This is one of the many reasons why Americans should pay attention to Africa. Whether through a foreign aid and development approach, a military approach, or a business approach, the United States is pulling levers in countries all over the world. As citizens, it is often hard to know what is being done in our name by our government, or under our watch by our corporations.
Corporations, many based in the United States, have been grabbing so much land in South Sudan that by the date of independence for Southern Sudan, nearly 10% of the land was already in foreign hands. According to one of the new MPs, in referring to the years of bloodshed that won their independence, “At the rate we are losing land, soon there will be no where left to bury the dead.”
Land Giveaway in Southern Sudan
In March of 2008, Texas-and-Delaware-based Nile Trading and Development, Inc, purchased a 49-year lease on 600,000 hectares (about 1.5 million acres) of land in South Sudan, with the option of expanding that to 1 million hectares if they choose.
Included in this lease is pretty much everything. They have the right to all mineral development (mining, petroleum, etc), timber production, carbon offsets generated by tree farming, agriculture, biofuel plant production and on and on. The price tag for this incredible bounty? About $25,000 dollars. The price of a low-end Prius. For a forty-nine year lease on a piece of land larger than Delaware.
Who in South Sudan would enter into what seems like such an unfavorable deal? The Mukaya Payam Cooperative, supposedly led by a “Paramount Chief.” Unfortunately,
According to Sudan’s Agency for Independent Media (AIM), the Mukaya Payam Cooperative is a “fictitious cooperative” comprised of “a group of influential natives from Mukaya Payam and the neighboring payams (districts)…The influential natives leased out the land behind the backs of the entire community…”
The lease agreement between NTD and Mukaya Payam includes revenue sharing, starting at 60% of profits to the company and 40% to the cooperative, with a shift to 50/50 over time. But what does that mean if the Cooperative doesn’t actually exist?
Now you have, potentially, 1 million hectares of land taken out of smallholder agricultural production. Let’s say an average family in South Sudan could survive on what they produce from 1 hectare. That means one million families could be supported (albeit barely) by this same piece of land. Will that many families benefit from the revenue-sharing through the Cooperative?
I also don’t see any revenue-sharing structure with the government of South Sudan beyond paying taxes. If oil is discovered, which is not unlikely in this part of the world, it seems like the income generated will be shared by the Company and the Cooperative, and not by the government that is expected to provide services to its people.
Let’s Partner with Warlords Instead of Fake Cooperatives
New York-based Jarch Management entered into a joint venture with the son of General Paulino Matip, a Nuer warlord responsible for many of the atrocities we have heard about in South Sudan in the past two decades to buy up between one and two million acres in Sudan.
Led by Phillipe Heilberg, Jarch Management has been investing in Sudan for years, and seems to have made an intentional decision to “go with the guns” – ie. work through warlords rather than government entities.
South Sudan Land Deals are being Investigated
The way I see it, international corporations have taken advantage of the instability in Southern Sudan over the last ten years and have used their power to negotiate deals that will hamstring the nascent country for decades to come, separating the people from their resource base and making it even more difficult for the country to provide for its people.
Norwegian People’s Aid and other international rights groups are investigating these and other land deals. It may be that the new government could nullify some of the deals that were negotiated under the pre-independence administration.
Nile Trading and Development, Inc, is an affiliate of Kinyeti Development. Feel free to e-mail them and let them know you will be watching to make sure they give the people of South Sudan a fair shake.
You can contact the Jarch Management Group to let them know that you think they should now be sure to work through the legitimate government of South Sudan.
All land deals in South Sudan are supposed to involve consultation with the local people who will be affected. However, only two out of the last 28 have actually gone through that process.
Foreign investment can help move South Sudan and other countries along the development path if it is used for that purpose. Let’s make sure that our corporations keep that in mind when they negotiate deals around the world.
Mark D. Jordahl