An open letter from the African Civil Society to representatives of Denmark in Africa

In light of the interview [1] given by your Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach, on the 9th of this month to the Danish newspaper Politiken, and taking into account that the presence of Danish cooperation on the African continent dates long before the independence of most countries, where they still operate today through various organizations that develop various projects and activities in various spheres of the political system, civil society and the business sector, we cannot refrain from expressing our deepest distaste for the disrespectful and peculiar ideological content of the above-mentioned interview.

Truth be told, Minister Christian Friis Bach said exactly what many politicians and leaders of developed countries think but cleverly would never dare say. Frankly, we prefer Christian Friis Bach to those other dodgy individuals. Petulant or reckless, your Minister of Development Cooperation said just what he thinks, giving us a chance to rebut, to contest and tell him that his notion of development is obsolete, that what he says he is willing to do is ethically despicable and offensive, that those who he claims would be the main beneficiaries of the policies he intends to impose will for sure become its main victims, and that even though unfortunately he may have the power to influence the decisions taken by the state apparatuses of some African countries, he definitely does not have the right to do so. We believe that he ought to know it. We Africans assure Christian Friis Bach and all who think like him, that even though we are already being pillaged, we will never allow Africa to be economically recolonized. Never.

It is instructive to remember that contrary to what Minister Friis Bach said in his interview, Africans do have capacity to feed and sustain our people. African agriculture and food needs have been met over time through sustainable and multi-dimensional approaches, keeping to a minimum such externalities as artificial fertilizers, imported pesticides and herbicides as well as practices that are alien to the socio-cultural settings of our people.

The support Africa needs right now is a decisive stand to maintain seed as well as cultural diversities and defend staple crops which are targeted by biotech even when there is no need for their engineered varieties or GM crops.

To you (country envoys in Africa), as the highest representative of the Danish people in our territory, we would like to ask if you share the opinions of your Minister for Development Cooperation. If you do, please be kind enough to answer the following questions:

Do you think it is fair that the African continent should be held accountable “today” for the bad decisions rich countries such as yours made “yesterday”, and which has led to over-exploitation of nature, animals and human beings by introducing unhealthy and destructive diets as well as excess energy consumption?

Do you consider it acceptable that countries like yours should impose their failed development models on Africa as if they were models of success and the only guaranteed path towards development?

Would you imagine a world in which Africa adopts your ideas of production, consumption, development and progress?

Do you think it right that Africans must accept without question the responsibility of using our resources to support those who were obviously unable to manage theirs?

It honours us greatly that the world is turning to Africa and its leaders say they are counting on us. We Africans are hospitable and supportive and for long we have been wanting to contribute more and better to the a development path that supports sustainable livelihoods. However, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves to accommodate the whims of those who think it is a mark of progress to destroy the planet. We want to rely on the support of all who are well intended, but such support must not trample on our sovereignty and dignity.

In this context, we, African organizations, movements and associations who hereby signed this letter, reiterate that we continue to consider much welcome the support of those who wish to walk with us towards a just development path:
1. That adequately serves our needs and those of our future generations;
2. That is fair and just and not predicated on exploitation, resource grabs and denigration;
3. That is logical and thoughtful and does not necessarily have to be traversed in pursuit of anything or anyone;
4. In which we may not be sole beneficiaries, but we must not be denied our due;
5. That not only respects the sovereignty of each African country, but also our diversity as a people, as well as the diversity of our cultures and traditions;
6. That is guided by principles of honesty, transparency and inclusion, fundamental to the democratic exercise of any territory.
7. That respects our Food sovereignty, which is built upon the inalienable rights of peoples to maintain their cultural as well as seed diversities. Cultural diversity permits peoples to maintain and enlarge their stock of local knowledge; produce, save and use their seeds and have control over farming practices developed over centuries of experimentation and experience. Food sovereignty ensures that farmers stay in business and that peoples are not forced to alter their diets.

Naturally, we consider that any development project that ignores or disregards any of these principles is not in the best interest of Africa or Africans, and we reject and denounce the position taken by your government through your Minister of Development Cooperation.

For the sake of the good relations we wish to maintain with you, we would appreciate you would be so kind as to respond to this letter.

List of Organisation sign on as of 23/07/2013
Signed by,

Friends of the Earth Africa:
ATPNE/Friends of the Earth Tunsia
Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement/Friends of the Earth Cameroon
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Friends of the Earth Ghana
Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone
groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa
Guamina / Friends of the Earth Mali
Justica Ambiental (JA!) Friends of the Earth, Mozambique
Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team/Friends of the Earth Tanzania
Les Amis de la Terre/ Friends of the Earth Togo
Maudesco/Friends of the Earth Mauritius
National Association of Professional Environmentalists/Friends of the Earth Uganda.
Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)/ Friends of the Earth Liberia
Yonge Nawe Environmental Action Group/Friends of the EarthSwaziland
African Biodiversity network (ABN),
Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)
Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS) Africa,
Friends of the Earth- Africa
Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)
Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association,
Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers‟ Forum (ESSAFF),
La Via Campesina Africa , FAHAMU, World Neighbours
Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA) Community Knowledge Systems (CKS)
Plate forme Sous Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale (PROPAC).
Laurent Alex Badji COPAGEN Senegal
The Green Belt Movement Kenya
Health of Mother Earth Foundation, ((HOMEF) Nigeria
Committee on Vital Environmental Resources (COVER) Nigeria
The Young Environment Network ( TYEN)
Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD/Afrque), Mali
Coalition pour la Protection du Patrimoine Génétique africain Mali (COPAGEN-Mali)
actions pour le Développement Durable. Republic of Benin
Kenya Debt Relief Network – (KENDREN) Kenya
African Centre for Biosafety (ACB)


Africa must be developed in a rush in order to avoid global food crisis. It requires huge changes, including a confrontation with chiefs, the role of women and the view upon collective property, says Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach (R). [2]

Politiken | 09.07.2013

Food from Africa
Interview by JENS Bostrup,
with Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach

Denmark will use its political influence in large parts of Africa to get rid of local cultures and traditions that hinder the development of African agriculture, says Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis Bach (R).

“It is certain that Africans will have to develop their agriculture. For their own sake. And for the entire world”, says Christian Friis Bach. “The good news is that it can be done. Africa has a huge growth potential, and within a generation, we can transform Africa from being dependent on others for food to become the world’s breadbasket. It requires massive investment, especially from abroad. And we’re going to see very quick and very harsh structural changes, which large parts of the continent are not prepared for”, he says.

The confrontationmust address fundamental issues in the African societies: gender relations, land ownership and the power structure.

“Some have a rather romantic belief that traditional cultures have a value in themselves, and they want to sit down with the chief and fix things. I do not share this belief”, says Christian Friis Bach. “For the poor farmers, who are the majority in the village, collective ownership, which is in practice administered by the chief, is usually of no value. They would be much better off if they owned their land. For women, the traditional norms has no value either. It prevents them from the equality they deserve. It is an ongoing local power struggle, and we must engage in this struggle”.

This is not just words. The Danish Minister for Development Cooperation actually plays a role in African politics. Most countries on the continent are dependent on Western aid, and donor countries often conspire to make demands that local governments have to acknowledge.

Denmark has prioritized 12 countries in Africa, where we “are present with a long-term perspective and with political and financial weight” as Danida puts it. This applies amongst others Uganda, Niger, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

“One of the things weparticularly insist on is that women should be able to own and inherit land.This can increase agricultural production by 5-10 percent because women are far more productive and innovative in agriculture”, says Christian Friis Bach.

[Q] But this is also completely contrary to ancestral traditions and values on which people build their identity. Can you as a donor allow yourself to change that?

“Yes, because not all values are equally worthy. For me it is fundamental to give women equal rights to the land. Both human and political – and because it is the way to boost agricultural production”, says Friis Bach.

The right over her own body

Women must not only have the right to land, but also the right to decide over their own bodies. This is another fundamental principle that at the same time will contribute to the economic development, he continues.

“Women have the right to decide when and how often they will bear children. This is crucial in order to allow them to get through school and complete their education. And population growth in Africa is so high that it seriously undermines their ability to solve the structural problems”, says Christian Friis Bach.

[Q] By what right can you insist that our concept of equality should apply in Africa?

“Fortunately, it is not just our values. It is universal human rights, as developed by all countries worldwide through two hundred years. So we can allow ourselves to insist on these rights”. Similarly, he perceives the inviolability of property as an important part of the civil and political rights.” And that is not a Western invention either”, says Christian Friis Bach.

Helle Munk Ravnborg, newly elected president of Danish ActionAid and senior researcher in poverty at the Danish Institute for International Studies, recently appealed in Politiken [the newspaper in which this interview is also published] that the government recognizes the reality that the majority of the land in Africa is collectively owned.

Christian Friis Bach would very much like to offer Danish assistance to register the collectively owned land to avoid that uncertainty about ownership is misused by corrupt officials and foreign investors.

“But I will insist that land ownership becomes private and individual. It is a fundamental condition for us to develop agriculture. Otherwise there is no incentive to invest in the land. Noone builds terrasses, plants shade trees or buy fertilizers, if the harvest is not theirs”.

Unclear and collective ownership also slows down a key part of the transition: much larger and more effective farms based on foreign capital.

“In the long term there are very many people who need to move away from the agricultural sector and into the cities. But without ownership to the land, they cannot sell it.They cannot take money with them, which can be used to start a life in the city. Therefore, lack of land rights is in all ways a very large barrier to development”.

[Q] But the African societies have lived with the collective ownership inmillennia, it is a fundamental part of their culture and tradition. Can you without further ado establish that it needs to change?

“Yes, I am relatively clear on that point. We just have to recognize that the system is not functioning”.

[Q] Are you absolutely sure that the Western, market-oriented model works for Africa?

“I do not know if the market economy is a Western invention, I think it is rather universal and global. But yes, I am sure that the market economy functions for Africa. I have seen great many examples of this. Especially the African women farmers are very innovative when they get the chance”.

[Q] You recognize that there will be swift and harsh structural changes. Can you allow yourself to impose a model onto African societies that large parts of the continent are not ready for?

“We must not impose anything on them. That is precisely why the individual land ownership is crucial.It gives poor farmers – and the women – a voice and a strength to resist changes that conflict with their interests”.

[Q] But you insist on changing the gender relations, the land ownership rights and the power structures of societies. It took Europe several hundred years and fierce fighting to get through a similar development – can we expect and demand that Africans readily jumps to where we are today?

“The world cannot wait for Africans to spend as much time to build up capacity as we have used in our part of the world. There is enormous pressure on the global food supply. The 9 billion, we expect in 2050, will eat as if they were 12 billion because they live in the cities and eat more meat”. “This happens while at the same time up to 25 percent of the agricultural land will be adversely affected by climate change. And while we must halve greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. It is a phenomenal task. It is going to happen very quickly, and it will give resistance from the local population”.

But it would be wrong to see it as a battle between the rich investors in the North and the traditional societies in Africa, he adds. “If Africa does not develop and increase the production of food, it will not only hit the poor in Africa, but also the poor in the rest of the world where the food crisis also may be very harsh”. “What is encouraging is that it can be done. I have just returned from a region in Ethiopia that previously was almost desert, but where massive investment has changed it into a green oasis, where you can harvest three times a year. There is now less poverty, more jobs and higher growth”, says the minister.


[1] R stands for “Radikale” the Danish Social-Liberal Party
[2] The 12 countries are: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe

2013-08-07, Issue 642