Reflections on globalization, modernity and the 'civilized' African peasant
Since 2009, Whitestone (SL) Limited has managed to obtain 13 leasehold titles covering a staggering 1.34 million acres of land in the Bombali and Koinadugu Districts of Northern Sierra Leone for large-scale agricultural development. Whitestone is owned and managed by two British entrepreneurs, Charles Anderson and Cenk Yildiran.
Ostensibly lacking the funds to develop the land themselves, Whitestone is planning to parcel the land and sub-lease these to interested agricultural inventors (regardless of crop or market focus). Their business model is rather simple: exploitation of uneven negotiation capacity. All of the land acquired by Whitestone originates from the customary domain and was negotiated with local chiefs (see details of the leaseholds in the below table). Their profit is therefore the difference between what Whitestone was able to negotiate with the chiefs and what they can negotiate with interested investors.
Despite obvious ethical concerns, such intermediary business activities do make a lot of economic sense. With Whitestone holding the land titles, any future bad press over deficiencies in the land acquisitions process (e.g. compensation, FPIC) will be borne by Whitestone and less so by the sub-leaser. With its owners not appearing to have any other notable business interests or, considering the limited costs of their activities, being heavily dependent on external funding, they can afford to take the heat (as long as the Sierra Leonean law is followed). Many agri-businesses are undoubtedly more than willing to pay a premium to minimize such reputational risks.
A worrying development.
Whitestone (SL) Limited leasehold titles in Sierra Leone