I'm still thinking about this fascinating article from the NYT magazine last week, titled "Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism?". Here are two excerpts:
…one of the earth’s last large reserves of underused land is the billion-acre Guinea Savannah zone, a crescent-shaped swath that runs east across Africa all the way to Ethiopia, and southward to Congo and Angola.
…as of earlier this year, the Ethiopian government had approved deals totaling around 1.5 million acres, while the country’s investment agency reports that it has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007, nearly doubling the number registered in the entire previous decade. But that’s far from a complete picture. While the details of a few arrangements have leaked out, like one Saudi consortium’s plans to spend $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice, many others remain undisclosed, and Addis Ababa has been awash in rumors of Arab moneymen who supposedly rent planes, pick out fertile tracts and cut deals.
Foreign investment can do wonders but the interaction between such investment and corrupt foreign governments can also be negative if workers and citizens are not granted adequate rights. This article caused me to revaluate possible paths for some African futures. The Coase theorem is finally kicking in. I see corrupt politicians deciding it is more profitable, and also more secure, to "sell off" their countries than to oppress them in the traditional manner. I see a new kind of tax farming, based on the extraction and exploitation of resources and raw materials, with African labor along for the ride. It will mean higher living standards and better infrastructure, but probably not along a path that will look very appealing to most Western observers.