The African Cake
Hamza Hamouchene | April 11th, 2014


Last week a bunch of smartly dressed activists, myself included, made a visit to the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) offices in London pretending to be representatives of large food corporations and offering them a cake in the shape of Africa. This, we said, was to celebrate the help that the UK government is giving to big business’s efforts to mount a new scramble for Africa. Watch what happened:

What you saw was part of a new campaign, launched by World Development Movement (WDM) is set to counteract the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance), an initiative led by the now Group of Seven (representing the finance ministers and central governors of the most “advanced” economies). This partnership between governments and corporations claims it will accelerate agricultural production and lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. In reality however, it is channelling aid (including at least £600 million from the UK) towards projects that are designed to make the continent more business friendly, making it easier for corporations to buy up land, push GM and hybrid seeds on farmers, control markets and export crops’.

Attracted by high economic growth rates and propelled by a lack of new opportunities elsewhere, huge global food and agriculture companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Unilever are rapidly increasing their presence in sub-Saharan Africa, seeking access to resources and new markets to expand their operations.

King Leopold II of Belgium, responsible for the colonisation and the genocide in the Congo region in the late 19th century and a key player in the Berlin conference where European powers formalised the African takeover, would have liked the gesture made by the disguised activists last week–for completely different reasons of course–as he once said: “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.”

In the same way as when Europeans colonised much of the continent in the nineteenth century, large corporations are now looking for raw materials, land and labour and their attention is turning to Africa which the World Bank has dubbed “the last frontier” in global food markets. What is scandalous is that the UK and other rich countries are promoting these initiatives through aid money to guarantee vast profits for these companies under the guise of tackling hunger and poverty.

This isn’t the first time that aid has been used by the UK, not as a means of international wealth redistribution, but to encourage private sector involvement in developing countries. In Bangladesh UK aid has been used to support Special Economic Zones, lawless areas which ban trade union activity and exempt corporations from taxation in an area where workers are payed an average of less than £1 a day.  And between 1998 and 2004 the UK aid budget played a direct role in promoting privatisation in Tanzania, spending £9.5 million of ‘aid’ on supporting privatisation. A practice that was brought to a halt by a WDM campaign in 2009.

Resistance is building for this recent wave of initiatives, in May 2013 a hundred African groups said in a statement:

Opening markets and creating space for multinationals to secure profits lie at the heart of the G8 interventions…Multinational corporations like Yara, Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and many others want secure markets for their products in Africa.

They are calling instead for funding towards food sovereignty; A practical vision putting the needs of small-scale farmers before the profits of big business.

The video goes alongside similar stunts being organised across the country to push the UK government to withdraw its aid from the new alliance and instead use in ways which support rather than undermine the farmers who feed Africa now.

* More photos from the campaign launch here.

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Hamza Hamouchene is an intern at World Development Movement and is a co-founder of Algeria Solidarity Campaign.

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3 thoughts on “The African Cake

  1. That’s a pretty silly, knee-jerk reaction. Making Tanzania a better place to invest will help Tanzanian firms as well as multinationals. Promoting small-holder agriculture through tried-and-failed development schemes like cooperatives could just as easily be argued to be the ‘secret agenda’ of the donor-funded aid-industrial complex. The interesting conversation isn’t whether MNC’s should be allowed to invest in Tanzania, or if donors should promote the interest of their national companies (economic diplomacy 101), but how the Tanzanian government will manage the process. I expect this blog to give attribute a little more agency to Africans and African institutions, rather than painting them as helpless victims of evil donors and MNCs.

  2. One of my biggest eye rolls in this article is the dismissal of genetically modified food. It is easy for us to sit up here on our high horses and snub our noses at genetically modified food. However, that is both insulting and dangerous. GM foods save lives. It allows farmers to grow more from certain grains,larger crop yields and bigger portions. For those with limited farmland and limited irrigation this is a magnificent achievement that saves millions of lives.

    As someone who grew up in a family of farmer’s, I understand that Monsanto is not a saintly company whose business practices should be emulated. However, I do know that despite their many, many failures they have been successful in saving lives with their GM food.

    So let’s not throw down on GM food just because we can afford to as westerners, let’s remember their positives in saving lives across the world.

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