Rainbows Through the Tears

Change

It is exactly at a time when mass graves
Line the streets as grim markers of a stubborn invisible foe 
That we understand the need to appreciate little graces

It is precisely at a time when we hug and even cry in pity
That we must arise and see sparkling  rainbows through the tears
And in the midst of all the pandemonium behold unspeakable beauty

It is about the time when we quicken our pace
To escape the fangs of racism and xenophobic tendencies
That’s the time to join our hands and strengths and declare we are one human race

Okay to say “all lives matter” but what’s wrong with being a witness
To the truth that  Black Lives Matter and that the knee on that neck for 9 minutes less some seconds
Could not be hidden by any sort of political correctness

It is exactly at a time when mass graves
Line the streets as grim markers of an invisible but stubborn foe
That we understand the need to appreciate our little times and spaces

 

This poem was inspired by Regan Pritzker
25 June 2020

 

Alternative Power for Power Alternatives

IMG_2381 2We need alternative power scenarios to achieve needed power alternatives. The word power has many synonyms. Some of these are influence, authority, control and dominance. The term has interesting definitions in politics, military, religion, electrical, sports, law and mathematics. In physics it refers to energy produced by means such as electrical or mechanical ones in order to operate a device. Electric power can come from a variety of sources including solar power, fossil, nuclear systems, steam, thermal power, waves and hydro power. When a nation considers or uses a variety of these sources for secondary energy production, this is referred to as an energy mix.

We learn something about power when we consider its meaning beyond that of mechanically getting something moved from one point to another or getting a device to produce something. In social science and politics, power is defined as the capacity to influence the actions, beliefs, or conduct of others by an individual. We will return in a moment to examine the importance of power in the socio-political context.

The Tussle over Dams

A tussle continues between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. While Ethiopia wishes to become a net exporter of electric power, Egypt worries that the dam will constrict its share of the river if it is filled up too quickly. Sudan on the other hand could benefit from cheaper electricity from the power project but could also suffer catastrophic flooding if the dam fails. Tensions are running high as recent talks by the three countries did not yield a deal.

Meanwhile a mammoth Grand Inga hydropower project with a generation capacity of 40 GW is proposed to be built on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Conceived as the largest dam in the world, the scheme would be realized in three phases. Inga 3 with a capacity of 4.8 GW of power was originally announced in 2013 with the support of the World Bank at an estimated $14 billion price tag. The World bank withdrew in 2016 and a redesigned Inga 3 now has Chinese interests and is planned to produce 10 GW of power. Some of that power may head to Nigeria. Inga dams 1 and 2 built under the Mobutu regime in 1972 and 1982 had installed capacity of 2,132 MW and are said to have never produced more than 40 percent of their capacity. Although up to 90 percent of DRC’s population do not have access to electricity, this scheme is planned to mostly supply mining companies in the country as well as industrial establishments and urban centres in South Africa.

Governments Trapped in Crude

The oil price slump driven by the coronavirus pandemic may be easing, but confidence in the resource is not building up as fast as the crude oil dependent African nations would wish. Reports indicate that although “massive oil and gas discoveries have been made in Africa this century — from Ghana to Mozambique — the prospects of similar ones in the future look bleak” because operators are not investing as enthusiastically as expected. It is indeed believed that low oil prices have forced drillers to cut down on risky frontiers and that oil rigs are disappearing from Africa at a rapid pace.

While the rigs may be shifting away, the fossil industry has a peculiar hold on financial speculators or shareholders. Oil companies shore up their value by showing how much oil reserves they have. That way investors can peep into the distant future and see their investments secured in the oily soup. Consider the Mozambique LNG project operated by TOTAL. The company is sealing a deal to finance the project through the monetization of the reserves in the deepwater Area 1 of that country.

There is no shortage of huge fossil fuel projects in Africa. There is the $20 billion Ogidigben Gas Revolution Industrial Park (GRIP) owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); the $13.5 billion Etan & Zabazaba Oil Fields offshore Nigeria owned by Eni and Shell; the $12 billion Namibe Refinery Complex in Angola with two Russian investors holding 75 percent shares; and the $11 billion Dangote Refinery and Polypropylene Plant at Lekki Free Trade Zone, Lagos.

Oil dependency has spelt a big challenge for African governments and this has been heightened by the pandemic. According to  International Monetary Fund’s data, the breakeven prices for some African countries are as follows: Nigeria – $144 per barrel, Algeria – $109 per barrel, Libya – $100 per barrel, and Angola – $55 per barrel. With such high baselines and with oil prices currently below $50 per barrel, combined with the fact that the world is gradually shifting from this energy sources, it is clear that countries dependent on crude oil revenues are in for prolonged financial stress except they wake up from slumber and diversify their economies. In response to the revenue debacle, Nigeria has applied for about $7 billion in emergency loans as of April 2020. For how long can we go on this way?

Should Africa’s Energy Needs trump Climate Change concerns?

There is no doubt that Africa needs electric power and a whole lot of it. According to the African Development Bank(AfDB), “Over 640 million Africans have no access to energy, corresponding to an electricity access rate for African countries at just over 40 percent, the lowest in the world.”

With this level of power deficit on the continent, the obvious response is that the gap must be closed. Some have said that this gap must be closed “by any means possible.” By the way, when Frantz Fanon penned those terms, and when Malcom X used them at the founding rally of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), they obviously did not have self-harming connotations in their minds.

Electric power by any means suggests burning of more oil, gas and coal and use of nuclear power or big dams. These will generate the needed power, but what would it do to the climate? Africa is already one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, with temperatures rising more rapidly than the global average in some places. Extreme floods, cyclones, droughts and even locust invasions have grave implications for the continent.

At a recent webinar, a participant asked this question, “Is it fair not to allow countries in the global South to adopt the destructive pattern that built the global North?” This appeared to be in sync with a statement made by Gabriel Obiang Lima, the minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons in  Equatorial Guinea: “Under no circumstances are we going to be apologizing, …Anybody out of the continent saying we should not develop those [oil and gas] fields, that is criminal…”

Alternative socio-political power scenarios inspire the pursuit of power and energy alternatives. It is time for the intensification of community dialogues and the convening of peoples’ assemblies to determine what constitutes development and progress as well as to what ends Nature must be transformed. There is a critical need to disconnect our dreams and plans from the narratives of climate deniers and scenarios that lock us into interests of extractive corporations and politicians seduced by revenue sources that discount both the people and ecological costs.

The question is whether Africa’s need for electricity trumps our climate change challenge. Some analysts argue that as much as climate concerns are real, switching away from fossil fuels dependence will be misguided. We need to debate “development” and what being developed means.

Oilwatch International has been demanding that fossils be kept in the ground for over two decades now. This started before #KeepItInTheGround became a popular hashtag. Oilwatch is basically a global South network focusing on halting the expansion of destructive fossil fuel activities in the global South. The network recognises the need for power, but it also recognises the right of our peoples to life and dignity.

Alternative Power for attainment of Power Alternatives

Let us return to the question of power in the socio-political lens. We remind ourselves that it talks about the capacity to influence the actions, beliefs, or conduct of others. It is in this space that we can see possibility of drawing the line between drowning and dying with lights on or living and thriving with lights on. With the right political power, we can agree on, and deliver the right electric power.

Africa may resist the shift from fossil fuels on the basis of the argument that it is unjust for those who have benefited from the use of fossil power to now demand that Africa shuts down her few fossil power plants and plunges into darkness, bearing the brunt of climate action while the rich polluting nations and oil companies enjoy the spoils of their exploitation with no responsibility for historical recklessness and even crimes. The middle ground for this would be that the global North immediately shifts from polluting fossil energy while the global South engages in a managed decline, weaning off and shifting to cleaner energy in a gradual mode.

The point is that for this demand to be made in a convincing manner, Africa must have leaders with a climate justice mindset. The dominant neoliberal mindset that pursues projects and climate finance rather than the payment of climate debt will not do. A mindset that accepts the commodification of nature and false solutions such as carbon colonialism and slavery, that sees the continent as a huge carbon sink or data mine will not do.

We need a climate justice mindset that drives the political will to draw an immediate and long-term plan to power Africa from the abundant renewable resources she has, ensuring that these do not come with green land grabs and diverse dispossessions of poor communities and peoples. We need a new mindset to build alternative power structures that would birth continent-wide distributed renewable energy micro-grids managed by communities and associations and not shylock private companies.

We need an alternative power structure, one that is people driven, that builds power with the knowledge that you do not have to extract and use a resource simply because you have it. A system that understands that you don’t have to exploit a resource simply because it has a financial value while ignoring the values of liberty, dignity, solidarity and intergenerational equity. It is a good time also to define and debate development. Where has the current mode taken the world?

Alternative socio-political power scenarios inspire the pursuit of power and energy alternatives. It is time for the intensification of community dialogues and the convening of peoples’ assemblies to determine what constitutes development and progress as well as to what ends Nature must be transformed. There is a critical need to disconnect our dreams and plans from the narratives of climate deniers and scenarios that lock us into interests of extractive corporations and politicians seduced by revenue sources that discount both the people and ecological costs.

——————————

Presentation at Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s Climate Change and Power Alternatives Dialogue/Webinar on 22 June 2020

 

In the rear views of life

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FNostalgia, memories in the rear views of life

Mirrors with many faces and dreams may be rife

But focus on the perspective etched by the vista of converging parallels

Know that though hopes, visions, dreams and paths ahead wear enticing apparels

We must know which and which are meant for us

Skipping the needless fights that raise naught but dust

Friends, no matter the pandemonium or commotion:

When you clock sixty-two be quick to do things but know when to rest

And often use your tongue to count your teeth if by chance some are left

I read a thousand goodwill messages all through yesterday

Some overwhelming some astonishing and some I’d rather not say

Then as I walked through my lockdown garden and browsed the verdant bed

The fact that you all care brought home the fact that I am very blessed

 

Friends, comrades, family: all I can say is THANK YOU

Don’t Muddy Our Waters

AtollLamusFreshwater and Marine Ecosystems in the the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Basin face a lot of challenges and this year’s World Oceans Day offers us a good anchor for reflection. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean. Innovation resonates readily because it speaks of new ideas, methods and ways of doing or using something. It speaks also of products and exploitation. Like most concepts, innovation is not value neutral. This calls for a careful consideration of what uptakes may arise from innovative ocean use. The theme aligns with SDG 14 – Life Below Water. Targets of this SDG include reducing marine pollution including those from land-based activities. It also targets the management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems in ways that do not yield negative impacts.

The Atlantic coastline of the Niger Delta and its network of rivers and creeks is notorious for being heavily impacted by oil spills, produced water and chemical wastes. The oceans have become huge sewage dumps for polluting industries. While floating plastic “continents” have caught global attention, oil spills frequently get pushed to the bottom of the sea with fractions evaporating into the atmosphere, avoiding notice until bits float to the coastline or are picked up by fishers struggling to make a living in the polluted seas. Spectacular offshore oil spills here include Shell’s 40,000 barrels Bonga oil spill of 2011 and the one from a Texaco (Chevron) offshore station in 1980 that released 400,000 barrels into the ocean. It is estimated that about 1 million barrels of crude oil are dumped into the Niger Delta environment annually. According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Nigeria has an average of five (5) oil spills daily and has had 1,300 oil spills in the last two years.

Besides oil production, other industries are serious threats to the oceans. The phosphate factory at Kpeme, Togo, pumps industrial waste directly into the Atlantic coast, turning the water green for up to 1.5 kilometres into sea and rendering the area a dead zone for fisheries. Phosphate factories equally pollute the Atlantic Ocean with heavy metals at El Jadida-Safi coastal zone in Morocco.

Our freshwater ecosystems are under threat because of the offhanded manner they are treated. Rivers and lagoons get contaminated by industrial effluent and offshore extractive industries simply load the ocean with wastes and are not accountable to anyone. In sum, it is tragic that our rivers, creeks, lakes and seas are often seen as waste dumps.

The story does not end there. Considering the energy deficit in Africa, energy projects get many excited. Consider the grand Inga hydropower project in Democratic Republic of Congo. While being touted as an infrastructural development that will power and light up Africa, the local people believe the main beneficiaries will be the extractive industries in the region. They believe that there will be major disruptions of the freshwater ecosystem and that they will be left to suffer the negative impacts of such an infrastructural development on the world’s deepest river and the second longest in Africa.

The Inga III Dam to be located at the mouth of the Congo River is attracting finance from China and from the African Development Bank (AfDB). While we like to see the AfDB support and finance energy projects on the continent, they should be circumspect about funding projects that would have huge negative repercussions for Africa’s biodiversity and her peoples, just as they did by withdrawing support for the Coal Power plant at Lamu, Kenya. The decision showed the bank’s consideration for public opinion as well as the adverse climate change realities the power plant would contribute to. The bank cannot do any less with regard to the Inga III Dam project considering the dire impacts it would have as we hear from grassroots activists opposed to the project.

Rather than allow the World Ocean Day to be another opening for talk shops we are determined to make it a day of deep reflections from a people’s perspective on the state of our marine and freshwater ecosystems with a view to outlining concrete steps towards protecting them. One of our key recommendations is that it is time for the creation or expansion of protected Freshwater and Marine Areas in the Gulf of Guinea, the Congo Basin and in other inland lakes and rivers.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation has just issued a Policy Paper calling for the creation of Marine and Freshwater protected areas in Nigeria. The paper is adaptable for other countries in the Gulf of Guinea and Congo Basin. It states “There is need to develop institutional framework and an all-inclusive marine protected areas policy to protect the marine ecosystem against destructive and extinctive practices. Although there are no official gazettes of Freshwater or Marine Protected Areas in Nigeria, community people through cultural and local knowledge have led and managed the creation of protected areas, protection of some aquatic animal species and even scheduling of fishing periods.” The issue of recognizing indigenous knowledge and practices is central to the call. We insist that protected areas must not deprive local populations of access to ecosystem resources. Any such protected areas must have provisions that are gender sensitive and socially inclusive.

We are also concerned that innovation in the oceans may herald the upscaling of plans to implement the Blue Economy concept which we see as an aquatic version of the Green Economy. The concern here is that just as the Green Economy epitomises the commodification of Nature, the literal placing of Nature on the market shelf, the Blue Economy will lead to partitioning and grabbing of our aquatic ecosystems with the attendant rise of extractive activities such as deep sea mining, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting.

It is time to raise the capacity of our fishers to monitor aquatic ecosystems, share knowledge, map threatened and valuable species, network with other fishers within and across borders. Water is life is not a mere slogan. It is declaration that must be fought for. Many see water as a resource that is limitless, conveniently forgetting that only three (3) percent of Earth’s water is freshwater and only 1.2 percent can be used as drinking water while the rest are inaccessible in ice caps, permafrost or way down in the ground. Thinking about that should be sobering.

 

*Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at the Freshwater Ecosystem Convergence/webinar on 08 June 2020.

We Must Breathe Again

Social distances widen

graphics by Chaz Maviyane-Davies

As physical distances shrink

We saw this didn’t you

As the knees of the murderous cops

Dug into the neck and body of George Floyd

I can’t breathe!

As the fires flash

As the bullets fly

As murderous dogs

And never-heard-off-weapons of destruction are unleashed

From the white-washed-house of weapons of hate

They must hear our shouts

I can’t breathe!

Flights of fancy, flags of disgust dock the orbits above our heads 

As citizens black and white, yellow and red

And others far and near  

Kneel in solidarity 

Against racism

Against slavery

Against colonialism 

Against imperialism 

Declaring

I can’t breathe!

Until the philosophy 
Which hold one race superior and another
Inferior
Is finally
And permanently
Discredited
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say

I can’t breathe!

Fists in the air

We kneel in solidarity 

A collective push for international solidarity 

And declare: never again

Will the virus of hate and racism

Take away the breath of our people

We must breathe again!

An Infectious Bill

EXPLAINER: Why National Assembly still sits after presidential ...In these days of acute suspicion and uncertainty about who may be asymptomatic and who may just be harbouring early stages of COVID-19, sneaking in a Control of Infectious Diseases Bill and attempting to ram it through the legislative process is bound to generate controversies. In a season where  nose masks of various makes are being devised; where the protective wear is quickly becoming a fashion statement among both citizens and top politicians; where public office holders wear medical grade masks and health workers have to make do with whatever they the can find,  it is easy to see why Nigerians are edgy over this bill.

In a situation where the decayed infrastructure of our healthcare system has been exposed by the emergence of coronavirus, citizens are bound to wonder why the House of Representatives should rush a bill through first and second readings without some of the members even laying their eyes on the document. To further underscore the opacity of the process, there was an attempt to push the bill through without subjecting it to public hearing. While the leadership may be right that public hearings are not mandatory in the legislative process, it cannot be denied that it is one of the markers of inclusion, openness and transparency.

The Senate has equally brought up its own bill to tackle the infectious disease problem. The big question is:  why the sudden rush to enact laws on infectious diseases in the midst of a pandemic? Wisdom teaches that critical decisions should be made in conditions of sobriety and careful deliberation and not when law makers are in a panic mode. We can excuse the legislators if they are driven by panic and love for the health of compatriots but if the rush is induced, then the baby may well be acutely premature.

Objections to the bill have come from civil society coalitions, faith-based organisations and the general public. A coalition of civil society groups issued a statement denouncing the bill and stated among others, that the bill poses a threat to human rights and is an abuse of power.  They also asserted that the bill shields officials of the agency for which it is being proposed from being held accountable. An extract from their statement signed by 37 groups, including CISLAC and Amnesty International, is germane here:

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill vests overbearing discretionary powers on the Director General of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC), while making no provision for reviewing and controlling the exercise of such powers. The bill empowers the NCDC to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms at will, and abuse constitutionally established institutions and processes, without any form of accountability. For instance, Section 10 (3) gives the Director General express powers to use force to enter any premises without warrant; Section 19 confers the Director General with powers to prohibit or restrict meetings, gatherings and public entertainments; Section 15(3e) also gives powers to the Director to authorize the destruction and disposal of any structure, goods, water supply, drainage etc. In addition, Section 47(1) confers discretionary powers on the Director General to order any person to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis. All these powers can be abused for political and economic reasons if not properly checked.
“Section 71 of the bill absolves the Director General, any Health Officer, any Port Health Officer, any police officer or any authorised person of any liability when ‘acting in good faith and with reasonable care.’ The use of ‘good faith and reasonable care’ is ambiguous and subject to misuse, manipulation, and misinterpretation for personal gain. While the threat of infectious diseases may be apparent, measures deployed for their prevention must be within the ambits of the law and must protect citizens from wilful abuse of rights.”

Imagine how quickly the mistrust the public has towards our legislators would be erased if they defer the bills, conduct further research, engage relevant stakeholders and draft bills that go beyond empowering the NCDC and Ministers of Health to ride roughshod over the people in the guise of fighting infectious diseases. To cap that up, they can immediately move the N37 billion budgeted for the “renovation” of the National Assembly to the NCDC for the crucial fight against the pandemic to which they are so committed. How many will say Aye to that proposal?

Responding to criticisms of the bill, the Speaker of the House of Representatives reportedly said, “Since then there has been a barrage of criticisms and accusations, including allegations that the proposed bill is a product of inducement by foreign interests. The bill, which is still a proposal subject to consideration, amendment and improvement, has been assailed as a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights.” He went on to add that “none of these allegations is true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.”

We indeed live in a season of conspiracy theories, but not all of these theories can be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Every theory requires interrogation. The House of Representatives has been accused of being induced by a gift of $10 million from the vaccine buff and noted philanthropist, Bill Gates. While that allegation sounds outlandish, it is known that legislative processes in Nigeria and elsewhere are sometimes influenced by huge cash outlays. Such monies may be characterised as lobbying expenditure even though they exert huge inducement pressures on lawmakers. The origin of the coronavirus has become both a subject of political and scientific controversies. The rush to open up businesses is needed for political ends but fits into the impatience and unwillingness of citizens to remain in a state of lockdown. No action is neutral, it seems. Not even philanthropy, and certainly not economic or medical aid.

Mr Gates has openly stated his interest in massive vaccination of peoples across the world, including by investing in seven anti-COVID-19 vaccine producing factories with the hope that probably two may eventually be approved and would yield incredible cash for his already deep pockets. The pandemic has become a pivot for medical as well as financial speculators. International financial institutions and political blocks have seen the pandemic as a window for shuffling funds, extending their tentacles and building new spheres and modes of control and exploitation. For materials to aid further conversation on this, our report, Who Benefits from Corona – a breakfast with Mr Gates, may be useful.

The honourable members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives still have time to redeem themselves from the self-inflicted injury caused by the bills. Nigerians have determined that the bills are pills they will not swallow except they are  tied down hand and foot, with necks in stocks. The pandemic is a disaster because the hazards brought by the coronavirus have met vulnerable populations with no social amenities and no health safety nets. Hospitals still lack basic equipment, including face masks! Some infectious disease hospitals are so decayed you would be right to say that they have not been rehabilitated since the colonial powers set them up over 100 years ago. Some of those facilities are foreboding mud structures that patients approach with extreme trepidation.

Imagine how quickly the mistrust the public has towards our legislators would be erased if they defer the bills, conduct further research, engage relevant stakeholders and draft bills that go beyond empowering the NCDC and Ministers of Health to ride roughshod over the people in the guise of fighting infectious diseases. To cap that up, they can immediately move the N37 billion budgeted for the “renovation” of the National Assembly to the NCDC for the crucial fight against the pandemic to which they are so committed. How many will say Aye to that proposal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Debt Long Overdue

Climate Debt, an overdue debt

You want to know

If and when the Climate Debt will ever be paid

When will the debtors agree there is a bill?

Could be soon‬… ‪Could also be later‬

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪Like the Natural Mystic 🎶

‪Probably a Climate Lockdown?‬

‪A stormy knockdown to wake us up‬?

‪Why are we so stuck up

Why do we imagine we are so strong ‬

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪By adorning a sunny crown

A tiny virus with Martian suction landing pads

Craves unwary nostrils, mouths and eyes

Made super powers powerless 

Powerless, like in powerless

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪Climate lockdown ‬

‪Could be sooner ‬

No, not later

‪With or without a crooner‬

Do not here mention corona

Don’ you see?

Can you yet still not perceive it?

world map shaped smoke rise form factory chimney
A smoked world

 

 

End of an Illusory Civilisation

 

The end of an Illusory Civilisation was bound to come. The illusion that the petroleum civilisation will last into the foreseeable future has always been a marker that our vision is rather limited. The civilisation has been preserved by our collective myopia. You may call it wilful denial.

It has been easy to ignore the cases of gross ecological harms imposed by petroleum extraction and exploitation on communities and territories simply because the power structures could drown out the voices of the people. Power structures hosted in shiny skyscrapers and expansive statehouses could pretend not to know the gross damage and the rage of inequalities on the streets.

When cyclones, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather events wreaked havoc on communities and nations, it was seen as opportunities to eliminate vulnerable communities living in locations preferred as vacation spots by the rich and the well-heeled.

Calls for economic diversification away from dependence on the fossil fuels sector are often seen as insane because the pockets were deemed to be bottomless. People even said that some economies could simply not survive a post petroleum era. They painted pictures of starving, helpless populations who could only be pulled out of misery by revenues yielded by the fossil fuel sector. They saw the sector as the major provider of jobs and the good life.

It was impossible to imagine the possibility of enjoying the good life without energy and power provided by fossil fuels. How would intercontinental travels and highspeed movement on superhighways be undertaken without fossil fuels? How could foods be harvested in one end of the world and eaten the next day at a distant spot on the planet? And how about the flowers harvested in Latin America or Africa and destined for the visual and nasal pleasures of lovers somewhere in Europe or North America? The idea that high-input industrial monoculture agriculture was destroying habitats and biodiversity, harming the planet, promoting wastes and even affecting human health were seen as unavoidable trade-offs in the pursuit of meat, uniform food products and profit.

Then came the special variant of coronavirus and the attendant COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic came with a heightened sense of panic. National borders got closed. Routine international air travels got halted.

Offices, factories and markets got closed. Humans became locked up in their homes or neighbourhoods. Gatherings of more than 20 persons became classified as large gatherings. Sports activities, including famed soccer, cricket, baseball and basketball leagues shuttered down. No big weddings or funerals. The world descended into a season of the unthinkable.

It has never been in doubt that fossil fuels are not renewable resources and that the stocks were finite. Besides the fact that they are wasting resources, it has also been known that burning them was harmful to the climate. The fossil fuel sector invested heavily in sponsoring climate denial as well as blocking real climate actions at both national and global levels. If the monies invested in image laundering and climate change denial had been channelled into clean energy development, the world would have been at a better standing than it is today.

Standing at the climate change precipice, restrained by a pandemic, humans have been literally quarantined and forced to accept the lifestyles that were hitherto unthinkable in their highly sophisticated societies. This would have been a time for neighbours to get to know one another, for communities to forge closer ties, but we have seen highly divisive tendencies. At a point we see communities refusing to allow ship berth at their port for fear of transmission of the virus. Is it not strange that people could tell their compatriots to float away and perish wherever as long as they did not bring a threat of the virus onshore?

Besides the fact that humans are caged by the pandemic, the greater challenge may be that of economic collapse. The economic turmoil, and especially the collapse of crude oil prices, poses a serious challenge to politicians and their corporate sponsors. If the collapse persists, politicians will be forced to change their perception matrix and know that they are elected by the people, not by corporations and that the well-being of the people is more important than the profit margins of corporations.

This oil price slump is a clear warning that even if the prices rebound, the days of the civilisation driven by this sector are truly numbered. It is simple wisdom that to be forewarned is to be fore armed. Moving on bullishly as if nothing is at stake is to blindly drive on to catastrophe. The pandemic has given the world a moment for reflection. Remaining stubborn and unreasonable is not an option.

The Irony of Growth

 

The rage of the Covid-19 pandemic has been as astonishing as any epic disaster can be. What startles some of us more is the unabashed projection that millions of Africans will die, probably as soon as the pandemic ends at the current epicentres. How come some of these analysts speak with so much certainty and do not suggest that they are merely projecting from indices that only they know? My deep hope is that their projections do not get validated. I know you might say that this is about science and not a matter of what our wish may be. But, what will the power brokers of this world do if the pandemic never takes root in Africa or in more places in the global south?

While the pandemic persists and we are on lockdown across the world, we have time to look at the world and the power plays at work. So many lives have been snuffed out. So many health workers have been exposed. The poor have been herded into ramshackle shacks, in stadia and some open fields since they could not say their homelessness or flimsy shacks back home were any better. The stratifications in societies are laid bare for all to see and to feel.

One thing that is stark at this time is the fact that disasters offer opportunities for profit. Whereas this should be a moment for a rethink of systems of production, distribution and consumption, the battle cry appears to be on how to bail out sectors that are most implicated in persisting socio-economic and climate crises in the world. Workers get laid off while corporate executives receive hefty pay cheques.

At a time when the social wellbeing of the majority of the people ought to be the concern of everyone, the focus is on how to cushion the inconveniences of the 1 percent. In the current paradigm, economic growth trumps the social wellbeing of the people; growth at any cost, even if workers are to be discounted and hurled away in body bags.

The pandemic has revealed the spirit of solidarity in cities and nations. Citizens journalists have brought us heart-warming videos of neighbours joyfully banging pans or singing together from isolated balconies. We have seen free donations of supplies to help health workers and to bridge the food shortage gap for persons trapped without cash or access to food.

We have also seen individuals, despots and autocrats using the pandemic as a cover for racism, xenophobia and abuse. Politicians have used the emergency as an excuse to shut national borders as though the coronavirus could be stopped by a wall or by the border police for that matter. Myopia can be a disease as dangerous as Covid-19.

The pandemic has given a reprieve or a sabbath of rest to Mother Earth. The skies are clear and quiet. Water ways are cleaner in some countries. Wildlife is free to go wild in many places. We must not allow the message that the lockdown could help show the direction of climate action to be buried by those profiting from dirty energy.

International financial institutions and governments persist in assessing the state of national and global economies by the discredited Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measure. When a defective measure such as the GDP is used in gauging the state of any economy, it is easy to see that actions to improve on such economies are bound to be defective. The GDP has been largely weaponized over the years to beat less powerful nations into line. It has been used by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a measuring rod or diagnostic tool by which they prescribe and enforce unpalatable, unhelpful and ruinous policies. Today nations are wincing as the drop in GDP stares them in the face.

Actions to shore up GDPs can be a measure of the deftness of statisticians. It is a cloak that covers the raw wounds of consciences of corporate and political leaders. It is amazing that with so much destruction in the world, global GDP is not rising. Has it stopped taking destructions as domestic products?

The impact of the pandemic on the crude oil market should wake us up to the power of the fossil fuel sector over politicians and political sectors. Imagine the fact that the production cost of a barrel of crude in Nigeria is about 30 dollars whereas in some other countries the cost is as low as 5 dollars. What is unique about the Niger Delta that makes oil production so expensive here? This is a pertinent question considering that the region has earned a place as one of the top ten most polluted places on earth, thanks to free reign of ecological corruption, corporate irresponsibility and environmental racism.

The pandemic has given a reprieve or a sabbath of rest to Mother Earth. The skies are clear and quiet. Water ways are cleaner in some countries. Wildlife is free to go wild in many places. We must not allow the message that the lockdown could help show the direction for climate action to be buried by those profiting from dirty energy. The bailout being contemplated for banks and corporate entities could very well be aimed at reshaping the power sector from fossil dependence to a renewable energy system. Let’s bail out the peoples for once and not focus on the drivers of the multiple crises in the world.

It is time to decouple the interests of corporate CEOs from those of political leaders even though they appear to be mutually reinforcing, just as in some cases the “pandemic and corruption are mutually reinforcing and inclusive,” to quote a post by Jaiye Gaskia on Facebook.

 

 

Welcome to the Age of Paradox

Drink

Welcome to the age of paradox
Baskets over our mouths
Masks on forlorn faces we march incognito
Hopes bloom, blossom but long awaited fruits wither
In storms and ambush at corners behind rusty barometers and wind vanes
Shouts for help blocked by impregnable social distancing
Walled national borders stand silly policed by benumbed sentinels
While viruses float over visa-less air
Naval armadas boast ballistic missiles yet sailors are locked in by unseen enemies
A cough, a shiver raises dusts and … a hail of demonic pans in a pan…demic
This virus floats in the air, slithers on shinny steel and grainy boards
Yet as our fingers hover and minds flutter
No one says for how long the devious virus lives on keyboards
Welcome to the age of paradox

Welcome to the age of paradox
Where were we when the birds chirped the message and
Lizards nodded in prodigious assent
Bellies bulging in agreement and receding in doubt?
Yet in a maddening non-choleric season
We accumulate shit papers rolled in watery dreams
Herd mentality entrenched by fear of the known
Politicians turn conductors of tragic orchestras belting out an unending dirge
Bust social safety nets torn by goodwill
Trillions were thrown on rusty guns, grenades and jammed hardware
Billions doled to imaginary poorest of the poor that none could sight no matter where you look
Pandemic of corruption erupts in millions of innovative streaks
Welcome to the age of paradox

Welcome to the age of paradox
Since accumulation remains the creed even in a season of death
Today we wonder if home is where the heart is
Why the restless feet sliding from locked door to locked door
Seeking a break to jump into the brutish
Embrace of brutes in jackboots who had forgotten their heart at loveless homes
Licensed to roam the streets and threaten daughters, mothers and wives with poisoned arrows beneath their belts
In the gloom and the doom
The rich and power brokers once proud of being peripatetic now deny their vagabond history
But all end at the same dilapidated rat infested gates
Of illness clinics they refused to fund
Welcome to the age of paradox  

Welcome to the age of paradox
No search warrants, no docks, no pleadings to their lordships
No judgements, yet the world is sentenced
Locked down, locked in, locked up
Terror as running noses paralyze motion
And a mere sneeze shames star olympians
Locked down, locked in, locked up, locked out
We attend parties of the mind and throw banters in the air
Spiders spin intricate webs beneath swivel chairs
And workers speak keyboard to keyboard
Minds sanitized, shut eyes opened with
Hands trapped under running water from long dried faucets
Welcome to the age of paradox

Welcome to the age of paradox
Emptied of corona-virus bats now sleep by night
Men loaded down wheeze and doze in the crack between day and the night
But if bats birthed the pain why are men still bent on stealing their homes?
Habitats vanish, species go extinct, yet 10 humans are trapped in 3 X 3m boxes!
What if Coronavirus  is your Frankenstein or the genie that escaped the cork?
Hidden amazements torment our hearts
As these our relatives evicted from their homes
Seek habitations and knocked on our doors
Cashless society starves while cash gets stoked in billionaires’ bottomless pockets
Gate keepers shout the world’s population must be cut by 15 per cent
Way to knock off the stats that their wealth equals that of the rest of the world
Why don’t the rich line their golden necks on the slaughter slab
Or be the first to be vaccinated against the virus of greed?
Welcome to the age of paradox

 

this poem first published at https://www.fes.de/referat-afrika/neugikeiten-referat-afrika/the-age-of-paradox