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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rhodes Redux

Land is not in short supply in south Sudan, where Philippe Heilberg, a US businessman, has laid claim to 4,000 sq km of fertile territory in a deal with the family of a notorious warlord. But then neither was it when Cecil Rhodes extracted mineral rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele and used these to push the frontiers of the British empire beyond the Limpopo river. Some 120 years later, Zimbabwe is still struggling to overcome a legacy of unequal land distribution.

Mr Heilberg is a former Wall Street banker whose private investment company, Jarch Capital, counts former CIA, State department and Pentagon officials on its board. He may be no Rhodes – his recent forays into Africa have yet to bear much fruit and include an acrimonious dispute over claims to an oil concession in south Sudan. His latest venture does, though, have a decidedly 19th-century flavour to it.