The new scramble for Africa was triggered by a convergence of events: surging demand for biofuels, rising consumption patterns in China and India and the 2008 global food crisis, when the price of corn and wheat tripled, almost overnight. Responding to sudden hyperinflation, rioting and panic buying, at least 30 countries, including Argentina, Vietnam, Brazil, Cambodia and India, banned or sharply reduced food exports. In short order, Japan and South Korea, who import 70 per cent of their grains, joined a parade of countries turning to Africa to lock in means of production beyond their borders.
When it emerged that Daewoo, the South Korean giant, had signed a 99-year lease granting it close to half of Madagascar’s arable land, protests broke out in Antananarivo, the country’s capital, eventually sinking both the deal, and the president.
as Heilberg told the German magazine Der Spiegel after closing the deal in Darfur, “When food becomes scarce, the investor needs a weak state that does not force him to abide by any rules.” Sudan, a dictatorship ranked among the five most corrupt countries on the planet, certainly qualifies. Heilberg’s deal was approved by the deputy commander of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the official army of semi-autonomous southern Sudan. “This is Africa,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “The whole place is like one big mafia. I’m like a mafia head. That’s the way it works.”
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Some African intellectuals bridle at Western criticism of the play on Africa. “They’re here because we want them here,” says Teshome Gabre-Mariam, one of Ethiopia’s top lawyers. “We can’t ignore the development potential of this venture. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose.”
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