In this article, I will explore the exploitation of resource-rich areas in southern-Somalia, specifically Jubba and Shebelle regions, and how it affects Somali citizens at large, political and agricultural in particular. “Land Grabbing” is used by private sectors, backed up by government support, to acquire resource rich lands and reap the benefits. Note: I am not going to say anything that people don’t know already about Somalia’s land grabbing, but drawing their attention to it again through this paper.
In Somalia, Land-grabbing is the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisitions by domestic and transnational companies, governments, and individuals. While used broadly throughout history, in the colonial period, plantations had been carved out by dispossessing indigenous farmers in the lower reaches of the Jubba and Shebelle valleys. In the 1950’s and ’60’s this process continued with Somali entrepreneurs buying or seizing prime farmland. Wealthy and well-connected men would decide on the piece of land they wanted, and try to persuade or coerce the local farmers into selling cheaply. Unable to obtain credit to buy water pumps or other inputs to improve their land, an ignorant of its real value, many smallholders sold up. Those who resisted ran the risk of imprisonment or beating by the police until they submitted. Thousands of farmers saw their parents’ and grandparents’ land seized from under their feet, sometimes with standing crops, as bulldozers and gunmen moved in. The new landowners had Ministry of Agriculture land registration documents to prove their ownership. Some farms were used for plantations (chiefly for export crops such as bananas and sugar cane).
In 1970’s, the land-grab was dressed up in progressive language in Somalia. “The right of every Somali to live where he or she likes” is code for the right of the elite to acquire and own land in areas historically occupied by the minorities. “Cooperative farm” is code for a big farm acquired according to the cooperatives act, which enables the acquisition of unlimited amounts of land outside the normal registration process.
During this time, political and economic elites in the urban centers of Mogadishu and Kismayu saw it as an opportunity to forcefully displace minority Rahanweyn, Digil, and Bantus by seizing their land in the fertile Shabelle and Juba River Valleys. A British writer and researcher on African issues, Alex de Waal describes this time of land-grabbing: “The Rahanweyn, Digil, and Bantus faced great difficulties in registering the land they had cultivated for generations; Marehan kinsman of Siad Barre and other powerful groups were able to register large tracts of land with ease. If these lands were already cultivated, then the existing farmers were frequently forced off at gunpoint“(East-Africa Standard, 1989).
This same system is still applicable today’s issue, as traditional land owners don’t have this piece of papers (registration documents) saying that they formally own the land that many times, has been in their families for generations. Still Somali Bantu group attracted special attention as the same policy agenda in JUBALAND and SHABEELE today- that political elites, domestic and foreign investors are contending on the prime farmland of Mugambo Paddy Rice and Mareerey Sugar Plant project to declare as a public land.
As two major rivers supply the Somalia’s rice bowl and support important economic areas in southern Somalia, several agricultural development projects have been implemented based on the water resources of the two rivers. Irrigation projects that were implemented or planned on the Juba River include: Juba Sugar Project (JSP), often known as Mareerey Sugar Plant, irrigating sugarcane near Jilib; Mugaambo Rice Irrigation Project near Jamaame, using run-of-the-river via canal; Faanoole Dam Project, multipurpose dam development for irrigation, hydropower generation and flood mitigation, located near Jilib; Arare(Araara Myangoto) Banana Irrigation Project, Jamaame; Baardhere Dam Project (BDP), the largest ever planned but unimplemented development project. Mareerey Sugar Plant in the middle jubba valley was funded Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to replace the old Jowhar Sugarcane plantation and refinery under cooperative development act. Moreover, Mugaambo Paddy Rice Project in lower jubba valley was to produce paddy rice and cotton crops. These projects involved the expropriation of vast areas of land held by Somali Bantus or Reer Goleed, but was grabbed by the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre without compensation to the owners and transformed to a state owned farms. The imposition of these cooperative development projects was alien to the traditional ethos of farming, hunting and grazing. Furthermore, working conditions of the projects was not different from forced labor for colonial era.
Evidently, what is going on in the Jubba and Shabelle regions is a clearly typical dangerous type of political land grabbing that will destabilize the region for years more to come. One of the reasons Al-Shabaab militants gain foothold in Jubba region is that they are welcomed by some local clans who feel they are marginalized.
Overcoming this institutionalized oppression seen through land grabbing and maltreatment of indigenous Somali Bantu and other minority people is an uphill battle. This type of treatment not only is a violation of human rights but leads to the continuation of systemic violence towards civilians that will only turn the Somali people against each other to a potential another civil war with enough resistance.
Great article please continue writing it is not only educational for us but also our kids! This land was never owned by the government , those minority people were forced to leave their land !!! inequality , descrimination and tribalism is what corrupts Somalia …