Kenya hosted a high level forum on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) early this month.
The country co-hosted the event with the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) and the Continental Land Policy Initiative (LPI) consortium of the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank.
The phenomenon of foreign land acquisitions mainly for food and biofuels for energy production shot up. Most of these acquisitions have been largely aimed at Asia, Latin America and Africa. But over 75 per cent of them occur in Africa. Negotiations for such acquisitions could happen at different levels including Head of State, Central Government, Local Government or even communal.
The acquisitions are focused on private, public or communal land interests. Such land may be obtained as a freehold or leasehold.
Unfortunately, negotiations for these acquisitions have been invariably highly skewed against African governments and communities. Citizens have woken up to the rude reality of large tracts of public or communal land sold out or leased to foreigners for long periods without demonstrable benefits.
The food and biofuels produced are shipped out. Jobs are taken up by foreigners.
Mitigating environmental degradation may not be taken at all. People have been displaced or dispossessed with no or insufficient compensation for their land rights.
Communities have also lost access to natural resources like salt licks, forests, lakes and rivers.
FDIs in land are healthy for Africa which badly needs foreign technology and finance to harness its large swathes of underused land.
But many African governments lack the capacity to successfully undertake the required negotiations. While investors arrive with competent lawyers, land economists and investment negotiators, many African governments cannot cope.
This is why the attention accorded this matter is most welcome.
It’s expected that such forums will help to develop clear guidelines to help African governments to deliver win-win contracts from such negotiations in future.
The negotiations should be guided by adequate consultations with the leadership at national, local or communal level.
The land rights and access to natural resources by the people or community affected should be protected.
Displacements of people should be best avoided and, where absolutely necessary, land for alternative settlement should be identified and communities assisted in relocating. Basic facilities in the new location should be provided.
Necessary and adequate compensation for appropriated private or communal land rights should be ensured too.
These investments should benefit the investors and the local people.
There should be transfer of technological skills to citizens. As much as possible, freehold and disproportionately long leasehold interests should be avoided. Land should be leased for reasonable terms to ensure adequate returns from investments.
The investment proposals should be accompanied by sufficient environmental mitigation measures where applicable.
Kenya, which has been recently attracting foreign land acquisitions particularly near Lake Victoria, along the Tana River Delta and the Coast Region among others, must try to put in place some negotiation team for such concessions in good time.