MCC Land Grab – Sri Lanka must learn from Africa’s land take over
The white man landed in Africa and set up his own systems to rule and divide Africa to plunder. Ironically the same countries are now fine tuning the very laws they set into motion to facilitate a new wave of plunder. However, in most of Africa customary land laws prevail and is probably one saving factor for Africa which unfortunately is not the case for Sri Lanka. What we need to take stock of is the modus operandi that these global land grabbers are today applying to Sri Lanka and mobilize ourselves to ensure not an inch of Sri Lanka’s land is illegally taken from us by legally tweaking the laws & arm-twisting officials. Let us not forget the future wars will be for water & food! Nearly half of MCC’s overall budget of US$6.8 billion supports what it calls “market-based solutions to food security”.
Some of the investments on the pipeline across Africa questions how far of these supposedly development projects are beneficial to the locals & to the future environment of these countries. UN World Bank & a host of other international agencies are partners in this crime to grab land by re-writing laws, registering titles to enable quicker sale, setting up satellite mapping and cadastral systems to facilitate foreign investors.
What is the MCC?
Millennium Challenge Corporation is a US govt agency created by the US government in January 2004 supported by both Republicans & Democrats. Since 2004, US has invested more than $13b on programs under MCC worldwide. MCC was to replace what USAID had been tasked to do but with a corporate twist & with USAID also involved. MCC programs are akin to IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs for every grant (not loan) is dependent on conditions committed by a host country & presented as a carrot. Countries are supposed to feel elated that they have ‘passed’ MCC scorecard for selection after which US consultants fly to the country & point out areas where ‘liberalization’ needs to take place
Though MCC is a govt aid agency its CEO is often a private business individual but with previous links to govt. USAID and US Trade Representative also sit on the board.
US Secretary of State is the Chairman of MCC while the US Secretary of Treasury is the Vice Chairman.
Thus the MCC is a collaboration of US Govt together with US corporates using foreign aid to enter developing countries using the tool of development.
MCC CEO John Danilovich was U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica from 2001 to 2004 & US Ambassador to Brazil
MCC CEO Daniel W. Yohannes served as US ambassador to OECD from 2014-2017
Cynthia Huger functioning as CEO of MCC from January 2019 following departure of Jonathan Nash
The grants provided claims to help a range of development initiatives for developing countries but also ‘enhances American interests’.
The grants are dependent on countries meeting 20 ‘independent’ & ‘transparent policy indicators.
Countries are supposed to identify their priorities which begs to answer who in Sri Lanka defined Sri Lanka’s priorities & how transparent & independent these formulations were.
The implementation of compact grants is to give a sum of money & get the local government to make all the necessary changes within the country aligned of course to ‘America’s interests’.
The Compact grants are for 5 years while the Threshold programs are smaller grants for institutional reform in countries.
Since 2004 the MCC has signed 33 grant agreements, known as compacts, with 29 countries spending $12billlion
MCC land projects clearly mean commodifying Africa’s land & opening them for American agribusiness (seen in MCC projects in Mali, Ghana, Mozambique & Benin)
Madagascar – was the first country to sign with MCC. MCC grant terminated in May 2009 due to military coup
Honduras – MCC grant terminated in Sept 2009 due to change of govt
Nicaragua – MCC grant terminated in June 2009 when Sandinistas came to power
Mali – awarded MCC grant of $461 million – US ‘interest’ linked to Mali’s 2 major assets – Niger River (irrigation agriculture) & Bamako-Senou International airport. Mali compact, put on operational hold in March 2012 after a military coup, compact was terminated in August 2012.
Sri Lanka – $450 million on an ‘economic corridor’ for 200 years for a compact grant of $450m (increased to $480m) targeting Sri Lanka’s land, infrastructure,
Armenia could not qualify for the Millennium Challenges Corporation grants because MCC provides assistance to countries with low and lower-middle-income economies.
1 July 2018 World Bank declared Armenia is a country with upper-middle-income economy
WORLD BANK HAS CLASSIFIED SRI LANKA AS A UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS ECONOMY TOO… WHICH MEANS MCC CANNOT GRANT SRI LANKA.
Sri Lanka must learn lessons from Madagascar
Madagascar became the 1st country to launch MCC compacts. Agriculture & land titling was the focus. Madagascar has a history of about 2000 years and a population of 24.4million people. The Portuguese landed in 1500 and France, Germany & Britian have held power over until full independence came in 1960.
MCC began proposals to decentralize Madagascar’s agriland. It was in December 2008 that the natives of Madagascar learnt from the media that their government which had been using MCC funds to allocate land certificates to thousands of citizens were SELLING LAND to foreign investors via the revised National Land Program (isn’t this what the UNP Govt plans to do via the Land Privatization Bill?) 1.3million hectares of land had been given to a Korean company Daewoo Logistics and certificates were given to Madagascar land owners on the condition that they would make their land available to an Indian company Varun. The Madagascar government was negotiating giving 3m hectares of land to foreign investors on a 99 year lease. These 2 scenarios are most likely to happen to Sri Lankans newly given title deeds to privatized state land.
The anger of the Madagascar people as a result of the Daewoo sale leaving their farmers destitute ended up in a coup in 2009. MCC cancelled its project & departed. This is no different to the 200year Economic Corridor with electric fence from Colombo Port to Trinco Port proposed by MCC.
The next example is Mali which commenced in 2006 with a $461m compact grant – US ‘interest’ was in Mali’s 2 major assets – Niger River & Bamako-Senou International Airport. MCC Mali has taken over some 20,000 hectares of land – the most important irrigated land in Mali to foreign investors which is an extraterritorial zone putting its own land management & laws. Eventually the people of Mali who want to irrigate land have to buy land from the MCC compact foreign investors and loans given to settle in 20 years. So what has happened is foreigners have bought over Mali land and agree to sell off land to the natives obviously at a higher price! Those unwilling to buy land will eventually have no land, no livelihood & no place to live!
US firms are teaching the people of Mali how to grow agriculture! So many countries have arrived to irrigate in Mali and the farmers of Mali are struggling to survive & even tap resources like water which the foreign investors are taking preferential control over. Mali’s compact was put on operational hold in March 2012 following a military coup and was terminated in August 2012.
Pineapple production was the focus of MCC Ghana and demanded changes to land management. The government signed a Roadmap which used satellite technology to map & delimit the zone thereafter the Ministry of Land in Ghana declared ‘compulsory Title Registration Area’ the first such in Ghana. In September 2009 – 100 land titles were given all with intent to take over Ghana’s pineapple plantations.
Multinational company Stewart International (title insurance & mortgage service company) desired to commodify Benin’s as well as provide technology for land record systems & selling title insurance (Sri Lanka’s MCC proposes a Land Bank computerized system) Foreign investors buying in developing countries want title insurance to protect their investments in instances of competing claims to land ownership or rights to property (as was seen in Madagascar MCC where the Govt sold the same lands for which they gave title deeds to their farmers)
A 2016 World Bank Policy Research Working paper declares that 45-75% of wealth in developing nations is made up of land & real estate which has been inaccessible to global capital. Stewart International & similar foreign entities are now planning to through MCC create a ‘global real estate market’ accessible by computer! One click is all that is required for foreigners to grab any piece of land or property in a developing country under MCC compact.
Another interesting feature is that it is US companies that are doing all the proposals for countries hired by MCC – Chemonics & International Land Systems compiled the Mozambique government’s land proposal. CDM did the land proposal for Mali. Stewart International did Benin’s land proposal. The MCC hands a grant but US companies set the stage for the grabbing of land and this is what must scare Sri Lanka in looking at how and what took place under MCC compact in Africa.
With Africa’s leader no less corrupt than Sri Lanka’s it is no surprise that only a handful of politicians are coming out publicly to warn the people of the likely outcome.
One major hope is that if Africa’s land changes are merely on paper following fierce resistance from locals which are now gaining ground across Africa.
It is baffling how UN & associate entities are silent while these land grabs are taking place given that they are paid to look into the welfare of the poorest too!
MCC land grabbing blueprint as seen across all compact countries is
- Initial surveying of land & land laws in the country
- Lobbying central government to make necessary changes to existing laws
- Ensuring central government agrees to privatize state land & offer title deeds to those leasing/living on State lands
- Pilot project zone exclusively created & given special status by Govt
- Foreign NGOs co-opted to carry out programs to convince people to accept new laws & investments
- The MCC office decides the value of land for sale to foreign investors
- Customary land laws are buried for foreign investor profits
- MCC funds are used to connect rail-port-airports-storage facilities (no different to colonial rule)
It is most likely that these pitfalls will be addressed in Sri Lanka’s takeover using the agreements ACSA and SOFA that will probably enable foreign troops to provide the armed security for these US & foreign companies. The legal avenues for locals to take are also being subtly diluted to reduce locals taking their case to courts. These neocolonial transnational investors are ironing out every possible loophole to grab land a far cry from how it happened during colonial rule. Scramble for Africa then is now taking place with a modern twist and includes Scramble for Asia as well. Sri Lanka probably the latest guinea pig.
Did Sri Lanka propose an ‘economic corridor’ or did the USA?
Why do we need an economic corridor if it entails not only the privatization of all State lands but to give title deeds to individuals for these privatized state lands if the compact grant is only for 5 years while the economic corridor that is over 200miles from Colombo Port to Trinco Port with an electric fence dividing it, is for 200 years and the corridor does not apply Sri Lankan laws?
Moreover, if title deeds are being presented given under existing laws why present a New Privatization of Land Bill – what is the catch here for the entire Bill is prepared by foreign lawyers who have studied all our land statues.
Why must there be a land bank of all privatized land & after 10 years destroy all existing records?
We seem to be getting more questions than answers and no government elected for a term of office has any moral right to be dishing out land that belongs to the people & future generations to any foreign investor simply because of a dangling monetary carrot.
Shenali D Waduge
Further reading: The Great Food Robbery: How Corporations Control Food, Grab Land and Destroy – Genetic Resources Action International,