Hunger was never a problem for the peasants of the seven villages

The following is exerpted from the report Land conflict in Côte d’Ivoire: local communities defend their rights against SIAT and the state, published by GRAIN.

It was in August 2011 that the communities of Famienkro, Koffessou-Groumania, and Timbo, located about 300 km from Abidjan, learned through the grapevine that a corporation was about to move on to their land.

A month later, on September 15, the representatives of the three villages were informed that the government had granted a concession covering a total of 11,000 ha to the Ivorian subsidiary of the Belgian corporation SIAT (Société d’investissement pour l’agriculture tropicale), for the purpose of establishing an industrial rubber plantation.

SIAT is a Belgian multinational claiming to “specialize” in tropical agriculture. In June 2013, it had some 175 000 ha under cultivation in Africa, Asia, and Europe. This powerful multinational, with capital of €31 million and a business volume of nearly €200 million, has holdings in palm oil, rubber, and grazing. SIAT’s head office is in Brussels and it is active in Belgium, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cambodia, and Côte d’Ivoire.

The communities were stunned… the government had just granted 11,000 ha to SIAT.

Furthermore, free prior informed consent by the local population is always required in such cases, especially when arable land is being granted to companies, regardless of whether they are domestic or foreign… Today, the villagers are wondering why the rule was ignored.

The King of the Andoh, His Majesty Nanan Akou Moro II, speaking through his representative Sinan Ouattara, confirmed that:

We did not give our consent to this project, whose impact on our ancestral lands, territories, and natural resources is devastating. We refuse to let our land be stolen.

For 39 years the chief of this territory, the King of the Andoh reigns over the Coblossi tribe, who live in seven villages in the vicinity of Famienkro: Koffessou-Groumania, Sérébou, Kamélésso, Assouadiè, Morokro, Lendoukro, and Kouakoukro.

In the summer of 2015, an incident in which someone set fire to tractors and destroyed crops was laid to the door of the protesters. A few days later, the Gendarmerie Nationale responded with a heavy-handed operation that degenerated into a skirmish and left a mortal toll: two people shot to death in Famienkro and many more injured. The fatalities were Assué Amara of Koffessou, who died instantly from a bullet to the neck, and Ali Amadou of Timbo, who was hit in the abdomen and died the next day. There were also clashes pitting the protesters against supporters of the project.

Subsequently, numerous houses were burned down in Famienkro. Several opponents of the project fled to avoid reprisals. A total of 71 individuals, including the King of Famienkro, the chief of the village of Koffessou, and Sinan Ouattara, were arrested and held in M’Bahiakro prison after being detained for several days… Daouda Mahaman, who was not present during the demonstration, was convicted on 28 July 2015 of arson targeting homes, causing a fire requiring eight engines to extinguish, destruction of “manmade” plants and trees, inflicting blows and injuries, insulting an officer in the performance of his duties, disturbing the peace, and illegal possession of firearms.

Siriki Koffi Abdoulaye (from Famienkro) died from lack of appropriate medical care on 3 January 2016 while detained in M’Bahiakro prison, bringing the death toll to three. Meanwhile, 38 people were released on 1 December 2015 after almost five months of pretrial detention.

Among them was N’Djoré Yao Kassoum, Chief of the village of Koffessou. Upon being released from detention under cruel and degrading conditions, he stated:

When the machines came to clear the land, all my bananas, taro, rice, manioc, corn, and cashews were destroyed. That’s why I called on the people to chase them off. I am blind, I have to eat. You destroyed my fields. What am I going to eat? I was unjustly imprisoned for defending my own land!

He died at 87 years of age, shortly after his release from prison on 26 May 2016.

SIAT, like other multinationals in Côte d’Ivoire, is operating on contested land. The agribusiness steamroller impelled by international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and AGRA continues its advance across Côte d’Ivoire and throughout Africa. Communities are forced to hand their land over to multinationals claiming to want to ‘feed Africa’, to fight hunger. But hunger was never a problem for the courageous peasants of the seven villages affected by the rubber plantation. It is now.