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West Africa Bishops Meeting to Seek Solutions to Massive Land Grabbing in Africa

Archbishop Paulo Borgia, the Apostolic Nuncio in Ivory Coast with Participants at the meeting on Land Grabbing in Africa organized by RECOWA.

After concerns of massive land grabbing in Africa were raised by the West African Bishops at the helm of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) during their February meeting, these Church leaders have convened a follow-up meeting with other stakeholders including experts in Ivory Coast’s economic capital, Abidjan to seek solutions to the challenge.

At the official opening of the six-day meeting, the Secretary General of RECOWA, the regional conference comprising 154 dioceses spread across 11 conferences in 16 countries of Anglophone and Francophone Africa, gave a highlight of the impact of land grabbing in Africa.

“The violations committed by transnational corporations against communities are numerous. These include the non-respect of the rights of communities over their land, water and environmental pollution resulting in unemployment, illegal migration, food insecurity, climate change etc.,” RECOWA Secretary General, Fr. Joseph Aka told participants Tuesday, March 10.

“If we do not work to find ways and means to help our communities and our leaders by drawing their attention to their responsibility, it is we ourselves who can be the object of destruction,” Fr. Aka warned at the beginning of the March 9-14 meeting.

The meeting is being held under the theme, “Community land and environmental rights,” with emphasis on Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter, Laudato Si’.

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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 was a key highlight of the Standing Committee meeting of RECOWA that was held in February.

In a collective message dated February 16, the Bishops 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 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 bemoaned.

Against this backdrop, a binding instrument to combat the problems associated with land grabbing - which also concerns Asia and Latin America - is being developed at the United Nations by the Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

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The Abidjan meeting is expected to help RECOWA member countries, who are meeting with experts, to produce a regional statement in support of this working group and call on ECOWAS governments to support the UN initiative.

The participants are also expected to develop and implement strategies for the implementation of the resolutions of the 3rd Plenary Assembly of RECOWA, on integral human development and to propose ways of collaboration between state and non-state actors for the promotion of integral ecology in the West African space.

On the first day of the meeting, the Apostolic Nuncio in Ivory Coast, Archbishop Paulo Borgia outlined consequences of land grabbing in Africa saying, “The many hectares of arable land in Africa are a source of great appetite for both large corporations and local elites. 37 percent of the world's large-scale land acquisitions are taking place in Africa, causing a mass exodus of people.” 

The Nuncio explained, “It is an undeniable fact that land is of major importance in the African context because it contains the identity, the ancestry and the heart of a person as well as of a community.”

“Most of these land acquisitions are tropical savannahs and large riverbanks outside the tropical rainforests, posing a serious threat to the continent's biodiversity and water and soil resources,” the representative of the Holy Father in Ivory Coast said.

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