December 27th, 2010
03:25 PM GMT
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The somewhat arbitrary dividing up of Africa between the European powers during the "Scramble for Africa" in the early part of the 20th century is still a sensitive issue for many on the continent. The sensitivities around the colonial divisions that created modern Africa are still manipulated for political gain in many African countries.

The issue of "land" and who is the "rightful owner" of African land has been a politically expedient tool in Zimbabwe in the past decade. Here in South Africa, the debate about the "redistribution" of land to black South Africans is a hot potato that is likely to become hotter in the years to come.

So then, why are the Tanzanians leasing tracts of arable farmland to the South Koreans?

I recently interviewed Aloyce Masanja, the head of the Rufiji River Basin Authority a public enterprise, in Tanzania which has recently signed an agreement with the South Korean government to "jointly develop" some of the land to the west of the Dar es Salaam.

This is not the first time foreign nations, lacking in wide-open spaces, have essentially farmed food in Africa and then exported it home. But I was keen to get an understanding of what was driving this relationship.

Mr Masanja is a dapper, enthusiastic advocate of "development" in the rural areas of Tanzania. He feels strongly that if peasant farmers are not producing enough on their farmlands then that land should not be left idle or underdeveloped.

That said, he was reluctant to admit that the South Koreans would be sending the rice from the Tanzanian rice paddies back home, but eventually he did concede that when there was an "excess" of food that the South Koreans would be allowed to export the food back to Asia.

Masanja was, though, at pains to stress that the South Koreans had been contracted to uplift and educate local farmers in the process of planting their own rice paddies in Africa.

So my question this week: What’s in it for the Koreans? What is in it for the Tanzanians? Is this new form of land development another form of colonial exploitation? Or are the Africans wiser this time around?

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