Who is selling our land to United Arab Emirates?

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Monday, 13 July 2009 01:59
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Zechariah Manyok Biar
 (Texas, USA)-On July 9, 2009, Economist published a shocking article about the sale of land in my home land of Jonglei in South Sudan. The report was republished by South Sudan Nation. I also received an e-mail from a concern American citizen about the same deal that does not seem to make sense. So the issue is serious. The question is: who is selling our land?

 The land that is allegedly leased out for fifty years is the size of Denmark. It is 6,180 square miles. The report called it the largest trackless swathe of Africa. Nobody can explain what that means to me because it took us more than five days to cross that land when we went to Ethiopia in 1987. But that was just a bit of the area that is now being leased out. It joins Buma to Pibor and from Pibor to my home area of Bor and then to Malakal area.

 From the time  I was born to the time that I left my home area at the age of 13 in 1987, I had been eating meat from animals that migrated from this area we call lok to the swampy areas that we call toch twice a year. Our cattle are also taken to area of Gadiang between Murle and Twich East when there is a drought in our home area. Lok is rich in everything that you can imagine. Now the report is saying that this land is being leased out to United Arab Emirates without the involvement of ordinary locals who regard that area as their only reliable land? Who will stop the locals from fighting the “investors” in the near future? Is there any benefit for South Sudan to give away such a land for 50 years?

History tells us that deals like this always end up in struggle that become negative to the locals. According to the Voice of America report on August 30, 2004, “On August 15, 1904, the Maasai signed a treaty with the British colonialists leasing to the British about one million hectares of land in Laikipia district for 100 years. British settlers subsequently moved onto the land and set up large ranches that remain there to this day.” Masaai protested in vain in 2004 for the restoration of their land. The protest was prompted by the drought and the fact that there was no water outside the fences of the leased out land.

Another problem is that of Zimbabwe. In 1888 Lobengula, the Ndebele ruler of the region that is now Zimbabwe, signed an agreement, granting mineral rights to the British South African Company, which then occupies most of the territory, calling it Rhodesia. According to Times report on September 16, 2008, “The Land Apportionment Act 1930 restricted blacks' access to land in Rhodesia and forced them into wage labour.” You can now see why Mugabe is now mad against white Zimbabweans. But Mugabe is not winning the war because he cannot avoid the abuse of his power, making him lose sympathy even in Africa. I even do not support Mugabe in the way he is handling the issue. But he was right about the land issue.

One more example is that of Liberia. When American President James Monroe sent freed slaves to the current Liberia, locals were there. They had their King called Peter. Lieutenant Robert F. Stockton of USA who had preceded the freed slaves to prepare a land for them entered into negotiation with King Peter in December 1821 about the land. But King Peter dragged his feet. Stockton then pulled out a pistol to force King Peter into a bad deal. King Peter conceded and accepted terms Stockton imposed on him at gun point, allowing the Americans to acquire millions of dollars worth of land for a paltry $300.00 worth of trinkets, food, guns, and rum, as my friend Garpue Lieway from Liberia put it. That deal was the open door for the occupation of Liberia by Americans to resettle freed slaves.

Although Africans in Liberia would have been happier to welcome their brothers and sisters back to Africa, the deal that resulted in the resettlement was not in the favor of locals. Now they cannot get their land back.

I am among the people who encourage investors to invest in Sudan. However, a deal like the one that I am now writing about is a bad deal. We will never accept it for two reasons: it gives more than enough time to UAE investors to occupy the land without the consent of the locals. It also gives away the most important part of the land that the nation can be proud of in the near future as its most popular game park.

The taxes that UAE will be paying the government of Sudan or South Sudan cannot be compared with the amount of money that tourists will be paying the same government.

There is no problem with giving away of at least ten kilometers of land to those who want to build hotels. But giving away more than 6,000 square miles is crazy. It must stop. Remember that the same UAE Company failed to buy exclusive access to 6,500 square kilometers of the Serengeti plains in northern Tanzania. It must also fail in Sudan if our government knows what we fought for.

Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. He is a regular contributor to The New Sudan Vision website. For comments, contact him at email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.