Dear President Obama:
Thank you for announcing an unprecedented multi-sectoral commitment to fight hunger in Africa –the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. You are bold for keeping these issues on the global radar screen because people actually pay attention to you (and Bono).
I saw my friends in Geneva at the World Health Assembly this week. Friends like Ruth Oniang’o, a fierce advocate for food security and former Kenyan Parlimentarian, Shawn Baker with Helen Keller International and others who are in the villages of Africa. They are rolling up their sleeves, supporting mothers and children, and trying to make a difference. Their heart and head are in the right place. You should meet them. I think you would like them.
The point of this letter is that on Friday, at the Chicago Council’s Symposium, there was an elephant in the room and it went ignored. I raise it in this letter because we have to do right by the very people we are committed to helping. As my friend Ruth says: Africa is our mother and we shouldn’t hurt her. In this letter, I’m protecting my mother.
Three words: AFRICA’S LAND GRAB.
We are seeing massive land grabs where leaders of African countries, including some who are part of the New Alliance, are making very profitable deals with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, India and South Korea, and signing off long-term rights to their own land. China and India, for example, need this land for food for their own growing populations. They also need this land to extract and mine for natural resources to feed domestic industrial and economic growth.
As these deals are made, there is little to no requirement for the “Chinas” of the world to re-invest in, support, give jobs to and help feed the very communities they are going to mine. Land grabbing has already resulted in millions of people being displaced, civil unrest and more poverty.
I could say shame on the countries exploiting Africa’s land with no commitment to re-invest or give back and I would be in the right. After all, when you go to someone’s house and eat at their table, shouldn’t you bring a host gift and offer to help with the dishes? I could also be critical of African
leaders who are making these deals, and would also be in the right. Aren’t they supposed to protect their country and people?
But, I won’t hate on anyone for now. It’s not productive to rant and whine about the injustice of it all, besides you have enough people complaining to you on a daily basis.
Here’s what I ask: Please raise your serious concerns about the African land grab and encourage that land deals be made in accordance with the new UN guidelines.
African leaders need to know that if they want to benefit from the New Alliance’s support, investment and advocacy, their bad deal making will be scrutinized. You’ve got to let them know that what you said about accountability and transparency will stick. In business those two words have a lot of weight. You said that this is also the case for the New Alliance. Let’s ensure African political leaders make good on your call to action.
Thanks for hearing me out.