Fr. Norbert Angibaud
EXPROPRIATION OF THE LAND OF INDIGENOUS POPULATIONS IN
DEVELOPMENT OF THE AFRICAN COUNTRIES
OR DEVELOPMENT OF INDUSTRIALISED COUNTRIES ?
The JPIC Commission of the Archdiocese of Beira (Mozambique) is composed of 5 members working full time (2 men, 2 women, and myself).
The people have many preoccupations nowadays: The human trafficking, the problem of timber and charcoal (deforestation), the domestic violence, the market opening up to all kinds of products, and the great problem of actuality: the grabbing of the land.
Every day, the media speaks of "conflicts" of the land. More and more people are conscious of what is happening and the consequences of it, because this problem affects them in their daily life. Our objective is to accompany them in their difficulties and see what is possible to do.
About 1/7th of the land is already sold, and in many cases, to multinationals and foreign companies; some of the investors are nationals who have already a good position in the society. The reasons are various:
First of all, after the peace agreements in 1992, the agricultural sector has been neglected and left to investors from outside;
Secondly, the foreigners are interested in agro-fuel (biofuel or biodiesel), and for that reason they need enough productive lands to make plantations of relevant plants (especially the "jatropha"): they represent the majority;
Thirdly, some want to produce food to supply their countries in need.
Those investors from outside are mainly people from de European Union, Brazil, South Africa, Asiatic Countries...
Those companies and multinationals very often will apply for a minimum of 15 000 hectares of land. Normally to acquire a piece of land, one should consult the local communities beforehand (as foreseen by the Law of the Land; but the first ones to violate the Law are those who made it). Very often, people find their fields expropriated by somebody else who comes with an ownership document from town proving that he has bought it (and as a matter of fact, in Mozambique the land is a property of the State and cannot be sold or bought). People would like to know the program of the new comers, what they want to cultivate. As well they reproach them of not bothering about the Law of work.
Another sad reality is that these investors do not respect the local people who are very often treated like humans of second category (Some people have been beaten up and whipped, just like animals or even worse: it goes against the n.5 of the Human Rights statements ).
And the main complaint is that the foreigners (individuals, companies and multinationals) are seizing their lands and not just any another land, but the richer farming fields of the locals.
All this raises a few questions:
- What kind of development do our rulers want? Is it really about our development or is it just about their own development? What will happen if these individuals, companies and multinationals go away? The future is uncertain...
- The people have very little involvement: will they learn something for the future when they will be on their own? Are the new masters of the land interested in teaching them to cultivate differently? Are they interested in the good of the people? Or is it all about their own interest? Even people from the government try to convince the people that they will benefit from the many infrastructures: schools, hospitals, roads, markets, water supplies... Only that very often, it is nothing more than empty promises! Who can "develop" somebody if this one is not involved in the process? It is not possible to count only on the others.
- They promised a lot of employment, but they come with heavy machines, so that there is no need to employ the local people. The problem of the people is not solved.
- The right to the land is sacred. It is guaranteed by the Human Rights. Can the rulers decide on their own? They know too well that the people don't know their rights. We have a lot to do about that.
- We are going towards a new form of colonialism: the land belong to masters who have taken it by force. The owners of the land are from outside and that they have received the ownership entitlement of the land by the local governments which have dispossessed it illegally from their own people; it is a new alienation. Just a few people of the country decide alone what to do with the only richness that the people have.
- This situation is in favour of making the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Who is creating the poverty? It does not seem that the economy is at the service of the human person, but the human person at the service of the economy.
- The food security is at stake: there will be more and more hunger.
- Another risk is the pollution of the waters (pesticides, fertilizers, chemical products ... all that will go to the rivers). The environment is damaged (destruction of ecosystems, degradation of soils, pollution of water, exhaustion of the water springs...).
- Transparency is very deficient: many things are kept secret: "They know better". Now the people do not accept this argument. They need more information, and want to participate in the decision making.
We try to visit all the parishes of the diocese (34), with a special attention for those more involved with this problem. We talked already with the officials dealing with this problem, but the answer is always the same: "The decisions are coming from the top; we are just executing them". When we organise a session, we invite the representatives of the government and we go and talk with those working in the offices. With this, at least they know that the people as well see, talk and reflect about what is going on. Even some of the peasants try to divulge the laws, so that all know their rights, but it is at their own risks. We use as well the diocesan radio station to diffuse the message across the province (which corresponds to the diocese); and now we have prepare all the material (in Portuguese and in Sena) to divulge on the radio stations of the communities (in 4 places). When we go in the field, we are accompanied by a layer who is part of the team.
We feel strengthened by the last African synod whereby the synod fathers have talked the issue expressing their preoccupation with the problem of the Land and the Water (cf. n° 30; see as well n° 17, 29)
What are the lessons that we can learn?
- The people can't continue ignoring the laws: they have to divulge among themselves. But first, we have to help them to know the laws.
- People have to learn to cultivate differently, not only on the bases of subsistence, but also for commercial purposes; because they need a certain number of things to live a decent life: schools fees, medicine, clothes, food...
- People have to organize themselves in associations or cooperatives. To defend the land is one thing, but to make it productive is another. People must know how they want to use the land and make it productive.
- How to manage their own crops? To assure the food until next harvest..., to guarantee food security.
Every one has to work to improve this world, for a better quality of life. ..This means being faithful to the word of God in Genesis 1: taking care of the creation, to make it produce for the good of human beings.
Fr. Norbert Angibaud