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?



soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Manuel Vilhena

    Very interesting. A win win situation, both for South Korea and Tanzania.

    December 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  2. aqoonyahan

    We (Africans) need such a kinda cooperations. The west exploited, take all the resources and abundaned physically but politically not. Its time we check matters with the Chines/korean and Arabs...Am sure it will be better if they stop interefering.

    December 29, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  3. VS

    At the end of situation, this won't be a win win situation: only people in Tanzanian government will earn something and not the people of Tanzania! Government in these small countries will do anything to get something in their pocket.

    December 30, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  4. africaunite

    Tanzania is leasing out land for farming development, they shall gain more by leasing it all out rather than allowing westerners to benefit from it, the westerners simply took and took, here both are gaining, Korea plans to train the Tanzanians on better farming methods, what did the westerners who owned farm land in Africa teach??? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, there was a case of shooting by the Delamere grandson in kenya, which shows the cruelty of westerners on africans.

    December 30, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  5. Selorm Gbesemete

    exportation wont be a major issue only if authorities ensure theres food security. often times, agreements on paper appear to be nice but the commitment to follow through is lacking. i urge authorities to do a better job.

    December 30, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  6. pardon?

    Africaunite, you said what?? Lol, it's the other way around. How exactly are westerners cruel on africans?! By giving them aid, benefits when they come to live in Europe or the USA, free houses and help them go to school and uni, get a job? There might have been this ONE case of shooting ONE person, but facts are clear about who's far more agressive and violent! U just can't stop biting the hand that's feeding u, can you?!

    December 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  7. gogo

    Looking at this issue pragmatically it makes perfect sense. The main issue to be considered is whether rural dwellers in Tanzania and other African countries can effectively and efficiently leverage on the productive capabilities of the arable land at their disposal. If the answer is no then clearly it is a waste of an extremely valuable productive resource to leave it fallow or (at best) productive on a subsistence scale. It is a well known fact that countries in Africa import considerable quantities of foods stuffs (both raw produce and processed foods) as a result of the underdevelopment of their agricultural and industrial sectors. The introduction of this sort of Public Private Partnership will have the following positive effects. It will:

    1. Boost employment opportunities for rural dwellers
    2. Encourage steady Inflows of FDI into the economy (not just agricultural but also food processing etc.)
    3. Facilitate the transfer of modern productive techniques and technologies
    4. Lead to the transfer of Skills and knowledge which in turn will lead to increases in the earning capacity of rural dwellers and thus positively impact on their standard of living
    5. Contribute to towards infrastructural development of rural areas as amenities such as bore holes, pipe borne water, electrification, access roads etc.
    6. Potentially lead to more partnerships in other areas of the economy.

    As to whether or not it constitutes a form of neo colonialism. I believe the suggestion is a little absurd. the era of colonialism in Africa nd else where was characterized by the systematic looting and stripping of colony resources by colonial masters who took the raw materials back home and converted these into processed goods. It was a one sided arrangement with all the benefits flowing one way and the cost the other.

    Under PPP arrangements, costs and benefits flow both ways. I consider the arrangement to be admirable and hope to see more of such.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  8. gogo

    On a separate note, it must be said that Africans look to their governments for too much. Be it good roads, electricity, water, etc. In the East and the West, the private sector has played a substantial role in the development of the leading nations. The true role of government should be to provide and enabling environment. This can be achieved through public private partnerships. I believe that it is unreasonable for people to expect Government to do everything which is the case in most African nations where the majority of the citizenry sit back with open palms waiting for a hand out. Using the example of the Nigerian telecommunications industry we can see the benefits derivable when government lays the proper foundation and then invites qualified local or international private firms to participate in the development of key sectors of the economy.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  9. maua

    we are watching a new colonialism. From developed countries exploiting Africans who have never been engaged in a modern word, in business world, in negotiation of any kind. Our not well educated leaders, who are missing true love to their countries and people. Who even have no clue for the blacks pride of their existence, no shame, no commitment, no direction of their own self.
    All what they care is how big their pocket book becomes.
    Tanzania will and about to face many land and mineral dispute than whats going on now in Zimbabwe. We have people in the Government without proper education, I dont know where our Parliament is.
    In the 21STC, Its big embarasement. This is illegal and should be stoped.
    As if all the heads of the coutry are sleeping.

    December 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  10. maua

    The government of Tanzania should and must invest in its own people. government should not make these decision without consulting their own people. they should be partnership of the people from this areas with the southern Korea. If the land belongs to the people then Goverment should have no authority to manipulate the poor villages.
    I urge the government to re visit this issue and examine aall over again.
    How many well educated people are there in Tanzania who can farm and benefit from this. When will the government honor, and respect their well educated people in the country. Being a minister with high pay should not guarantee oppression of others. as a minister chosen by the people, when provided with such an agenda, you should sit down and think how to avoid foreign reap . Instead call up your colleagues and discuss the issue and come up with a better alternative for your own people.
    How much money have you personally pocketed out of this or your children given a chance of travel or other bribery FYI.

    December 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  11. ksugar

    with food insecurity a critical issue in Africa, this is nothing more than agro imperialism. this is happening in other African countries and the land is being leased or developed cheaply, and without regard for long range food security concerns.

    December 31, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  12. afropersimist

    I say NO NO NO .... who is the leader of tanzania? Mr President this is exploitative colonialism

    December 31, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  13. ArbuthnotLG

    What black Africans need to do is to create investment-friendly societies. Places where business can make money. That is all China has done. Western governments cannot force business to put money in countries they do not wish to go to. Western, largely American capital and technology has made China rich in 20years. American businessmen have done this notwithstanding China’s open ambition to eclipse the US’ military power. Money is not racist. In the last 25years, hundreds of millions of people in Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Chile and many others have made tremendous economic progress as a result of development assistance. China and India have re-defined themselves as new economic powerhouses. China has become rich supplying the world with a large, docile workforce. Workers earning just the very “dollar a day” used as a yardstick of poverty.
    The people who run most black African countries do not need a prosperous National economy for their own prosperity. They are neither business people nor salaried employees (in the real sense) of anybody. They are not mortgage-paying types or shareholding types to who the finer indices of the economy are of great concern. They are simple thieves who cream off large chunks of the national budget every year and share what they will with whom they choose. Sadly, they are cheered on by almost everybody. Those who disagree are too few to make a difference. Of those who appear to disagree, most of these too merely seek an opportunity to steal. They want public office. And they want it now ! Since the well-documented robbery of the past is lionised, there is naturally, a great, irresistible incentive for others to follow.
    Most black Africans are immersed in bucolic ignorance. The world is more familiar with those South Africans who believe that forced intercourse with babies will somehow cure HIV. But this is even less horrific belief than ritual murder. He has given the first official confirmation of this horror of horrors that black African societies try to sweep under the carpet. The consumption of human blood etc breeds so much insecurity and is bad for business. Manufacturing plants can not work three shifts if people are terrified of walking the streets.
    Sadly, this is exactly how the nefarious characters who muscle their way into political office want things to remain. An eerie darkness engulfs he city of Lagos at night. It is the largest concentration of black people in the world. It has precious few working street lights. Like almost everywhere in black Africa, it is the kidnapper and occult-murderers’ delight. In such environments superstition and heinous crimes hold dangerous sway. This, is not good for business.
    Where chaos and ritual murder reign, all evil appetites range unchecked and backwardness is king.

    January 1, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  14. PAUL AMOS

    This is just a way back of new colonialism in Africa with new shape, its amazing.

    January 2, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  15. Friend of Africa

    Tanzania is not the first in Africa...there are many other countries engaging in this same rising practice. Why? Experts in China, India, Arab nations believe that they may face a shortage of food, notions fueled by the recent (2007/08) dramatic rise in food prices. Learning from that, countries capable of expanding are doing just that...by moving into Africa for food production NOT food purchase. Meanwhile, African politicians have called this FDI, and sold it to its people as "successfully attracting investment." While that is true to some extent, it is not true entirely since these nations are producing food to be exported directly and entirely back to thier people. yes, some africans will be trained and employment created, but perhaps the training and employment and the gains would have been so much greater if these nations were producing the food and selling it to these nations. The reason the politicians have been unable to do so is becuase the leaders failed to invest in thier people first. Without investment in human resources, infrastructure and services, the returns from the land to the producers are low such that running into urban areas for temporary jobs or laboring in the middle east is paying higher than what an entire family can earn from farming. Without access to finance, good extension services, non-exploitative input suppliers, and strong marketing, dedicated rural farmers have been unable to do what they dream and desire: make farming an enviable profession. African Governments, instead of using thier positions to sort out these roadblocks, have taken the easy path out. It is an outrageous shame to give up on one's own people.

    January 3, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  16. Concerned Westerner

    Wow. I can't believe this is actually taking place. I have a great love for Africa and have always felt that there is so much there that can really empowere and enrich African nations and citizens. However, as with the commonly called "brain drain" in Africa, arrangements like this do a lot for the countries on one side of the deal and very little for Africans. It would be nice to see African politicians who have an immense faith in its people and its resources so that Africa/Africans can finally benefit from all that continent has to offer instead of offering it up in a silver platter to other nations.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  17. Ted

    What do you mean by this?

    Or are the Africans wiser this time around?

    January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  18. africaunite

    @PARDON dont forget, the west may be giving aid to africa, they're doing no good, the west is not holding them accountable for wrong action, it reminds me of what western countries are doing to native people, like in ausi the govt aids the native people there at the same time the whole system of aid is designed in such a way that they are always drug addicted, imagine the govt gives the natives money as benefits, they then use that money at the LCBO to buy booze, why the govt itself designed it that way, the same way the west has "aided them" with such evil plans and no wonder nothing good is coming out, what is the point of the west helping africans in the US when the african americans and native americans are oppressed who are u trying to lie to you freaking hypocrites, useless white pie holes

    January 11, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  19. pardon?

    There's a saying which goes thus: "Don't blame the one giving but the one taking." Absolutely true! African Americans are oppressed???? Ha ha, seems like u never made it to the 21st century. My respect, if is so much better for you withOUT this aid, then stop receiving it and we'll see how you will manage. As for your last few words... I will leave that without any comment. Racisim is a terrible thing so you need to drop it!

    January 12, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  20. sarah

    That's terrible.its nt like they ever bother 2 ask ppl wat they want.the people are starving and suffering bt they still lease lands which would be if the money would be going back into the community @gogo African ask for 2 much?!these politicians make promises about restoring water and electricity e.t.c bt they never go through with it.i expect that if i vote because of their policy they should at least stick with it!partnership would be good if they wont cheat the public.

    January 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  21. Oromo

    While african children starve, the dictaters in africa sells the food.I dont see how africans countries benefit anything from leasing their land to china, india, korea...etc. it is just EXPLOITATION.

    January 24, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  22. Keri

    A bad idea – bad for Tanzania and bad for Africa if this becomes a common occurrence.

    [Mr. Masanja] “feels strongly that if peasant farmers are not producing enough on their farmlands then that land should not be left idle or underdeveloped.”

    Well here's an idea – what about TRAINING peasant farmers to produce more on their farmlands, so that the people of Tanzania benefit from the extra food that is grown? With guidance, training and some investment they could produce enough food not only to feed the country but also to export, thus earning Tanzania foreign currency.

    I'm interested to know how Koreans are going to grow RICE in Tanzania? Rice needs A LOT OF WATER to grow, so where is the extra water going to come from? Are the rains guaranteed to supply enough water, or is it going to have to be got from elsewhere? Are water supplies going to be diverted in order to feed the rice crop? Will Tanzanian farmers find that there isn’t enough water for them to grow their own crops because much of it will be used by the Koreans to grow rice?

    Rice crops require pesticides and other chemicals, so what about pollution? How is that going to be dealt with? What will happen to the lands once the soil has become exhausted from over-cultivation by a mono-crop? There are many issues about what will happen to the land during and after the Koreans have finished using it.

    Finally, there's the subject of money. Who in Tanzania will benefit from the money paid by the Koreans for allowing them to farm on Tanzanian land? The ordinary people? Or the political elite?

    So many questions, and yet so little care and thought has been given to this proposal it seems to me.

    January 30, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  23. Maurice Marshalls

    Unfortunately this is NOT a win win deal but insanity. Agriculture is still a backbone of most of the Africans countries not alone Tanzania in this case. Leasing, ,selling or any form of transfer of land to outsiders its not acceptable. Famine and hunger is a common place in most of developing countries attributed to lack of rain and blar blar blar . How can you explain the locals die out of hunger and then a foreigner investor use the "leased " piece of land and produce food from your own backyard and feed it's populace and then resell the surplus back to the Africans for higher price. When will this insanity end? Wouldn't it be fair in another exchange, South Koreans in this respect being advanced in technology would instead exchange the-know how with their counterparts to further the main back bone (agriculture ) which would be more advantageous to the developing country.

    January 31, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  24. KARIGU felllie

    I hope Kenya has not leased their land to foreigners. I do not think it is a good idea. It reminded me of another story which came from BBC that Chinese in Zimbabwe have come in to business of breeding chicken. They now sell in
    the Market and the locals cannot do this business anymore because the chinese ones are much cheaper.A local
    citizen will die of hunger if this type of thing is allowed.We should protect our land from foreigners, unless they have acquired citizenship and remain in our country. So sad how African leaders do things without consulting the people who elected them. African have a good number of educated people who can do farming if given guidance,training etc.
    Please do not let our land go to foreigners for whatever reason. Concerned African.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  25. Anslem E

    Why do they need to lease the land? .... very dangerous situation. what if in the future, African Govt wished to terminate the leases and reclaim the land?. The land grabbers have thought of that... has the African thought of that? do you see foreign forces coming to protect their source of food in the name of "national security" ... We have already been conditioned to accept foreign Naval troops on the coast of Somalia to protect their shipments and even arrest and prosecute them on home courts. Africans should just find another planet this one is run by Viruses

    February 19, 2011 at 6:27 am |
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  27. Moupegetbouro

    I do not agree ...

    November 30, 2012 at 3:53 am |

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