MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining to Undermine Access to Land in Africa

Published by MAC on 2011-04-27
Source: Third World Network-Africa

Abdulai Darimani urges a shift from aid-driven approaches to Africa's economic development to a transformative agenda forged by concerted social action.

Otherwise, he says, Africans will fail to escape from persistent exploitation.

Mining to Undermine Access to Land

Abdulai Darimani, Environment Programme Officer

Third World Network-Africa

20 April 2011

The natural and environmental resources of Africa have been the object of the persistent scramble for the continent. Natural resources like land, minerals, gas, oil, timber, territorial waters among others are often at the heart of the scramble for Africa.

Behind the political and military interventions by Coalitions of Western powers outside or under the auspices of the United Nations in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Comoros, Chad, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Liberia, and of late Libya and La Cote D'Ivoire is the issue of access to and redistribution of the resources of Africa.

In the full glare of international military might, the Democratic Republic of Congo signed and sealed some of the worst forms of mining contracts with transnational corporations of some of the western countries seeking to maintain peace in that country. These contracts up-scaled the grip of transnational mining companies on the mineral resources of DRC.

NATO is enforcing a United Nations No-fly-zone in Libya in order to protect civilian population from being trapped and killed in the war between rebel and government forces.

Behind the overt military intervention also lies the issue of redistribution of Libyan oil. The scenario in Iraq provides enough bases in support of this argument. One of the arguments the US made to justify its attack on Iraq was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which were a threat to Americans and the entire "civilized" world.

Behind this argument was a strategic reason of repositioning the US in the Iraqi oil market. Prior to the attack on Iraq, the French and the Russians had central role in oil deals with Iraq. The attack dislodged this central role and repositioned the US in leadership of oil deals and contracts for reconstruction of Iraq.

As in the case of Iraq, Libya is not a field for the scramble between nations over its oil resources. However, the attack on Libya obviously raises the issue of redistribution of wealth among the intervening forces. The Libyan state has developed certain skills and capacities for managing and handling its oil sector which offer it some relative advantage in its relations with oil transnational companies and national governments.

These skills and capacities, which the rebels do not have, were developed through years of trials and self-determination under international sanctions. A change in regime means that the rebels would need to outsource these skills and capacities, and the obvious source is the countries in the frontline of enforcing the no-fly-zone.

A BBC website report of April 8th 2011 indicates that the rebels are already calling on NATO to mediate in oil sales. The report further states that the "rebels' first oil shipment, earlier in the week, worth over $100m".

Cote d'Ivoire

The struggle in Cote D'Ivoire is equally connected to issues of control and redistribution of resources of the country. In his early days as President of Cote D'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo had the support of the French. Today, the French have shifted their support to Alassane Ouattara and forces opposed to Laurent Gbagbo.

This swing of support can be linked to the permanent interests that France have for the country. France has huge control of key sectors of the economy of Cote d'Ivoire. There has been a lot of discussion about the Pacte Coloniale (Colonial agreement) between the governments of France, Cote d'Ivoire, Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger which was entered into on 24 April 1961 in which France has priority in the acquisition of "raw materials classified as strategic.

Sections of the agreement suggest that "The French Republic shall regularly inform the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire [and the other former colonies] ... of the policy that it intends to follow concerning strategic raw materials and products, taking into account the general needs of defence, the evolution of resources and the situation of the world market". On the other hand, "Cote d'Ivoire, Dahomey and Niger shall inform the French Republic of the policy they intend to follow concerning strategic raw materials and products, and the measures that they propose to take to implement this policy."

Until the November 2010 electoral triggered conflict, Cote D'Ivoire was the world largest producer and exporter of cocoa. Recent exploration reports suggest that Cote D'Ivoire has huge potential of oil reserves and is on the road of becoming one of the largest oil producers on the continent.

With the current liberalized trade and investment regime, it may be possible for the president of any of the three countries in the agreement to vary or weaken the spirit of the agreement by opening access to other players. Laurent Gbagbo had already opened access of vital sectors of the Ivorian economy to American and Chinese companies. This implies that the ability of the French to retain control of the resources of Cote D'Ivoire requires the French to establish a certain depth of friendship with or control of the ruling class of Cote D'Ivoire.

One of the areas in which Africa is experiencing a renewed scramble is land acquisition (land-grab). While land take in Africa by foreign interest is not a new phenomenon, the last few decades have witnessed an ascend in the scale of large-scale land acquisitions across the continent.


Millions of rural populations and urban populations along urban beaches and rural areas in Africa are displaced and dispossessed of land. Land grabs occur directly or incidentally but in both cases involve displacement and dispossession of rural or urban poor communities.

The incidental land grab involve activities in which land is only a facilitating factor. Such activities include the construction of mega-projects like dams as well as extractive sector activity like the extraction of minerals, oil and gas.

National governments in collaboration with local and foreign elites are increasingly leasing out millions of hectares of land in Africa directly to transnational corporations and businesses.

In a report released by the World Bank in 2010, the first 11 months of 2009 saw farmland deals (land grabs) covering at least 77 million acres in Africa. In a paper released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) between 2004 and early 2009, at least 2.5 million hectares of land were transferred from local users to foreign investors in five African countries alone, namely Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan.

The paper further estimates that investments of some 1,000 million dollars were agreed upon in the contracts in these deals. In Mali alone, about 60 land deals covering an estimated 600,000 acres is reported to have been committed.

The increasing demand for land is driven by a combination of factors including volatility in the price of food stuff, concerns for food security, rising interest in agrofuel production, forest plantations, construction of estates, an expansion of finance as instrument for trade and investment, a new market for carbon trading, and the commoditisation and privatisation of land. These have become instruments for capitalist accumulation through foreign direct investment on the continent.

The rise of foreign direct investment and by extension the rise of capitalist accumulation presupposes the subordination of local productive sectors including alienation of communities from their land. The process of accumulation squeezes value from all other sectors of the economy and the state apparatus. It also then means decreased possibilities of the African state to intervene when and where it matters most.

The extractive sector of Africa, in particular mining and petroleum extraction is one of the areas in which the displacement and dispossession of community from access to land through the process of capitalist accumulation clearly manifest.


Over the past few decades, liberalization of trade and investment under the banner of globalization has fostered growth of foreign direct investment in the mining sector of Africa. UNCTAD 2008 reported that, in 2007, FDI to sub-Saharan Africa amounted to over US$ 30 billion, up from the records of about US$ 22 billion in 2006 and US$ 17 billion in 2005.

The extractive sector (mining and petroleum) has been the foremost receipt of the FDI flows to Africa. The process of extracting mineral and petroleum resources in Africa has reproduced displacement and dispossession of populations from access to land. Displacement and dispossession of rural communities from land and the accompanying disorganization of their economic and social relations remains one of the persistent features of communities in mineral and petroleum extraction areas in Africa.

Investment in the extraction of minerals, metals, oil and gas has resulted in displacement of whole communities and dispossession of millions of rural populations from access to productive lands.

Resource extraction involves several stages from exploration, site preparation and development, production, processing to decommissioning. Each of the different stages require large tracks of land to facilitate the extraction and refinery of these resources.

Mali, Ghana, Nigeria

In Mali, one mine the Sadiola mine has displaced eight villages. The facilities and installations of the mine which resulted in displacement of the eight villages include works site of an area of 1000 hectares of land, an open pit (production site), a cyanide gold treatment plant, mineral reserves area, waste dump, a sedimentation tank for cyanide mud, an air strip and a mining village where about 300 employees of the company live. The company draws its water supply from River Senegal which is about 57km away from the mine site.

Between 1990 and 1998, a single large-scale open mine in Tarkwa in Western Ghana displaced a total of 14 communities with a population of over 30,000. This displacement resulted in a net loss of over 7000 jobs in the area as people lost access to land and could not also be employed by the mine due to skills mismatch. Again Newmont Ahafo mine project in the north-west of Ghana displaced over 355 households in Kenyasi area alone.

Another project of Newmont in Eastern Ghana is set to displace one whole village with a population of over 300 men and women. In addition, implementation of the project would result in destruction of 1465 hectares of land and lost of 3057 farm holdings belonging to 1,208 individuals.

Further, the project would destroy 74 hectares (13%) of the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve one of the last vestiges of Ghana's forest reserves. Along the West Coast of Ghana, more than 72 villages are complaining of access to fishing grounds due to the intensity of offshore oil exploration and production.

In Nigeria, hundreds of villages with millions of populations are displaced and dispossessed of land by the activities of oil transnational companies.

In addition to actual land-take for oil extraction, installations and other facilities, frequent oil spills and disposal of oil waste have rendered thousands of hectares of arable land useless for farming. Communities who may not be directly affected by oil extraction suffer land loss through oil spills and waste disposal.

In 2007, I went to Warri for a meeting organized by the West Africa Advisory Board of Global Greengrants Fund. While at the meeting, we received news that Ubeji a nearby village to Warri was polluted by spill of chemicals from the refinery of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

During a visit to the village, we found that fire from the spill that came from the refinery had burnt crops, personal property and the vegetation to ashes. The only river from which the community depend for fishing over ages had turned red due to the pollution. In an interview, the villagers reported that this incident has become a ritual in the area. The frequent pollution and destruction of land and landed property means that in reality this community and many others like it have been dispossessed of land.

Generally, the foreign penetration and control of land in Africa induced by competition undermines and further excludes local opportunities and benefits. The discovery of oil in the Western Region of Ghana not only displaces fisher folks and fishmongers but also has pulled in competition for land in communities located within the oil areas. This competition is has made land and landed property much more expensive and putting several ordinary persons out of access.

During the last quarter of 2010, a cross-section of tenants in Sekondi-Takoradi the capital city of the Western Region went on public protest calling on the Ghana Rent Control Board to prevent landlords in the city from arbitrary increase in housing rent.

The different types of capital competing for land in Africa i.e. land local production verses land for food production and export to foreign markets; land for biofuel plantations; and land held as an asset title for financial market activity including trading and speculation further pushes farmers away from local production and undermines the potential growth and development of domestic agriculture, livelihoods and sense of communal ownership.

Labour and Land

People that have been dispossessed of their land turn to offer their labour to commercial land-grabbers for ridiculously cheap labour much of it is seasonal. Women who have proved to be major users of agricultural land in Africa are noted to be the worst victims of land grab. They not only lost access to land but also are compelled to shoulder the additional burden of feeding unemployed husbands and children.

In Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, most people still live in rural areas, where they farm crops and livestock or derive other livelihoods from land and land-related activities. Land is thus a critical and an indispensable natural and environmental resource. Further to being a factor of production, store of value, space for shelter and recreation, and disposal of waste for animals and human beings, land is also an object that defines a constellation of social and political relations in rural communities.

Displacement and dispossession of communities of their land is therefore an assault on their livelihoods, coping strategies as well as their social, cultural and political systems. Communities have social, cultural and political attachment to ancestral lands.

People express their identity and sense of belongingness in relation to their ownership and use of land. Loss of these ties through displacement and dispossession equally impacts adversely on their sense of self and identity.

Rural communities in Africa are already marginalized in terms of access to formal employment, education, health, safe water all year round, and other economic infrastructure. Displacement and dispossession of communities of their land compound their marginalized situation and inform the popular struggles in communities affected by mining and oil extraction across the continent.

The basis of these struggles has been to redress the injustice of being deprived from land, the destruction of livelihoods, the disproportionate share of benefits accruing to mining companies, and general lack of developmental impact. It is also about a re-examination of the economic and governance regimes of mining and petroleum countries.

Clearly it is the liberalized framework that has been the benchmark for agreements that facilitate the massive transfers of land and general expropriation of Africa's natural resources. In the same but opposite measure, the still incoherent and unplanned new phase of land grab can also become a compelling argument for policy and developmental alternatives.

FDI may be good for Ghana only if it contributes to accelerate the pace of economic development. This does not happen by default, rather there must be a national policy within which the role of FDI is defined. Similarly, commercialising agriculture may be good only if it takes into account the mode of local production and the need to retain the value of commercialisation.

A shift of orientation from aid-driven approach to economic development to a transformative agenda is required of policymakers and African leaders if Africa must prevent the persistent exploitation and transform its economies.

One of the requirements for this shift to occur is concerted action of social forces. It also requires analysis and appreciation of the type, depth and pattern of accumulation in the economies of Africa as central in posing questions of strategies that the state may pursue in order to achieve the transformative agenda.

The role of the state is central because state capacity correlates with the quality of the political agenda for development and the role of strategic economic sectors such as oil, minerals and land in the development discourse it pursues.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) led African Union (AU) continental reform of mining regimes signals a strategic possibility of bringing unified and collaborative relationships between and among African governments, civil society organisations and other actors for alternatives.


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