethiopia´s farmland´ is the land forcefully taken away from Oromia region, a home for the politically and economically unrepresented majority nation in Ethiopia. This vast region is also a scene of government-sponsored terror and ethnic cleansing.

While Arab countries represent one set of the rich nations abusing their monetary power to buy up the continent, European countries make another set of competitors. France, Germany and UK companies are also very active in the renewed land grab venture in the Horn of Africa.

The argument that Euro-Arab-Asian companies make to justify their ever robust presence on the continent is ´development and investment partnership to solve African food shortage´. This is not, however, the full truth because their deal is with tyrannical regimes, without the consent of the region´s population. On top of that, two of the main goals of the Euro-Arab nations are to ensure the food and energy security of their countries. This allows them to directly ship the outputs from African lands to Europe and the Middle East. The lands that were leased to these Euro-Arab companies were not acquired peacefully. Ethiopia, for example, evicts tens of thousands of local Oromos and other oppressed nationalities in the country. Direct intimidations, farm invasions and evictions precede every plot leased to Euro-Arab nations. Indirectly, the companies, through regimes, cheat or outwit the illiterate farmers to sell their land at cheap prices. If they refuse to comply, the Ethiopian brutal regime has never hesitated to carry ethnic cleansing and cause inter-tribal conflicts in last 18 years.

Unethical and eco-hostile foreign flower and biofuel investments are widespread in Oromia State. Jimma Times and Gadaa.Com report that toxic chemicals from flower and biofuel farms have practically polluted the nearby waters, lakes, leading to the death of tens of people, who drank from them. This is causing unprecedented family strife and grief all over Oromia and other areas where such investments have reached. Toxic wastes from a UK tannery company polluted lake Koka in central Oromia in such a way.

Besides, massive pollutions, shipping away the crops and energy outputs to other continents while tens of millions are starving in the Horn of Africa is not only unacceptable, but the most unethical thing to engage in for rich Euro-Arab nations.

In the year 2007, Flora Eco Power Holding, a Germany-based company engaged in the production and supply of biofuel to European markets, invested €57 million (ETB 671 million) in Oromia region in central Ethiopia. Eco Power purchased over 10,500 hectares of land in Oromia from the mafia, unelected and unrepresentative government of Ethiopia. This regime is bent on solely benefiting its ethnic Tigrians and corrupt cadres from other nations in empire.

It is a known fact that Ethiopia is blessed with several gigantic and untamed rivers, including the Blue Nile, Wabe Shebele, Tekeze, Ghibe and so on. A genuine energy investment that boosts rural livelihood would have started from hydro-electric power production, not planting castor seed and jatropha on the lands previously used for crop production. This venture between the regime in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) and Eco-power show both parties do not care about the population as long as they make profits.

Biofuel investment, instead of hydro-electricity, in this country is not only irrelevant, but unethical and lethal to the people and the environment. Despite Euro-Arab claims of brining bio-fuel and employment opportunities to the local populations, the farm produces have already been shipped overseas. The rhetoric of pulling Africa out of abject poverty and stimulating food and energy production is a plain justification to usurping local populations´ right to their land; colonizing the region with the consent of dictators using monetary power. The case of Flora Eco is just the starkest bad example of four other energy companies in Ethiopia complicit in the crimes against humanity and the environment.

In a February 2008, feature article, Jimma Times reported in detail the disastrous environmental cost of Euro-Arab flower farms in central Oromia. By then, there were over 60 flower plantations, operating in the region. They have been owned by several companies. The flowers produced are sold in Euro-Arab markets and the companies and the Eth regime pocket the profits, while the local population is left with the knowledge of loss of lives and the natural environment to toxic substances from all the farms.

The current Euro-Arab interest in Africa, as was centuries back, is driven by global economic depression. Foreign companies claim that they are in Africa to boost local livelihoods. However, the fact is that they are in Africa for monetary colonization and shipping resources for their own troubled economy. In the process, Euro-Arab companies are found complicit in the ongoing conflict and environmental degradation in the Horn of Africa.

Rational Euro-Arab citizens back home must be aware of the humanitarian and environmental crises their companies are causing in the Horn of Africa, and should hold rallies and protest their actions. The local Africans in this region must boycott being employed in companies that are directly shipping the outputs of illegitimately leased lands, while they are starving. Africans must unite to liberate and reliberate themselves from foreign economic colonialism and exploitation. It is also the responsibility of the African intelligentsia to expose foreign companies that are complicit in conflicts and genocides.

Local and international human rights, environmental and wildlife watchdog groups must put pressure on irresponsible foreign investments in Africa. Eruo-Arab companies must know that there are already repressions and discriminations against the non-ruling majority in Ethiopia. Foreign companies must always be aware that they are operating in conflict ridden environment and every deal they make with unelected, tyrant governments does not reflect the consent of the population.

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