Massive Land Grabbing, Expropriation, Exploitation, Concern of West African Church Leaders

Bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA)
Credit: RECOWA

The grabbing of land in Africa by “multinational” corporates keen on maximizing their profits without paying attention to the livelihoods of natives on the continent has been a key highlight during the weeklong gathering of Catholic Church leaders at the helm of the Regional Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) that concluded Monday, February 17.

The concern, which was underlined by RECOWA President at the beginning of the meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, was discussed alongside other challenges affecting the people of God in the region, including insecurity characterized by targeted kidnappings and killings.

“It is estimated today that more than 60 percent of the agricultural land available in the world is in Africa, south of the Sahara,” RECOWA President, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama had observed in his address at the beginning of the 8th Standing Committee meeting of the regional conference, pointing to a statistic ascertained by Grow Africa.

Paradoxically, the massive grabbing of these lands, which results in the expropriation of the poorest populations, is done in the name of economic and social development,” the Nigerian Prelate had lamented and explained, “the exploitation made of the immense areas of the grabbed land (often hundreds of thousands of hectares per operation) conforms in no way to the most pressing needs of the populations concerned.”

Having deliberated on the matter, the members of RECOWA’s Standing Committee have, in a collective message dated February 16, faulted multinational entities for depriving Africans of their farming lands.

"Today we are faced with the phenomenon of land grabbing by multinationals with the connivance of certain local actors," the Bishops have noted and, alongside the multinational corporates, lamented the "growth of the forced expropriation of land of farmers by herders for grazing purposes."

"We are also witnessing the manhunts, villagers who are sent parking from their homes and their farmlands destroyed. This leads to the loss of human lives," the West African Church leaders have bemoaned.

“Convinced that human beings are established by the Creator as caretakers of the earth and our common home," the Bishops have, in their collective message, denounced "land grabbing and forced expropriation of land in all its forms."

"We reaffirm our commitment to protect the rights of these peoples, to respect their values, their traditions, their customs, and cultures," the Church leaders said and added, "We want to work for the preservation of the earth, forests, rivers and all that lives and flourishes in these spaces considered in Africa, not only as resources to be exploited in the single direction of profit but rather as sacred spaces, source of life, wisdom, balance."

The West African Bishops also addressed the dangerous environmental effects of mining on the continent stating, “despite what can be said of the economic benefits of mineral extraction in Africa, it should be noted that its harmful effects are incalculable for the African peoples" and highlighted “degradation of the environment, imbalance of the ecosystem, loss of biodiversity, pollution of rivers, seas, water tables” among the harmful effects of mining.

Borrowing from the Pope's Encyclical letter, Laudato Si' the Prelate said, “In various ways, developing peoples, where the most important biosphere reserves are found, continue to fuel the development of the richest countries at the cost of their present and of their future."

As a way forward, the members of the Standing Committee of RECOWA have instructed the “Justice and Peace Commissions of all our dioceses to redouble efforts and innovations in care, protection, and support of the victims of the harmful effects of land grabbing and forced expropriation of land."

The Bishops also resolved to "do intense advocacy work with all national and international bodies so that strong frameworks and mechanisms can be put in place to correct any injustice and anomaly."

In their joint statement, the Church leaders also reached out to the governments of developed countries whose "must be aware that they hold in their hands not only the fate of their respective countries but also of the whole of humanity" and therefore, like all leaders across nations, be "guardians of our common house."

"The destruction of the human environment is very serious, because not only has God entrusted the world to the human being, but still the life of this one is a gift which must be protected from various forms of degradation," the Bishops cited Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si'.

They have gone on, in their collective communique, to advocate for "a treaty or convention that protects Africa" that would see “the establishment of a global, legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations."

"We ask our respective governments in West Africa to work collectively with other countries for the realization of such an instrument for peaceful global governance, a factor of social cohesion," the Church leaders have appealed.

Also known by its French and Portuguese acronym CERAO (Conferencia Episcopal Regional da Africa Ocidental), RECOWA brings together 11 Episcopal conferences constituted by 16 West African countries.

The Conferences of Bishops include: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Benin; the Joint Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Cote d’Ivoire; the Inter-territorial catholic bishops’ Conference of Gambia and Sierra Leone (ITCABIC); the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ghana; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Guinee; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Liberia; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Mali; the Catholic Bishops’ conference of Nigeria; the Joint Catholic Bishops’ conference of Senegal, Mauritania, Cap-Vert and Guinee Bissau; and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Togo.

The Standing Committee comprises the President and two Vice Presidents.

Highlighting the theme of their meeting, “Together, let us work for the rights of communities and the environment,” RECOWA Standing Committee members concluded, "Let us, therefore, work together for a new world order which guarantees the different communities of West Africa the right to an environment that promotes sustainable development, which respects nature and natural resources,"


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]