Following the turbulent patterns of world commodity markets over recent years countries have come under increased pressure to provide basic services to their populations. Especially in the far east, where limited land masses are combined with extremely high population density, governments are susceptible to sudden increases in food prices as were witnessed last year. In a move to combat the threat of unsustainably high prices, and to ensure a food supply elastic to possible expanding demand, South Korea made a significant move to guarantee its supplies. In a controversial deal with the regime of Madagascar under President Marc Ravalomanana, the South Korean firm Daewoo logistics secured the rights to farm one half of all the arable land in the country. Not only was this lease secured for ninety-nine years, thus endangering future population expansion in the country, but it was established virtually free of charge. The only recompense the country would stand to gain would be, ‘jobs, roads and experience of advanced agricultural techniques.’ Similar comparisons can all too easily be made with the ‘farming’ of Nineteenth century Ireland. The prospect of not only impoverishing, but potentially starving the people seems not at all unlikely considering the scale of the deal and its focus entirely upon export. The ‘jobs’ created to work this vast colonial farm would be about the only benefit created for future generations, under the lengthy lease.
Domestic politics during March of this year have brought an abrupt end to the pretensions of the South Korean firm as Andry Rajoelina ousted Ravalomanana from office in a popular coup. He declared that the deal with Daewoo was illegal under the terms of the constitution which stipulates that Madagascar’s land is, ‘neither for sale nor for rent.’ Although he did not rule out the possibility of a future deal, he maintained that this would require a change of the constitution following popular consultation.
South Korea is not a lone conspirator in this modern scramble for Africa. China’s energy and market expansion throughout the continent has received attention, most notably for its tendency to be the donor of choice for regimes with reproachable human rights records. A U.S. firm too has recently acquired a 400,000 hectare stretch of fertile land in the Sudan to begin food export. All these developments appear little different from the rampant colonialism of the Nineteenth century, and one wonders whether they will be remembered as such. With the burgeoning dominance of the corporation however as a theoretically apolitical and amoral entity, it is concerning that they are not even limited by the same degree of public scrutiny which still failed to prevent the worst excesses of Western imperialism.