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Local Communities in Senegal Demand the Return of their Land Acquired by US Firm

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Members of the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël, 2019. © Grain

—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—

  • US-based African Agriculture Inc. (AAGR) filed an initial public offering to fund a large-scale agribusiness project in the Saint-Louis region of Senegal on March 31, 2022.
  • AAGR acquired the concession formerly held by Senhuile, an Italian-owned firm that took control of the land a decade ago without consent from communities who have since been deprived of the land critical to their livelihoods.
  • On May 30, 2022, the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël representing 37 affected villages sent a letter to AAGR Chairman and CEO Alan Kessler, demanding the immediate return of their land as well as adequate remediation and compensation for the harm and economic loss inflicted upon communities.

Oakland / Dakar / Paris — As US-based holding company African Agriculture Inc. (AAGR) has filed an initial public offering to fund a large-scale agribusiness project in the northern region of Saint-Louis in Senegal, local communities are demanding the company return their land stolen over a decade ago.

In 2012, Senhuile obtained 20,000 hectares of land for 50 years for an agribusiness venture following the declassification of part of the Ndiaël Nature Reserve. In the years since, communities who have been living in Ndiaël for generations have opposed the project and advocated for the return of their legitimate land. The Oakland Institute and GRAIN(link is external) have extensively documented the impact of the project.

“The 20,000-hectare concession has had a devastating impact on our people. It was granted against the will and without the consent of our communities, which have used this land for generations for wood, food, medicinal plants, and most crucially for pasture, given that we are agro-pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on livestock,” said Elhadji Samba Sow on behalf of the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël, representing 37 villages and over 10,000 people. The Senhuile project additionally blocked passage along customary routes between villages and water sources while the irrigation canals caused the death of at least three children by drowning.

On May 30, 2022, the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël sent a letter to AAGR Chairman and CEO Alan Kessler, demanding the immediate return of their land as well as adequate remediation and compensation for the harm and economic loss inflicted upon communities by ten years of occupation of their land by the project. In his response to the letter, Kessler ignored the communities’ demands and instead highlighted a number of actions by his company in their favour, including contributions for the celebration of Ramadan and Eid holidays and distribution of fodder to a few herders.

In 2018, AAGR purchased the Senhuile concession — now renamed Les Fermes de la Teranga (LFT) — from its Italian owners for US$7.9 million. LFT plans to establish a commercial farming business on the concession that will initially focus on producing and selling alfalfa for cattle feed in Senegal and for export. AAGR filed an initial public offering investment prospectus(link is external) in March 2022 and seeks to raise US$40 million to run its operations.

AAGR markets its proximity to the Lac De Guiers and emphasizes low water costs as a “competitive advantage” for their operations, which will require “the use of large volumes of water.” Critically missing from their prospectus is the fact that the Lac De Guiers is the only water reservoir in the lower Senegal River basin, supplying a significant share of water to several cities -– including 65 percent of the water consumed in Dakar — and rural communities in Ndiaël during the prolonged dry season.

“In the IPO filings, AAGR makes no mention of the communities’ opposition to the project and their more than 10-year long struggle to reclaim their land,” said Oakland Institute Policy Director Frédéric Mousseau. “It is critical that the SEC and potential investors are made aware that the project is being established on land grabbed from local communities,” he concluded.

“This project, which really started back in 2009 in Fanaye, has been marred with controversy,” pointed out Renée Vellvé of GRAIN. “People have been killed, livelihoods disrupted, company officials have gone to jail and nothing serious has been produced on the farm. This endless cycle of injustice has to stop.”

Romanian mining and energy tycoon Frank Timis owns 80 percent of AAGR while Senegalese investor Gora Seck owns 9 percent. Timis is a controversial figure due to his involvement in several projects, including a high-level corruption scandal over an oil contract in Senegal, in which the Senegalese president’s brother was implicated.

In their IPO filings, AAGR say they expect to finalize an agreement with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, “to train, develop and transfer educational skills to local communities” in Africa. AAGR also indicate plans for a major carbon credit tree-planting project in Niger, claiming to have reached agreements with the local governments of Ingall and Aderbissinatt to lease over 2.2 million hectares of land.

“For our communities, this is a clear and ongoing case of land grabbing,” concluded Samba Sow. “Alan Kessler and his company are aware of our demand for the return of our land but have chosen to sweep our lives and resistance under the rug. But we will not be silenced,” he concluded.

Source: oaklandinstitute.org

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Tanzanian Government’s Sustained Campaign Against the Maasai in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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Displaced child caring for his younger brother. Credit: Maasai Youth

Over 2,000 Maasai — primarily women and children — displaced by the violence with which the demarcation of land was carried out in Loliondo, remain in Kenya, suffering from hunger and living in fear. Approximately 70,000 people have lost access to dry-season grazing land critical to the health of their livestock and their livelihoods according to research conducted by the Institute’s partners. In addition to the 31 people who were shot and sustained injuries requiring expensive medical treatment, 107 people needed care after the violence.

“A pervasive climate of fear remains among the displaced whose lives have been completely upended,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director at the Oakland Institute.

Violence erupted on June 8, 2022 after the Tanzanian government initiated the demarcation of 1,500 km2 of land it intends to turn into a game reserve for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Otterlo Business Company. Earlier in July, the Oakland Institute revealed that despite widespread international condemnation, the Tanzanian government continues to blatantly ignore domestic and international law, trampling on the rights and lives of the Indigenous residents in Loliondo.

The land that was demarcated and renamed the “Pololeti Game Controlled Area” is legally registered to 15 villages of Loliondo and Sale divisions in Ngorongoro district. Game officials seized hundreds of cattle in July and 50 livestock were reportedly shot to death by the rangers for grazing in this area around Ormanie and Kirtalo villages. Confiscated livestock was also auctioned off(link is external) quickly, giving the Maasai inadequate time to reclaim it.

Over the past few weeks, dozens of Maasai have been arrested and released on bail on the false charges of being “illegal immigrants.” In July, the family of the 80-year old Maasai elder who was shot during the violence and remains missing, and the family of a man killed by a police vehicle in Malambo, started court cases in Arusha. 27 people — including 10 ward councilors — have been detained for several weeks after being charged for the murder of one policeman, reportedly killed by an arrow during demarcation. Their case will be heard on July 28, 2022.

NCA Relocation Sites Remain Critically Flawed

On July 22, 2022, Dr. Christopher Timbuka, Deputy Conservation Commissioner of the NCA, said(link is external) that 757 households (4,344 people) had registered to move from the NCA to Msomera village in Handeni district. Dr. Timbuka explicitly stated(link is external) that the strategy of relocating NCA residents is geared towards the realization of the government’s goal of attracting 1.2 million tourists annually to Tanzania and an income of Sh260 billion [~US$111.5 million] by 2025 from the sector. He reiterated that those who relocate would benefit from owning land and houses in addition to accessing water, education, and health services in Msomera.

As the Tanzanian government continues to move forward with preparation of resettlement sites for so-called “volunteers” from the NCA, new field research to Msomera village in Handeni district raises serious concerns around the government promises. As previously exposed in the Oakland Institute report: Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there are several issues with the resettlement process, adequacy of the selected sites, and major discrepancies between government promises and the actual situation on the ground. Follow up field research conducted in July 2022 exposed little progress has been made by the government — as questions remain if Msomera will be able to provide adequate water, electricity, education, and health services to the resettled.

Currently, approximately 100 homes constructed earlier this year are occupied by former NCA residents. Grazing land, however, is very limited, as is the number of cattle allowed. “Government’s promise that Maasai can bring their herds of cattle to graze freely has already been broken as only 2-5 cows are permitted per family. This confirms fears that the government is moving the Maasai away from their traditional pastoral livelihoods which they have practiced for centuries. Given the critical role cattle play in the livelihoods, nutrition, and culture of the Maasai, the damage this will do cannot be understated,” added Mittal.

Despite these constraints, 300-400 more houses are currently under construction in the area. The old primary school and dispensary have been painted but promises of expanded facilities remain unfulfilled. It is unclear how the Handeni relocation site will support the high number of Maasai the government expects to “voluntarily” leave the NCA. Government’s claims that Maasai are volunteering en masse for resettlement are false. Plans to deprive Maasai of basic services within the NCA and transferring funds away from the area are a blatant attempt to drive the Maasai from their ancestral land.

Painted primary school in Msomera village.
Painted primary school in Msomera village.

In April 2022, 11,000 Maasai community members from the NCA sent a letter to the government and its main donors, clearly stressing their demand to remain in the NCA. “This is not the first time that we are fighting to secure our rights and protect the lives of our people — we need a permanent solution and we need it now. We will not leave; Not Now, Not Ever!”

In a June 15, 2022 press release(link is external), nine UN Special Rapporteurs called on the Tanzanian government to “immediately halt plans for relocation of the people living in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and begin consultations with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples, including direct contact with the Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, to jointly define current challenges to environmental conservation and best avenues to resolve them, while maintaining a human rights-based approach to conservation.” This call followed earlier communications sent to the government and UNESCO World Heritage Committee advisory bodies.

In mid-July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited(link is external) Tanzania and met with Damas Ndumbaro, Minister of Constitution and Legal Affairs, to discuss the human rights abuses in Loliondo and planned evictions from the NCA. Given the blatant lies propagated by the government, its continued disregard for the land rights and lives of the Maasai for safari tourism enriching the elites, the Oakland Institute reaffirms calls for the High Commissioner, other UN human rights experts, and donor countries to meet with the impacted communities to accurately assess the situation on the ground. Continuation of colonial conservation at the expense of the lives and future of the Maasai is no longer possible.

Original Source: oaklandinstitute.org

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African governments owe three times more debt to private lenders than China

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African governments owe three times more debt to Western banks, asset managers and oil traders than to China, and are charged double the interest, according to research released today by Debt Justice. Western leaders through the G7 have attributed the failure to make progress on debt restructuring to China,[1] but the data shows that this is mistaken.

Just 12% of African governments’ external debt is owed to Chinese lenders compared to 35% owed to Western private lenders, according to the calculations based on World Bank data.[2]

Furthermore, interest rates on private loans are almost double those on Chinese loans, while the most indebted countries are less likely to have their debt dominated by China.

The figures have been released ahead of the G20 Finance Ministers meeting on 15-16 July in Indonesia. Campaigners are calling on Western countries, particularly the UK and US, to compel private lenders to take part in the G20’s debt relief scheme, the Common Framework. Three African countries have applied for the Common Framework, none have yet had any debt relief.

Tim Jones, Head of Policy at Debt Justice, said:

“Western leaders blame China for debt crises in Africa, but this is a distraction. The truth is their own banks, asset managers and oil traders are far more responsible but the G7 are letting them off the hook. China took part in the G20’s debt suspension scheme during the pandemic, private lenders did not. There can be no effective debt solution without the involvement of private lenders. The UK and US should introduce legislation to compel private lenders to take part in debt relief.”

Yungong Theo Jong, Head of Programmes at the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) said:

“Multilateral and private creditors remain the biggest creditors to African governments. Loans from China have increased Africa’s indebtedness, but by far less than Western lenders. All lenders must participate in debt relief. Western governments must lead the way by making private lenders cancel debts.”

The calculations show that the average interest rate on private sector loans is 5%, compared to 2.7% on loans from Chinese public and private lenders.

12 of the 22 African countries with the highest debts are paying private lenders over 30% of their total external debt payments (Cabo Verde, Chad, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia). In contrast, debt payments to Chinese lenders are over 30% in just six of the 22 countries (Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Zambia).

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has called on the UK and US to pass legislation to stop private lenders blocking debt relief agreements.[3] President of the World Bank David Malpass has made similar calls.[4] Virtually all international debt contracts are governed by New York or English law[5], with 90% of bonds of countries eligible for the G20’s debt relief scheme are governed by English law.[6]

In 2020 and 2021 China took part in the G20’s debt service suspension initiative, but the scheme only suspended 23% of the external debt payments of countries which applied, because private and multilateral lenders were not included.[7] Western governments need to make their private lenders take part in debt restructurings to convince China to also move further on debt relief.

Notes

[1] For example the G7 Finance Ministers said in May 2022: “With regards to the implementation of the Common Framework, it remains essential that all relevant creditor countries including non-Paris Club countries, such as those, like China, with large outstanding claims on low-income countries facing debt sustainability challenges, contribute constructively to the necessary debt treatments as requested.” http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/finance/220520-communique.html

[2] All the figures and calculations are in the briefing ‘Who is African governments’ external debt owed to?’ available at https://debtjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Who-African-governments-debt-is-owed-to_Media-Briefing_07.22.pdf

Summary tables are:

External debt of African governments by creditor grouping, and average interest rate

Creditor grouping External debt to creditor grouping as percentage of total external debt Average interest rate
Private creditors (excluding those based in China) 35% 5%
Chinese creditors (public and private) 12% 2.7%
Other governments 13% 1.4%
Multilateral institutions 39% 1.3%

 

Share of external debt payments from 2022 to 2028 by creditor grouping (% of total external debt payments), 22 African countries with external debt payments over 15% of government revenue

Private (not including China) China public and private Other governments Multilateral
Angola 29% 59% 2% 10%
Cameroon 18% 34% 13% 35%
Cabo Verde 33% 2% 25% 40%
Chad 33% 8% 14% 44%
Congo, Rep 6% 50% 24% 21%
Djibouti 0% 64% 11% 25%
Egypt 36% 3% 16% 45%
Ethiopia 23% 45% 7% 25%
Gabon 40% 16% 7% 37%
Gambia 0% 0% 25% 75%
Ghana 56% 11% 8% 24%
Kenya 29% 27% 11% 33%
Malawi 72% 5% 4% 20%
Mauritania 0% 14% 30% 57%
Morocco 36% 1% 14% 49%
Mozambique 7% 28% 33% 33%
Namibia 43% 4% 5% 48%
Rwanda 37% 9% 20% 34%
Senegal 37% 9% 20% 34%
Sierra Leone 0% 5% 14% 82%
South Sudan 81% 11% 0% 8%
Tunisia 31% 0% 24% 45%
Zambia 45% 37% 8% 10%
Median 32% 11% 14% 34%

[3] “We also are pressing for some of the changes, legal changes that need to happen in New York, in London, to close loopholes for vulture funds and others to prevent debt resolution. We are discussing how we can bring more contingency measures in debt agreements, how to press for more debt transparency.”
https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2022/04/21/tr220421-transcript-of-the-imfc-press-briefing

[4] “Given the depth of the pandemic, I believe we need to move with urgency to provide a meaningful reduction in the stock of debt for countries in debt distress. Under the current system, however, each country, no matter how poor, may have to fight it out with each creditor. Creditors are usually better financed with the highest paid lawyers representing them, often in U.S. and UK courts that make debt restructurings difficult. It is surely possible that these countries—two of the biggest contributors to development—can do more to reconcile their public policies toward the poorest countries and their laws protecting the rights of creditors to demand repayments from these countries.” https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2020/10/05/reversing-the-inequality-pandemic-speech-by-world-bank-group-president-david-malpass

[5] https://www.imf.org/~/media/Files/Publications/PP/2017/pp113017third-progress-report-on-cacs.ashx

[6] https://debtjustice.org.uk/press-release/g20-debt-suspension-request-90-of-bonds-governed-by-english-law

[7] https://debtjustice.org.uk/press-release/g20-initiative-leads-to-less-than-a-quarter-of-debt-payments-being-suspended

Source: debtjustice.org.uk

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Tanzanian Government Continues Violent Repression of the Maasai in Loliondo Despite Worldwide Condemnation

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 Beacon placed adjacent to bomas, disproving government claims the demarcated land is not near occupied villages.

In the past two weeks, the Tanzanian government has escalated its campaign against the Maasai living within the Loliondo division of Ngorongoro district. Arbitrary arrests have continued — on June 29, 2022 ten people from Ndinyika, Malambo and seven more in Serng’etuny, Piyaya were arrested. 30 people were arrested in Njoroi and 11 arrested in Oloika sub-village under the pretense of being “illegal Kenyan immigrants” on July 2, 2022. Later that day, six seasonal bomas were burned to the ground in the Oldoinyorok area of Arash. On July 6, six more people — including a primary school teacher — were arrested in Olosirwa.

In addition to these widespread arrests, Tanzanian security forces have seized cattle en masse from the Maasai. Approximately 477 cows and 650 sheep were seized in Ololosokwan on July 2, 2022 and just two days later, more cattle and sheep from over five bomas in Ildupa sub-village of Ormanie were taken. To reclaim their animals, Maasai are reportedly being extorted for 100,000 TShs per cow [~US$42] and 25,000 TShs [~$US11] per sheep, a price too high for most to pay.

“The recent arrests and cattle seizures demonstrate that despite widespread international condemnation, the government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan is moving forward with the disastrous and illegal plan of removing Maasai from their ancestral land,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

This repression follows the violence that erupted on June 8, 2022 after the Tanzanian government initiated the demarcation of 1,500 km2 of land it intends to turn into a game reserve for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Otterlo Business Company (OBC). In response, communities gathered to protest the demarcation. Security forces violently retaliated, severely wounding 18 men and 13 women. One elderly man was reportedly killed after being struck by a security forces vehicle. Thousands reportedly fled to Kenya for their safety and one injured elderly Maasai man who was injured remains missing.

An arrow allegedly killed one police officer during the demarcation violence and over 20 people — including ten ward councilors — have been arraigned before the Resident Magistrate’s Court of Arusha and charged with the murder of the policeman. Simon Saitoti — councilor for the Ngorongoro ward – was the latest to be arrested on July 1, 2022 after visiting those already detained.

International condemnation of the government’s violence was swift and widespread. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, nine United Nations Special Rapporteurs and numerous international human rights groups issued statements against the violence. In the face of mounting calls to halt evictions and investigate the human rights abuses, the government has instead completed the demarcation process for the newly named “Pololeti Game Controlled Area,” and some villagers have started to leave the area. The Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources has indicated the area will later become a game reserve, triggering mass evictions of Maasai living in legally registered villages.

Removing residents from this area violates the 2018 East African Court of Justice (EACJ) injunction, which prohibited the Tanzanian government from evicting the villagers, seizing their livestock, destroying property, or engaging in harassment against Maasai communities living in Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash villages. While a ruling was expected on June 22, in a surprising move, the court postponed the decision until September 2022.

Screenshot from video
                                          posted on Twitter by Ole
                                          lemoloo Jr (@alakara_shayo)

“People of Irkeepusi village in Ngorongoro district praying to God, their only refuge, as the government moves forward with eviction plans.”

“Despite courageously speaking out and seeking international intervention, communities have been continually ignored by the government. Today they are left with little recourse except to pray for their continued survival,” Mittal added. The Oakland Institute and Survival International have called on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to immediately sever ties with the Tanzanian government over the latest abuses and delist the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a World Heritage Site given the government’s disregard for Indigenous lives and rights. The communities have appealed to Tanzania’s donor countries to apply pressure.

“It is beyond time for international conservation agencies and donor governments to do more than issue statements. It is time for real action to show the Tanzanian government that the international community will not sit back and watch this disregard for the role of law while the lives and future of the Maasai is imperiled,” Mittal concluded.

Source: oaklandinstitute.org

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