land grabs in africa: settler colonialism, colonialism or something else?


There is a massive “land grab” by foreign companies currently underway in Ethiopia, under the invitation of the regime in power. The move has settler colonialism written all over it. Indeed, it has already induced many in the international community, such as the UN, the EU, FAO to mention but few, to sound the alarm. Major news organizations that are otherwise notorious for their negligence of events pertaining to Ethiopia, have also described the move by echoing the word ‘colonialism’ one after the other. (See reports by The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Bloomberg and Japan TV using the links given at the bottom for example). Ethiopians, who are supposed to carry the brunt of the consequence, are not however anywhere to be found in heeding the warning.


This of course will come at a huge cost to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. More directly, it will deny, at least three generations of the rural masses in and around the sites of the foreign holdings, any access to land and turn them into squatters, thereby instituting an agrarian system akin to settler colonialism, which needless to say, was the worst brand of colonialism. Indirectly, it will have a snowball effect in further complicating and exacerbating our existing woes as a nation. The deals will create external players who will find it necessary to meddle in our internal affairs in order to safeguard their interests.
As for job creation, people in Gambella now working at Karuturi’s palm oil fields as daily laborers, have already started complaining that they were much better off working there own land. No sooner had companies started operating than complaints of inhuman treatment also started to surface.
Child labor is also a common practice. According to one report, China has even threatened to bring its own workers unless the locals behave themselves, by which it meant accept reduction to servitude and treatment as squatters in a land, which Gambellans thought, was their own.
I’ve thought about this a fair bit in the last few months; and a related topic came up the other night at the settlerism talk. Today I came across this online paper. Question is, then: are these desperate, postcolonial land grabs in fact settler colonial processes reinstigated?
It is, I think, a little more complex than this. In many cases, plantations are being created in newly (and possibly illegally) alienated land in Africa. That is to say, families aren’t moving out, capitalists are. In other cases, deals are being made just for exclusive resource rights. And often — I’m thinking here of the Chinese enterprise in places like Angola, Gabon, Sudan, Uganda and the Congo — the required labour machine, much like the capital, comes from overseas and is not organic to the African region. This is all quite unique in the scheme of things, for seldom does an imperial metropole provide both labour and capital without settlers or slaves to undertake an exploitative project overseas.
Yes, whopping grabs are taking place, and many African communities are discovering that the land they’ve sat on unperturbed for decades —  idyllic, I know, but bare with me on this one — is being swept from under their feet like a blanket. Shockingly, in many cases, these transactions are performed without consensus, and don’t involve leases. They are instead outright acquisitions, signed off on the sly. So what do we make of it?
Time will tell whether all of this will amount to another carving up of Africa in the interests of sovereign advantage and resource access, or to the reservation of a few plots for hardy immigrant peasants who seek a new start.
For now, I’ll bet, London to a brick on, it’s the former.

3 Responses to “land grabs in africa: settler colonialism, colonialism or something else?”

  1. 1 A.C.P.

    Good analysis.

  2. 2 T. Dora

    Funny. It is hard to de-pack, but I think your rubbishing of ‘settler colonialism’ here is dainty, and hasty.

  3. 3 edwardcav


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