Mali and the Africa Land Grab

Mali and the Africa Land Grab

Sasha Ross: France wants to secure North Mali's rice fields as a food supply for Libya; part of land grabs taking place all over Africa -   February 25, 2013
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Mali and the Africa Land GrabPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Many people have been wondering, including me, just what's at stake for the French in Mali. Why take such a risk to get bogged down and mired in such a probable mess?

Now joining us to talk about what one of their motivations perhaps might be is Sasha Ross. He's a journalist with the Earth First! journal, focusing on biodiversity and international land-based struggles. He's currently editing an anthology on resistance to the global land-grab.

Thanks for joining us, Sasha.


JAY: So you have been writing about the issue of the French and the issue of land grab in Mali. What's the history of this?

ROSS: Well, of course, France was the colonial power in Mali for a long time, as well as in Libya and Chad. And so what we're seeing right now is almost a reenactment of a colonial war taking place here to stop what is effectively the independence movement of the Tuaregs from sweeping in and doing away with decades of oppression.

JAY: You've tied this to the issue of land grab. And, of course, it's not just the Tuaregs now. It's a pretty complicated situation in Mali, including various forces that are supposed to be al-Qaeda like or al-Qaeda connected. And then, what land is at stake for France?

ROSS: [snip] the connection between Libya and Mali. France got involved in Libya, chiefly because of oil, with the United States. And Libya, as a semi-peripheral country, was relying on a huge amount of land, roughly about 350 square miles of rice plantation, in order to have food security to feed their country. So what they did was they built a 20 mile canal going out of the Niger River to irrigate this huge rice plantation.

JAY: This is in Mali.

ROSS: In Mali. Exactly.

JAY: Yeah. So the point here is the Libyans were using—were developing this rice plantation in Mali, and now the French want it. Is that what's at stake?

ROSS: Well, the French need to maintain food security for Libya in order to maintain the business relationships that they're building currently, using Libya as a kind of proxy for the periphery. And so Libya needs food security from Mali in order to continue to produce oil effectively and stave off revolution in that country. So this is kind of a supply chain of colonialism.

JAY: And is there any reason to think if the Tuaregs had more sovereignty they would threaten those Libyan rice plantations?

ROSS: Well, for sure, because climate change is just slamming the Sahel right now. They're in a very, very long drought. And so, traditionally, most of Mali is subsistence farming.

And the important thing to really talk about is that it isn't just the Tuareg, it isn't just al-Qaeda. I's a mixture of those two, but it's also a kind of a revolutionary sentiment sweeping through the country because of the fact that climate change is really changing the way that people are able to farm and produce for themselves. And the Malibya Canal, the canal that the Libyans dug with Chinese contractors, totally circumventing the former colonial masters, the French, has a lot to do with kind of draining off and syphoning out the most important human right of water from the Malian people.

JAY: And this is, as you said, to provide food for Libya. So in theory the people from Mali would prefer to keep the water in Mali 'cause there's so little of it.

ROSS: Well, yes. The drought is really terrible.

And it's not just about Mali. In this case, Mali is kind of a sparkplug for the entire African continent. There was actually a meeting there in 2011 that La Via Campesina put together and hosted of land-based movement of farming peoples who are coming together and trying to figure out how to stop so many land grabs from basically dispossessing small farmers and establishing export crops, namely for food security and for luxury items such as biofuels.

JAY: All over Africa, not just in Mali.

ROSS: Yes, yes.

JAY: What are some of the examples of some of the bigger land grabs? I know we've done some interviews on this subject. Land grabs is almost right up there with biofuels as a factor that's creating another food crisis.

ROSS: Well, actually, it's going on side by side with the biofuel boom. So actually a lot of investors left the United States during the housing crisis of 2008, which was exactly the same time as a real sort of food price crisis, 2007, 2008, and they sunk their money into agriculture in Africa. So, say, JPMorgan, for example, is a huge investor in the land grabs that are taking place in Africa.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Sasha.

ROSS: Okay. No problem.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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