Scholar cautions against foreign aid for land acquisition

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WINDHOEK – Nigerian scholar Dr Joseph Okpaku has discouraged the current trend of getting foreign aid to resolve the land question in Africa, saying this external assistance should be treated as an interim measure. 

This was part of the recommendations Okpaku made when he gave a presentation on “Land Reform in Africa – Lessons for Namibia” at the Second National Land Conference in Windhoek this week.

For Namibia, he said, using the willing-seller, willing-buyer model is very expensive and will inevitably have a significant bearing on the country’s budget. “Namibia must identify, therefore, as many sources of money with which to buy land that it then transfers to the Africans. Africans beneficiaries, at least those who can do so, must find the money to establish ownership of such lands,” he suggested.

This, he says, is where donor institutions such as the World Bank, regional organisations such as the European Union, friendly nations such as China, nations involved in bringing about the Namibian experience such as Germany, well-meaning wealthy nations such as the Scandinavians, especially Norway, corporations and individuals, can come to the rescue.

He was quick to warn, however, that countries should treat this external assistance only as an interim measure. As part of the long-term solution, Okpaku recommends that the best strategy is to craft an agenda to make the utilisation of the restituted land so profitable that the returns will serve to drive Namibia’s long-term strategic development agenda. 
“This means agro-industrialisation driven by research and development, and a bold programme of entrepreneurship both aimed at building a sophisticated global Namibian value-added export,” advised the Nigerian scholar. 

Namibia being very rich in mineral resources, Okpaku said, concerted efforts should be made to have extensive discussions with mining and other major industrial companies operating in Namibia to establish relationships with the communities of their operation to set up corporate-type agreements by which the communities get royalties as well as modest equity share in such operations. 

He said strict control will have to be placed on the management of the funds generated so that they can serve as investment funds for growing a robust war chest to finance development programmes in the community, including, most importantly, education, training and social services.

He noted government can consider offering some tax incentive to the cooperating companies. 
“The demands of land redistribution should not just be seen as challenges, but possibly also as sources for innovative engagement. At the end of the day the overriding objective is to transform the Namibian socio-economy into something much larger than presently is. There are global issues such as global warming and [soil] erosion that will affect what returns Namibia will be able to gain from newly possessed land.”

“These should be addressed proactively and innovatively so as to turn such threats into advantage,” he further suggested.
As part of soft solutions to the land question, the Nigerian academic has proposed that Namibia implements ‘Willing giver, grateful taker’ concept instead of the current ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ principle that has not delivered the desired result and has been heavily criticised. The government at independence negotiated and introduced the policy of willing-buyer-willing-seller as a tool for redistribution of land, which was and remains in the hands of the white minority.

The acquisition of commercial agricultural land on the principle of willing-buyer-willing-seller depends on the willingness of commercial farmers to offer their land to government for sale.

However, Okpaku said using the willing-seller, willing-buyer model is very expensive and will inevitably have a significant bearing on the country’s budget.

He said the willing giver, grateful taker concept is different because it does not involve government finding the money to pay for such land. “What and how much can each side get from the other in return for what and how much? How much land are the white landowners willing give to the people and in return for what? As with the ongoing process, this willing giver, grateful taker process will require honest negotiations, with maximum generosity and goodwill, and maximum transparency,” he noted.