Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats

540AB3D7-FB76-4690-8CE4-6FB3F3D8CB50I would rather not be Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats. No doubt science has meant advancement in many areas and has helped in the fight to overcome many problems. Science has also been the cause of many problems, some of which may prove to be almost intractable. The major problem is that science does not only tackle known problems, it can create new ones. It can also affect our minds and can become a religion. When folks develop the mindset that every problem has a technological solution, that elevates technofixes to becoming religious fix.

The trouble is that simple solutions to complex problems get ignored on the altar of profit, control and exploitation. A case in point is the needless pursuit of genetically modified mosquitoes to address the malaria problem. The fact that malaria kills thousands every year, and that Africa remains disproportionately exposed to this malaise, does not in any way mean that the less invasive solutions are inadequate or useless. Statements such as the one recently made by Abdoulaye Diabate who works with Target Malaria that “The conventional tools that we have at our disposal today have reached their limit,” underscores the tunnel vision of divers of extreme technofixes.

Target Malaria is running an experiment in Burkina Faso and have released 5,000 genetically modified male mosquitoes into Souroukoudinga, a village in western Burkina Faso as a precursor to the release of gene drive mosquitoes that aims to eliminate an entire species of anopheles mosquitoes. The project is being pursued by Target Malaria with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Philantropy Project and the US Military. That experiment is throttling ahead despite the fact that as a major issue, prior informed consent has not been gotten in the territory that will potentially be impacted by these genetically modified mosquitoes. A documentary, A Question of Consent: Exterminator Mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, produced by the ETC Group exposes the falsehood of claims that there have been adequate consultation and prior informed consent. The matter of free, prior and informed consent cannot be toyed with.

A meeting in 2018, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) set stringent conditions for the environmental release of gene drive organisms. These conditions require that “the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ or ‘approval and involvement’ of potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities is sought or obtained” before any release of gene drive organisms.

Of concern here is that the National Biosafety Management Agency Act of 2015 has been enlarged to include definitions of gene drives, synthetic biology and other emerging technologies by the National Assembly and signed into law by the president. Ordinarily one would not be concerned by having expanded definitions in any law as that could be a good thing. However, in a system rigged against public opinion and the concerns of citizens, this is a crack in the door through which trouble can either creep or even swagger in. It can be a grave danger to grant authority on regulation of these largely unproven technologies to an agency that is an authority unto itself and operates with scant oversight or accountability.

Sadly, some parts of the world, including ours, have become dumping grounds for obsolete equipments and products. Toxic pesticides such as DDT can still be found in some places. In the USA, thousands of lawsuits are being waged against glyphosate based herbicides that are being fingered in cancer cases. In Nigeria, glyphosate based herbicides are gleefully sold in the market and are duly certified as safe by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This adds to the spate of suicides by drinking Sniper pesticide.

Contemporary global technology fetish makes it difficult for citizens to question anything techie. With the rapid arrival of jaw dropping advances, the tendency is to bow and praise these creations. However, wisdom requires that we question these arrivals and accept them, if we may with full knowledge of the risks and uncertainties involved. And, in fact, we cannot accept all of them. Climate science, for instance, warn that continued dumping of greenhouse gases will inexorably result in increased temperatures and freak weather events. Yet, there are technologies being developed for scrapping more crude oil from previously abandoned or decommissioned oil wells. There are new technologies for extreme extractivist endeavours such as fracturing rocks to push out fossil gas or oil. There are more machineries being built for deep sea mining irrespective of the impacts that such activities will have on marine ecosystems. At a time of impending mass extinctions, should humans be engaging in extinction technologies such as gene drives?

We have to ponder on why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. Even if humans are in an age of unique unipolar disorder, we are not bereft of common sense. And, come to think of it, mosquitoes have been eradicated in parts of the world through improved sanitation, social infrastructure and without the use of genetically modified varieties. A recent report in Nature revealed that genetically modified mosquitoes earlier released in Brazil have interbred with local mosquitoes, confirming the existence of wide gaps in the claim that laboratory produced “sterile” mosquitoes would not impact local ecosystems in this manner.

Permitting Africa to be turned into a laboratory for experimentations for profit and with tools that can easily be weaponized is both a betrayal of trust in leaders and unethical in all senses. With full, prior, informed consent it will be seen that our peoples will rather not be bitten by genetically modified gnats no matter who markets them.

After the Massive Climate Marches

Marching in NYC 20.09.19The massive climate marches of 20th September 2019 demand massive global actions. Extreme storms, hurricanes and cyclones are occurring so frequently that they are almost taken for granted. Recently The Bahamas and parts of the USA were hit by hurricane Dorian. Earlier in the year it was cyclone Idai,followed by Kenneth and then Fani in the Indian Ocean. Those cyclones battered Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Seychelles and parts of the coastal areas of eastern India. Scientists surmised that the cyclones that killed over a thousand  in Mozambique and wreaked $2 billion worth of damage there was made more intense by the warming of the ocean.

In 2000 flooding in Mozambique caused extensive damage and pictures of disparate citizens stranded on rooftops, tree tops and broken bridges made the rounds in the global media. In 2012 flooding  in Nigeria took the lives of 363 persons and displaced 2.1 others. Last year over 100 persons died in floods in the country. All these come as go as news and the numbers of persons killed and properties damaged all go down as mere statistics.

While the dusts were yet to settle, we were alerted  of another storm hitting the Bahamas  and an headline informing that the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) predicted weather related destruction in parts of Nigeria by October as flood marches down from the upper reaches of the Niger Basin comprising Guinea, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’ivoire, Benin, Chad and Cameroon arrive there. The floods are coming and we have a month’s notice to relocate to higher grounds. Storms in Guinea and other upstream nations will pile up the flood that will quietly wiggle its way down the River Niger and take unsuspecting communities downstream by surprise. But, are they not forewarned?

So, we did march in the climate strikes across the world. As massive as the marches were they did not stop the storms, cyclones, hurricanes from continuing to batter our peoples and territories.. Now is the time to build on the marches to compel action, halt dithering by policy makers and insist that speeches must never offset or take the place of action.

Were we not all forewarned in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we have barely twelve years within which to take real climate action to avert catastrophic climate crisis? What have we done to show that we understand the enormity of the looming dire situation? Precious little is being done or planned to be done. Countries are still struggling to make any serious commitments in the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions as required by the Paris Agreement. It has long been known that the climate crisis requires holistic approaches with nations assigned amounts of emissions to cut as determined and required by sciences and according to historical and current responsibility.

Unfortunately, the climate negotiations have become arena for nations  to agree on what is convenient for them to do or not to do, completely ignoring the climate debt and the fact that rich, industrialized, polluting nations have already grabbed 80 percent of the carbon budget. We are seeing the burden of climate action being loaded on poor, vulnerable  nations and territories that never contributed significantly to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These poor countries are required to turn their forests and soils and seas  into carbon sinks so that polluters can continue with pollution-as-usual in the name of business.

Did you hear of the legislation in the Philipinnesrequiring that students must plant ten trees or they would not graduate from college? While planting trees is a great idea, hanging this on a student’s graduation is another manifestation of injustice in the distribution of climate responsibilities.

This manner of intergenerational buck passing is unacceptable and confirms why radical actions must be taken to force governments to take up their responsibilities. The spokesperson of the African Group at the COP at Copenhagen in 2009 wept when nations were pushing for a climate ambition of 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels. He declared the target as unjust and would mean the incineration of Africa. With unchecked burning of fossil fuels and rising consumption and wastage, that 1 degree threshold has been crossed and today we pathetically celebrate a target of “1.5 or well below 2 degrees.”

In his The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming, Michael Tennesen states that if all the ice sheets on earth were to melt  we would have a sea level rise of approximately 60 metres or 200 feet. If that were to happen, only a few would find higher ground to relocate to. In fact, in some low lying coastal areas, a sea level rise of 1 metre or 3 feet would translate to the submergence of land to a distance of several kilometres into the hinterland.

The polar ice caps and all the ice sheets may not yet be cracking and collapsing into the sea at this time, but we have the warming that the scene is set for that to happen. Will nations heed the warmings we have today and take needed actions? Is the world ready to leave fossil fuels in the ground and ensure a rapid transition to renewable energy sources?

We are happy that the Climate Strike has caught the attention of the world. We salute the youths for showing disgust at the slumber of adults and policy makers while the climate crisis unfolds.

We can have conferences and mount shows to give the impression that something is being done to avert climate chaos. However, they will not stop the floods. This is no time for make believe. This is no tome for pretense. This is time to remind policy makers and polluters that the solution to the crisis are known and time for talks is over. Now is the time to accept that climate change is the result of the failure of markets and the social alignments engendered by them. Now is the time for action. Keep the fossils in the ground. Halt the burning of forests, especially in the Amazon. Halt all the false solutions. Embrace renewable energy. Embrace agroecological food production. Stop the weakening of national resilience through warfare. It is time for the payment of ecological and climate debt, not scrapping around for elusive Green Climate Finance. Respect the rights of Nature and all beings.

So, we did march in the climate strikes across the world. As massive as the marches were they did not stop the storms, cyclones, hurricanes from continuing to batter our peoples and territories.. Now is the time to build on the marches to compel action, halt dithering by policy makers and insist that speeches must never offset or take the place of action.

Xenophobia and the New Apartheid

506DD42A-2FF1-407F-B25C-A148AF0929B8Is xenophobia the new face of Apartheid? Nigeria was a radical Nation when it came to fighting for the liberation of Africa from the grip of colonialism and apartheid. The nation was radical when it came to taking positions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Africa-centric foreign affairs policy was so strong that international oil companies operating in Nigeria were partially nationalized at that time as punishment for hobnobbing with the segregationists. It was a time for the awakening of socio-political consciousness that liberty was indeed the right of every African, of every human. The liberation movements fought for economic, political and mental freedom. There was no shortage of publications from the African National Congress (ANC), The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), South West Africa People Organisation (SWAPO) and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), to mention a few.

Bob Marley, from a fully Pan African mindset produced hits like War and Africans Unite. He sang of Africans liberating Zimbabwe. He did not say that Zimbabweans were liberating Zimbabwe. He said, Africans liberated Zimbabwe. Nigeria’s Sonny Okosun sang of Papa’s Land concerning Zimbabwe and Fire in Soweto in support of the struggle against apartheid outrages in South Africa. As far as Okosun was concerned, Zimbabwe was Papa’s Land. Peter Tosh and many other artistes played their part in projecting a universal African personae.

Many South African youths, while on exile from the then rogue government in their country, studied in Nigerian universities and were completely at home in the country. They were loved and not discriminated against. They were welcomed with open arms because the liberation of Africa was a collective struggle. No wonder that as soon as apartheid structures crumbled, victory was seen as an open invitation to fraternize with brothers and sisters that had been held in horrible bondage for years by the evil system. It was not long after the fall of that system that I made my first visit to South Africa.

One of the things that shocked me on my first visit, but which I discounted at that time, was the many times I heard South Africans say that they had “never been to Africa”. Never been to Africa? You would have thought that South Africa was in Asia or Latin America. Over the past decades I have come to make very good friends and comrades across many sectors in the country. We are still together in the struggle for environmental justice, for food sovereignty and against the neoliberal system that continues to wreak havoc on citizens of the world.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run.

Killing fellow Africans, looting and burning their business premises have become the recurrent new normal in South Africa. It is an outrage of horrific proportions that is difficult to explain or understand. A friend from South Africa explains that the hate that is burning through the nation is sown by politicians with the penchant for keeping the people divided within their communities and belligerent towards non-South African Africans.That explanation is not easy for those of us watching from the outside to understand. What stands out clearly is that this is a failure of leadership. Any leadership that does not sow love and good neighbourliness but sees a cheap way out of providing jobs and welfare to their people will find scapegoating immigrants as an easy way to avoid responsibility. It is the duty of leaders to provide the right conditions for citizens to invest their energies in positive ventures rather than in bloodletting and sundry criminal activities.

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

We see this happening around the world with right wing demagogues ascending into power and playing to their base by raising the banner of hate and division. Hate becomes normal. Hate and division rise to be seen as inherent human attributes and as a means of securing a space in the sofiri-economic spheres, whereas it is clear that it is empathy, cooperation and solidarity that has ensured the survival of all social beings.

Sisonke Msimang, in an article published in Africa is a Country and titled “Belonging–why South Africans refuse to let Africa in” showed that the xenophobic uprisings in the country has deep underlying forces traceable to the boobytraps set under apartheid. Our reading of the analysis is that just as coloniality survives colonialism, so is the case of apartheid or divisions based on a superior sense of otherness. Msimang was born to South African parents but has lived in Kenya, Zambia and Canada. On return to her country, she learned to settle in and at the same time saw and understood the feel of being considered as an outsider until she mentioned her roots.

The apartheid system had built walls around the country, ensuring that both caucasians and blacks had peculiar views of Africans outside their borders. The restrictions were stiff, the country had its first television station in 1975, never mind that DSTV has now captured the continent. Before then, one of that country’s Minister for Posts and Telegraph said that television would only be introduced into the country over his dead body. He feared that through television “South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make Africans dissatisfied with their lot.”

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

The words of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia which Bob Marley sang in his classic War, declared that “until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes me say war.”Msimang reminds us that today, some black South Africans consider their colour to be a lighter shade of black and that this confers them with a sense of superiority over the darker Africans. What an outrage! It is shocking that anyone’s mentality could be warped to that level. But then, don’t we see how skin whitening creams are best sellers with some fellows who end up with unenviable multi-coloured skins?

The violent contortions in South Africa should trouble the entire continent and the African Union (AU) should step up and play a role in realigning the imaginations of all Africans, irrespective of colour or nation. Nigeria was slow in responding while the slaughter goes on, but this is the time to draw the line and demand that leaders in that country do something to improve the lives of their people and get the nation to work rather than indulge in banditry and shedding of innocent blood.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run. This is the time for our president and that of South Africa to take a hard look at their countries. Government must step up in the defense of citizens’ right to life no matter where they may live. And, artificial colonial borders should not push us to destroy one another. Pan African ideals of leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and others, plus ideals embodied in movements such as Africans Rising aiming to erase artificial barriers and elevate the best creative, productive and transformative capacities in us provide templates for what is possible. Leaders should borrow a leaf from such efforts and not stand aside to watch brothers kill one another.

Meanwhile, in solidarity with victims of the senseless xenophobic attacks I am staying away from a vital conference on Financing the Future holding 10-11 September in Cape Town, South Africa and to which I was invited as one of the Global Ambassadors.