Tag Archives: neocolonialism

The Scramble for Maldives: US/India v. China

The Maldives archipelago, popular among luxury honeymooners, has become a playing field for geostrategic rivalry as China expands its influence in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. and India push back.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who has steadily swung his country toward Beijing and away from traditional partner New Delhi, has imposed a state of emergency, jailed opponents and clamped down on protests to weaken his opposition, which is led by pro-India ex-President Mohamed Nasheed.

India and the U.S. don’t want Beijing, already dominant in the South China Sea, to entrench itself in these waters. The island nation sits astride shipping lanes that connect China to the oil-supplying countries of the Middle East, via the Strait of Malacca. The location also makes the Maldives vital to Beijing’s Belt and Road plan to develop land and sea trading routes linking China to Europe.

Chinese President Xi Jinping won Mr. Gayoom’s support for the project’s maritime corridor on a visit to the Maldives in 2014, and China began investing in island infrastructure. A Chinese bridge now under construction will connect the capital city, Malé, to a nearby island where its airport is located. A Chinese company is expanding the airport; another has leased an island close by for development. Chinese contractors are building roads and housing units for locals.

Many in the Maldives opposition have raised concerns that Chinese infrastructure loans will turn into “debt traps,” particularly after a major Chinese-financed port in neighboring Sri Lanka passed into Chinese control last year when Colombo couldn’t repay.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson…called China’s infrastructure-financing deals an example of “predatory economics” that saddle developing countries with unsustainable debt and could undercut their sovereignty.  Mr. Gayoom steered a constitutional amendment through parliament in 2015 allowing foreigners to own land, a change the government said was meant to attract investment and critics in the country said could help Beijing establish a military foothold.

In recent years, China has built a naval base in Djibouti in East Africa; in addition to the port in Sri Lanka, it operates one in Pakistan. A senior Indian navy officer said Chinese submarines and research vessels are visiting the Indian Ocean more frequently.

The Indian military deploys aircraft specialized in anti-submarine warfare to patrol the ocean, and its government is negotiating the purchase of U.S. drones with advanced surveillance features. India also plans to build new attack submarines, and a military upgrade is afoot in its Andaman and Nicobar Islands, whose capital is around 1,200 nautical miles from Malé.

Excerpts from China-India Rivarly Plays out in Maldives, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2019

Which States Meddle in African Countries and Why

Negroland and_Guinea with the European Settlements 1736

External [states]…often come with predefined programmes and they tend to interfere when things do not develop as they would like to see it….Analysis of the security activities of seven major actors in Africa—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations—shows an increasing use of multilateral approaches, support for the ‘Africanization’ of African security, and the privatization of external security support. These are the main findings of a new SIPRI monograph edited by Olawale Ismail and Elisabeth Sköns and supported by the Open Society Foundation.

Data on Chinese security activities in Africa are difficult to obtain. UN data on peace operations show a strong growth in Chinese contributions to UN peace operations in Africa since 2000. SIPRI data on transfers of major weapons show that China’s arms transfers have focused on a few large deliveries to 2–3 countries at a time (e.g. Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe in 2004-2008; and Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana in 2009–13) and have increased significantly since the early 2000s…. China’s arms sales to some  countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and Zimbabwe, have come under scrutiny from human rights advocacy groups and Western governments…

France has a long-term engagement in African security affairs, especially in the countries it previously colonized.…  France still retains significant military capacities in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a major contributor of troops and logistical support for military operations in Africa and a trainer of African military and security forces. Rather than renouncing its role as a key actor in Africa’s security, France has found alternative and more cost-effective ways to remain influential.

Russian security-related activities in sub-Saharan Africa seem to have intensified in recent
years. These include arms transfers, military training, peacekeeping and anti-piracy
operations, and are primarily undertaken in areas that developed strong links with the
Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s (i.e. the Horn of Africa and southern Africa).
However, there are also signs of intensified security relations with states across subSaharan Africa that have relations with Russian firms involved in mineral exploration and
exploitation.  Russia is the largest supplier of major weapons to sub-Saharan Africa apart from South Africa, accounting for 30 per cent of the total in 2009-2013.

British security activities in Africa have been placed within a security and development framework and pursued at arms length: the UK has provided training for African forces and support for security sector reform (SSR) and peacebuilding efforts, while committing few troops to peace operations.  The main exception to direct British military involvement in Africa during the 2000s is the UK’s bilateral intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, which involved a total of 2500 British troops, backed by a naval force. The UK has also participated in EU NAVFOR, the
multilateral anti-piracy operation that was launched under the auspices of the EU in 2008.
While the SSR agenda is relatively new, British involvement in training African armed
forces has been ongoing since the colonial era.

US policies  have included the initiation of counter-terrorism programmes in east Africa and the Sahel in 2001 and of maritime security programmes in east and west Africa during the 2000s; the establishment of a military base in Djibouti in 2002 and the gradual implementation since the early 2000s of a basing system providing access to African military facilities.  The increased US strategic view of Africa is reflected in the establishment in 2008 of AFRICOM, a separate unified military command for Africa,…

Excerpts from SECURITY ACTIVITIES OF EXTERNAL ACTORS IN AFRICA, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Nov. 25, 2014

Neocolonialism: the under-your-nose land grabs in the developing world

The farmers of Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, signed the contract with their thumbs. In exchange for promises of 2,000 jobs, and reassurances that the bolis (swamps where rice is grown) would not be drained, they approved a deal granting a Swiss company a 50-year lease on 40,000 hectares of land to grow biofuels for Europe. Three years later 50 new jobs exist, irrigation has damaged the bolis and such development as there has been has come “at the social, environmental and economic expense of local communities”, says Elisa Da Vià of Cornell University.

When deals like this first came to international attention in 2009, it was unclear whether they were “land grabs or development opportunities”, to quote a study published that year. Supporters claimed they would bring seeds, technology and capital to some of the world’s poorest lands. Critics, such as the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, dubbed them “neo-colonialist”. But no one had hard evidence to back up their claims. Now they do. Two years on, a conference at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex, the biggest of its kind so far, examined over 100 land deals. Most judgments are damning.*

Land grabs have been strikingly popular. Preliminary research by the International Land Coalition, a non-governmental organisation, reckons almost 80m hectares have been subject to some sort of negotiation with a foreign investor, more than half in Africa. This estimate is far higher than a previous one, by the World Bank, which last year said that foreign investors had expressed interest in 57m hectares…80m hectares is more than the area of farmland of Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined. And land deals are continuing, possibly even speeding up. Over a tenth of the farmland of South Sudan has been leased this year—even before the country has formally got its independence. GRAIN, an advocacy group, says it has seen proposals that would allow Saudi business groups to take control of 70% of the rice-growing area of Senegal.

It is not just the size of land deals that remains uncertain. Their contractual basis often is, too. Few contracts have been made public, so details are sketchy. But an investigation of 12 that have been, by Lorenzo Cotula of the International Institute for Environment and Development, declares many “not to be fit for purpose”. The rights and obligations of each side, Mr Cotula says, are usually extremely vague, while traditional land-use rights are frequently ignored. As one farmer asked when a British company acquired forestry rights in Tanzania: “How come others are selling our land?”

Even after the contract is signed, there is no guarantee a land deal will go ahead in accordance with it. A survey by the World Bank† showed that in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, only 16 of 46 projects were working as intended (the rest lay fallow or had been rented back to smallholders). In Mozambique only half the projects were working as planned.

Still, some conclusions seem warranted. When land deals were first proposed, they were said to offer the host countries four main benefits: more jobs, new technology, better infrastructure and extra tax revenues. None of these promises has been fulfilled.

Locals usually regard jobs as the most important of these. But so far they have been scarce, and only partly because many projects are not yet up and running. In Mozambique, the World Bank found, one project had promised 2,650 jobs and created a mere 35-40 full-time positions. A survey by Thea Hilhorst of 99 smaller projects in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger reported “hardly any” rural job creation. Only one of the publicly available contracts studied by Mr Cotula even specifies a number of new jobs to be created. And when there are jobs, foreign investors often bring in outsiders to staff them, leading to “conflict or accusations of cheating”, according to the World Bank. The manager of one project was killed during an argument about jobs.

Evidence of the transfer of technology and skills is mixed. Ms Hilhorst found almost no impetus towards greater professionalism in farming, although she concedes that closer links with food processors and distributors might improve matters. The World Bank’s study argued that technological improvements in Ukraine and Mexico had helped reduce rural out-migration (though this was surprising: you might have expected new labour-saving technologies to encourage underemployed farmers to leave the land). Mr Cotula’s study of land-deal contracts found few examples in which the foreign investor was obliged to exchange materials or ideas with local farmers. At the moment, land-grabbing foreigners seem to be creating islands for themselves, cut off from the poverty-stricken countryside.

Some projects’ operators have done better in building new schools, clinics and other “social infrastructure”. Madagascar may be a surprising example as it witnessed what is perhaps the most notorious land grab of all: a South Korean company was offered half the country’s arable land—a proposal that fuelled protests which eventually toppled the government who approved the deal…Most land deals contribute little or nothing to the public purse. Because markets for land are so ill-developed in Africa and governments so weak, rents are piffling: $2 per hectare per year in Ethiopia; $5 in Liberia. Tax and rent holidays are common. Indeed, it is not unusual for foreign investors to pay less tax than local smallholders. And upfront compensation to local farmers for use of their land is derisory: often just a few months of income for agreeing to a 100-year lease.

“The risks associated with such investments are immense,” concludes the World Bank. “In many cases public institutions were unable to cope with the surge in demand…Land acquisitions often deprived local people, in particular the vulnerable, of their rights…Consultations, if conducted at all, were superficial…and environmental and social safeguards were widely neglected.”

So why are land deals popular? That is surprisingly easy to answer: strong demand and willing suppliers. The big investors tend to be capital-exporting countries with large worries about feeding their own people. Their confidence in world markets has been shaken by two food-price spikes in four years. So they have sought to guarantee food supplies by buying farmland abroad. China is by far the largest investor, buying or leasing twice as much as anyone else.

Local elites have also played a vital role in spreading land deals. In a Tanzanian project described by Martina Locher of the University of Zurich, “local people who refer to customary law have a very low level of knowledge [and cannot] defend their land rights.” In contrast, she writes, “state law is mainly represented by district officials, who…enjoy a high level of respect by local people.”  Then there is corruption. Many of the west African “land grabbers” described by Ms Hilhorst are local politicians, civil servants and other urban elites who bribe local chiefs with gifts of motorbikes. Madeleine Fairbairn of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, argues that in Mozambique, an informal division of the spoils has emerged. Local bigwigs use their influence to get “facilitation fees”, while national leaders manipulate the law and promote (or obstruct) projects to their own and their supporters’ advantage.  Many development projects work this way. What makes land grabs unusual is their combination of high levels of corruption with low levels of benefit.

Excerpts, The surge in land deals: When others are grabbing their land, Economist, May 7, 2011, at 65