(This my friends is truly 'frontier' capitalism - AM)
By Javier Blas and William Wallis in London
Published: January 10 2009 02:00
A US businessman backed by former CIA and state department officials says he has secured a vast tract of fertile land in south Sudan from the family of a notorious warlord, in post-colonial Africa's biggest private land deal.
Philippe Heilberg, a former Wall Street banker and chairman of New York-based Jarch Capital, told the Financial Times he had gained leasehold rights to 400,000 hectares of land - an area the size of the emirate of Dubai - by taking a majority stake in a company controlled by the son of Paulino Matip.
Mr Matip fought on both sides in Sudan's lengthy civil war but became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region following a 2005 peace agreement.
The deal, between Mr Heilberg's affiliate company in the Virgin Islands and Gabriel Matip, is a striking example of how the recent spike in global commodity food prices has encouraged foreign investors and governments to scramble for control of arable land in Africa.
In contrast to land deals between foreign investors and governments, Mr Heilberg is gambling on a warlord's continuing control of a region where his militia operated in the civil war.
"You have to go to the guns: this is Africa," Mr Heilberg said by phone from New York.