Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ghana: The Church takes action against land grabbing

Land grabbing literally means taking land by force. 

The term aptly describes an economic project that is spreading rapidly throughout the world, particularly across the African continent – where over 10 million hectares have already been acquired by Middle Eastern and European investors – and aims to dispossess people of huge chunks of land through blackmail and deceit, radically change the type of crop and manage the new production with a view to making massive profits. 

This results in serious land degradation, the transformation of the labour market at the expense of local farmers and breeders and the creation of islands within states that essentially belong to other entities. 

The key players in this new form of economic colonialism and exploitation of public land for private profit, are multinational companies (many of them European) that are increasingly going to parts of developing countries and convincing people with “bad contracts” to give them access to vast acres of land. In Ghana, the phenomenon is assuming dramatic proportions and the Catholic Church has decided to take action, bishops say. 

“A huge portion of land has been regularly expropriated for years and previous crops, chiefly food crops, now produce biofuels,” says Mgr. John Kwofie Bishop of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana’s fourth biggest city in terms of inhabitants and an important economic centre in the country, situated on the south-westernmost strip. The land is being devastated, the locals are not producing the food needed for subsistence and on top of that they are losing their jobs or are employed in different sectors with tying contracts”. 

In the document “Unmasking Land Grabbing in Ghana; Restoring Livelihoods; paving the way for Sustainable Development Goals”, published at the end of last August Ghana’s Episcopal Conference in collaboration with Caritas Ghana and other entities openly denounced the phenomenon, revealing the perverse mechanisms regulating it. 

“Inadequate administration by many local politicians has created fertile ground for this situation which risks upsetting biodiversity and forcing entire swathes of the population to emigrate in addition to causing enormous environmental damage and trample all over fundamental human rights.” 

“Western businessmen,” Mgr. Kwofie continues, “are unscrupulous they never consult the local people before intervening or, when they do, they propose contracts that take advantage of simple people’s good faith which has been bought with false promises. Once the land has been taken, it is stripped of existing crops that have always at least guaranteed food self-sufficiency and farmers become dependent on foreign investors.” 

The report was presented to the national and local governments and a cautious optimism is spreading regarding its positive political reception. Ghana could give rise to a movement that will hopefully be as widespread as possible and able to involve as many in Africa as possible. 

The land grabbing phenomenon is spreading like an oil slick across the continent and aside from all the above-mentioned problems it is triggering conflicts between local communities that are losing physical space. Speaking to Fides news agency, the Executive Director of the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), Fr. Aniedi Okure, mentions one case in point. 

In one area of Sierra Leone, the sale of land has deprived local communities from spaces to bury their dead. To make up for this lack of place, areas of neighbouring communities being invaded, sparking violent reactions, tensions and clashes. 

“Since the “Laudato Si’” encyclical was published,” Kwofie concludes, “we bishops have perceived a deep sense of understanding with regard to our problems on the one hand but also an impulse to take action on the other. We will play an active role in this battle for justice and will try to force the government to take measures as soon as possible: in some inland areas the land has already been irretrievably damaged and there are areas such as the Volta region where it is now impossible to grow and produce food. I wanted the focus of my diocese’s latest synod to be precisely this, I urged: “Let us wake up and protect our land” and called on my faithful to adopt a clear stance against this horrible phenomenon.”

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