Moving COP25, Leaving the People

COP25 chile

Moving COP25, Leaving the People. That  sums up the sudden shift of venue of the climate conference.  With millions of Chileans protesting economic hardship and inequality in that nation, moving COP25 to Spain does nothing to resolve the political quagmire. A week ago, President Sebastian Pinera of Chile announced that his country would not host COP25 in December. Neither will it host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade summit they were to host in November 2019.It is not surprising that civil society in Chile rejected the reasons offered by the president for not hosting the COP. The Civil Society for Climate Action insists that the climate summit was an opportunity for the government to take steps that would make life better for the citizens.

The decision by Chile not to host COP25 did not mean that the conference would not hold. It simply meant that the UNFCCC had to find another host to fill the gap at short notice. It should be stated here that this was not be the first time the COP had not been held in a designated venue. In 2017, Fiji was the host of COP23, but the conference took place in Bonn, Germany and not in Fiji. The reason was that although it would have been a perfect occasion to showcase the existential threat of climate change to the small island nation, Fiji did not have the facilities to cope with the requirements of the mammoth conference. Fiji nevertheless brought her atmosphere to Bonn through a number of means, including especially the innovative Talanoa Dialogue that took place in Katowice, Poland during COP24.

Fiji presided over the COP that held in Bonn, Germany, although it was not held on its soil or in its waters. In the present case, Chile is not seeking to host the COP offshore, she has simply reneged on her right to host it. Now Spain has stepped in and offered to host the COP in Madrid.

The Chilean government had gone a long way to ensure a high attendance at the COP. For example, they offered to issue electronic visas, at no cost, to duly accredited participants. Now that the COP is shifting to Spain many delegates may be unable to scale the immigration walls the new host may erect.

We note also that when Chile declared they would not host the COP they did not indicate that they were seeking an alternate host. They simply stepped aside. Will it be legitimate for Chile to preside over COP25 in Spain? On what grounds would that happen? 

We recall that the Secretary General of the United Nations gathered world leaders at a climate summit at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2019. Could the COP not be shelved until 2020? Did that space not provide enough room for climate discussions and decisions? The answer to both questions is ‘No.’ Multilateral negotiations and decisions are made at the COP, not in special climate summits. The September meeting was however very significant as it was the space for nations to report on their readiness to increase their levels of ambition for climate action. To prod nations to step up their intentions, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a report titled The Heat is On.

Ms. Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations said of the Summit: “When I look back on this Climate Action Summit, I want us to see it as a sling shot – that helped to change our common trajectory towards sustainability” [building trust] “between this generation of adults and the next – between our children and ourselves – that we are all working together to our fullest potential to tackle the climate emergency”.

That was a pointed statement that should wake up nations hiding behind the permissive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) allowed in the Paris Agreement. The NDCs allow nations to suggest what level of actions they intendto take. The UNDP report showed that except for countries that have contributed little to the climate crisis, and whose highly ambitious intentions may not necessarily make much impact on the current climate trajectory, the big polluters were content to procrastinate as to when they may take some serious action.

The conclusion is that the updated NDCs the nations will take to COP25, no matter where or when it is hosted, will not provide any reason for celebration with regard to real climate action or finance.

The situation in Chile is a triumph of popular resistance. That nation has been embroiled in popular uprising and massive repression of dissent over the last three weeks. The decision made by the government of Chile not to host the COP has been forced by public pressure. Analysts believe that Chile had been achieving a pyrrhic economic progress built around a modelof deregulated markets and privatized social security services imposed by the previous dictatorship of General Pinochet. While the country recorded increases in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indices, the levels of inequality in the nation continued to grow.

In Ecuador, popular resistance forced the governmentto halt its march towards the debt trap inherent in loans offered by the notorious International Monetary Fund (IMF). The uprising also forced the government to reverse the increase in the price of gas in the country. The world is shifting into a revolutionary moment, when citizens can point at the direction things should go and not cede their sovereignty to elected officials and private interests. It is in this sense that we should look at the shift of venue of COP25. It may disrupt many plans, but should be seen as a real pointer to the reality that popular action can ensure that the will of the people prevails over the insatiable interests of the one per cent.

While we applaud Spain for stepping in so quickly, we cannot avoid noting that the shift from Chile to Spain without allowing time for reconfiguring participation arrangements by citizens and organizations who may not have access to public funds is very insensitive. There appears to have been no consideration given to the expenditure already made in purchase of tickets, some of which may be nonrefundable, and hotel bookings. What happens to the arrangements made by Chilean civil society to host activities at the Peoples’ spaces? How would civil society groups fund their participation in Spain at such a short notice, especially knowing how difficult it may be to obtain entry visas which were assured with regard to Chile?

We note also that when Chile declared they would not host the COP they did not indicate that they were seeking an alternate host. They simply stepped aside. Will it be legitimate for Chile to preside over COP25 in Spain? On what grounds would that happen?

What is the government of Spain doing to tackle the demands of the citizens that led to the protests in that country? Shifting the COP to Spain does not address the  socio-economic demands of the people of Chile. In fact, as Chile presides over COP25 in Spain it will be sending a disturbing signal that governments are willing to take convenient, face-saving and superficial actions rather than tackling the deep socio-political and economic issues that hurt the people and keep driving climate change.

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Note: This is a variant of an article  issued on 31 October 2019.

Coming Soon: Oil Spills in Bauchi

pondering

Oil Spills in Bauchi- coming soon. Crude oil is sometimes called the black gold and has an allure that almost makes it irresistible to speculators, corporations, governments and those who believe that wealth does trickle down from such exploitations. Whatever is the case, crude oil births dreams. It also aborts them.

Nigeria ranks among the top 20 crude oil producing nations in the world today, with its position hovering around the 16th. Africa contributes 9 per cent of global crude oil production and half of that comes from Angola and Nigeria. About a quarter of the crude oil production in Nigeria happens onshore, while the rest are extracted offshore. That ratio may change if the oil find in the region of  Bauchi/Gombe proves to be in commercial quantities.

A number of factors combine to make the nation a high risk territory for sourcing for the resource. One of the factors relates to the impact on communities of the ecological despoliation that accompanies its extraction in the country. Others include the social discontent and conflicts generated by the destruction of livelihoods, contamination of food sources and the general rupturing of support structures for healthy living. For Nigeria, vesting in further oil exploration and extraction is risky in a world that will soon shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Is the continued search worth the budget?

The extent of crude oil pollution in the communities of the Niger Delta is simply mind boggling.  With at least one flare point popping up at the new oil find location, it seems that oil pollution may finally be seen and understood by a larger number of Nigerians. The celebratory tones of the find on social media has been comparable to the drumming, dancing and hopes that burst out in Oloibiri and other communities in Ogbia area of Bayelsa State when oil was found there in the 1950s.

The celebrations in Oloibri did not last long before it turned sour as hopes of “development” were dashed and what stuck in its place was untold environmental devastation. Today,  the first oil well, drilled in 1956, sits in a hut and has been designated a mere monument. Other abandoned wells in the Ogbia bushes are yet to be decommissioned and try not to be ignored by occasionally dripping crude.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria have justly earned a bad reputation from the local population and on a global scale. They built that reputation from scratch, including from when they started flaring gas associated with crude oil extraction on the flimsy premise that there was no market for natural gas in the 1960s and flaring became a convenient company practice. It may be said also that because oil companies were not immediately held to account for oil spills when they reared their ugly heads in the Niger Delta, pollution became acceptable corporate practice. They were ignored and rose to the levels of ecocide that we see today.

In the heat of the fires set by their corporate misbehaviour, transnational oil companies operating in Nigeria have devised the strategy of supporting “backward integration” or encouraging the entrances of local entrepreneurs by selling off some of their onshore assets and clawing deeper out into the sea. And, the locals, often being “sons and daughters of the soil”, are given the benefit of the doubt and are readily accommodated by local communities since it is believed that the accruing wealth will trickle down to them and that local companies would not permit dastard ecological harms. Such sentiments do not take into account the pattern of accumulation by despoliation and dispossession inherent in the DNA of reckless capitalist production. The oil spills under local hands are as deadly as when they drip through foreign fingers. This is already happening.

In any case, the multinational oil companies prefer to dive into deeper waters, because they can escape close scrutiny and because the deeper you go, the amount the Nigerian government receives as royalties gets  progressively smaller. Who would not choose the deep water option if doing so brings more profit and less responsibilities?

The National Oil  Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) must be stretched to the limits by the spate of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The agency must literally be chasing after new spills and those that are ignored on a daily basis. Over the years, it has been agreed that about 240,000 barrels of crude oil gets spilled into the environment annually.

Researches indicate that between 1999 and 2005, up to 17.04 percent of the spills were attributed to mechanical failure. Corrosion caused 15.56 per cent and unknown causes accounted for 31,85 31.85 per cent of the oil spills. Operational error accounted for 12.59 per cent. These four categories, or 77.04 per cent, can be summed up as industry responsibilities. For that period, 20.74 per cent was said to be from third party activity. What happened at 2005? What changed?

These days, most of the incidents are attributed to third party interferences. At one level, the current situation appears to be the result of very well orchestrated campaign by the oil companies to change the narrative by getting fingers to  point at poor community people as the source of the ongoing ecological terror. The campaign succeeded due to the highly advertised violent actions in the creeks and oil thefts that continue to escalate despite the crude beingstolen from high pressure pipelines and other structures. This state of affairs allow crude oil to be made available for the running of the obnoxious “bush refineries” that are contributing massively to the degradation of the environment. These illegalities run on the subtly induced obnoxious sense of entitlement or ownership, that encourages the horrible situation where poor community people engage in extremely dangerous slave labour of cooking and distilling petroleum products at the pleasure of evil barons.

All said, the beneficiaries of the ecocide in the land are the oil companies. As the ecological crimes intensified, they simply stepped up their media game, conducted helicopter pollution tours for local and international media and continued to wash their oil soaked hands off the debacle they orchestrated. The outcome is that today, many believe that the pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by third parties without asking questions about who constitutes this infamous third party? The other questions to be answered include why they do what they do and how. Could these third parties be embedded in the industry, security and political structures?  It is imperative that the so-called third parties are identified and adequately sanctioned.

The people also need more information about the harmful nature of crude oil. The belief that the noxious material can be used to treat convulsion or other health situations must be debunked in clear terms. Government should urgently embark on an environmental assessment of the entire Niger Delta using the Ogoni assessment as a guiding template. The oil fields should be adequately metered so that the nation may know what quantity of crude oil is actually being extracted, how much is being exported and how much is stolen or dumped into the environment. As for the new oil find, detailed ecological baseline studies should be conducted in the oil exploration areas so that when the spills begin, what is lost will be clearly known and there will less difficulties knowing who to hold to account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival of Extreme Technology

architectureTechnology is defined as the application of  scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Oftentimes industry is related to the transformation of nature or raw materials in factories. The word, technology has roots in  Greek: tecknologia,meaning systematic treatment, itself derived from  teckne— art or craft. The meaning of the term has obviously been evolving over time as is the case with other words and concepts. For example, industry does not just mean “factory” or “manufacturing”. It also means hard or focused work.

Technology was not always about the transformation of nature, but was more of working with it as evidenced in the development of agriculture. Today, technology often aims to make nature more efficient or to subvert it. The subversion of nature has manifested in a series of innovations that have fundamentally shaped the character of societies. Such milestones include the invention of fire and of projectiles probably initially for the hunt and later   predominantly for killing other humans and not just other animals.

Efforts at enhancing the efficiencyof nature, such as experienced in the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s, has led to the loss of species through the focus on enhanced production per unit of land area. The new green revolution seeks to further narrow down what is left and intentionally drive the extinction of others. The Green Revolution was based largely on monocultures, which affected not just crops or animals, but also human minds.

Technology has also been developed to entrench certain industrial and socio-economic pathways that has generated catastrophic outcomes including climate change. Such anthropogenic interventions spiked in the dawning industrial revolution with the atmospheric carbon budget quickly gobbled up through the burning of fossil fuels, land conversion, chemical/energy-intensive agriculture, manufacturing and others. Interestingly, rather than retrace their steps since realizing the wrongheadedness of such actions, humans strive to offsetsuch socio-ecological misbehaviours through technological or engineering means.

Traditional wisdom teaches that digging further down any pit of error is  hardly the best way to get out of it. Turning this basic wisdom on its head has led to concentration of efforts in locking in business as usual in the interest of profit and at the expense of the wellbeing of both people and the planet. In the sphere of climate discourse, the pursuit of geoengineering is carefully cloaked in the language suggesting that technological solutions hold the key to decarbonizing economies. The challenge is that, outside computer modeling, the determination of the efficacy of most types of geoengineering can only be tested on mega or indeed planetary scales, with the potential of astonishing success or cataclysmic failures. Technology is not just about experimentation for the pursuit of beneficial solutions, they are great tools for concentration of power, for dominance  and for control.

The other streak of technological advancement that we will consider is in relation to food and agriculture. Traditional biotechnology has been practiced by humans from time immemorial. However, the application of modern agricultural biotechnology, specifically the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms is barely three decades old. While three decades may not be sufficient to study the impacts of these artificial organisms, scientists have moved on to produce population-scale genetic engineering driving for intentional species extinction.

Easily weaponized technologies are being promoted by vested interests in the military and philanthropic-capitalist circles. These risky and largely unregulated technologies are set to be unleashed in the world’s favourite laboratory, Africa, where we are all considered expendable guinea pigs. Bioterrorism is a real threat, especially in regions best seen as storehouses of raw materials for global technological production.

To make this incursion unassailable, Africa is projected as the continent of hunger, malnutrition, stunted children, blind adults, disease and population explosion. The logic builds on the supposition that mechanistic solutions are the last hope for humanity since our social fabric is so broken that only automaton with curtailed human agency can fix it.

We keep pondering why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. To be sure, some nature-based solutions can indeed be technological, but they simply have to be techniques that are pro people and planet and not disruptive of our rights to thrive within the cycles of nature, as part of the intricate webs of life. Nature-based solutions must never be a route to the marketization of nature.

We must school ourselves to recover and retain our memories. The idea that technologies can only come from outside Africa is untrue and problematic, as the development of African and general human societies have shown. Schooling ourselves to decolonize the narratives that drive us into the vice-grip of exploitation and on the pathways of catastrophe is pertinent . It is also our duty to hold to account public agencies that insist that untested and risky technologies are safe. Such official fetish addictions and superstitions must be debunked in the interest of the present and the future generations. And in the interest of the planet and other beings.

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.

Deprivation, Accommodation and Resistance

B6640FCF-F25E-47B0-8C5A-5B20341E1E94Education on Watery streets. There are some things that are better learned by personal experience than by stories we hear from other persons. However, it is also true that we do not desire to learn or experientially learn everything. There are things we would rather hear about, and others we prefer not to learn of at all. We choose to be willfully blind to certain things so as to maintain our aloofness from the glaring realities around us. Our choices of what realities to be open to, or immerse ourselves in, demarcate the boundaries of our willingness, readiness and availability to intervene in dire situations.

There are lessons that remain indelible in our minds and are scarcely eroded by the passage of time. One of such lessons for this writer was learned on a trip to oilfield communities in the Niger Delta in the late 1990s, organized by Oilwatch International as part of a cultural exchange between friends from Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. It was a long and tortuous trip made on foot, by bus and by boats. We were thoroughly trashed by bumpy, dusty, muddy and broken roads. At a time the bus ride was so bumpy we had to individually decide whether it was better to endure the ride standing up or sitting down. At the end of the bus ride, which literally was the end of the unpaved road, we were glad to place our feet on solid ground.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee?

That was not our destination for the day. We pressed on, but this time by boat. It was already dark and the creek ahead of us presented a foreboding picture of an uncanny mystery. As paddles plowed through the dark waters, a guide held a paraffin lantern to ensure we didn’t make a wrong turn and to assure us that we were on the right path. Verdant boughs formed canopies over the creek at some points, mangroves provided staging platforms for frogs and other active contributors to that hum and chime that arises from rich ecosystems. Were they singing for joy or where these sounds plaintive whelps for help? Soon we saw flickering lights ahead of us and then we were at the village where we were to pass the night.

We were welcomed by joyful community folks who had prepared rooms for us in a guest house whose doors were barely hanging unto their hinges. The joy of the reception, the hot dinner and the beauty of the dark night were enough to erase any worries about dusty roads, muddy paths, doors that stayed ajar and mosquitoes that quickly assembled in uninvited orchestra. Before calling it a day or night, there was an assembly with community youths and leaders.

All these did not strike this writer as anything exceptional or out of this world. Having experienced the deprivations suffered by resource rich communities in various parts of Africa and others in the global south, and having been born and raised in another part of the Niger Delta, I was at home. Literally. What struck me was a statement made by a friend from a neighbouring country. He was absolutely aghast by what he saw. He was overwhelmed by the poverty, the neglect and the dire situations of the communities whose only access to energy was the polluting paraffin lamps or the roaring flames of gas flares a little way off. As we walked to our guest house that night, this friend declared that he would have become a revolutionary if he had been born in any place like the ones were were visiting. Before anyone could respond to our friend, a sage from Latin America answered, declaring that being a revolutionary is the inescapable path for anyone that is attentive the objective realities of his or her environment. Many years have passed and I have had to recall this episode on different occasions and in different ways, but the import remains fresh in my memory, proving light as we plow through the often spooky creeks of life.

That admonition comes alive whenever I visit Makoko communities in Lagos, the aspiring mega city and the economic capital of Nigeria. Understandably, many residents of Lagos do not even know where Makoko is, although it sits on the fringes of the Lagos Lagoon and is visible from the Third Mainland Bridge. The task of making it through the traffic on that bridge could actually keep motorists focused on the many stickers on the bumpers ahead of them other than to be distracted by a smog smothered community on the lips of the lagoon.

Makoko is home to over 100,000 Lagosians. It is made up of vibrant, thriving communities with a large number of the people living above water, moving on water and conducting their businesses on water. The housing here gives an indication of what residents of Lagos may resort to in adaptation to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. The environment is clogged with plastic and other wastes pushing their way to the open lagoon and to the sea. Residents are weary of pollution tourists and others who are constantly going through the watery streets with cameras at the ready, clicking away at the exotic buildings and colourfully decorated boats.

Here is where some environmental and human rights activists have stood with the people, resisting the persistent attempts by property speculators who hide in the folds of the gowns of political leaders, and are working to demolish rather than upgrade these communities. Among activists that have stood by the communities are Felix Morka, the director of Social Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and Betty Abah of Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection also known as CEE-HOPE. Their joy in working in these deprived communities must be fired by the conviction that the human spirit can thrive on solidarity and rise above the constricting realities of pervading neglect.

The streets of Makoko are clogged by boats piloted by kids, some probably as young as five years old. Others learn the skills splashing about in basins on the fetid waters. Their hope of having more schools in their communities were raised by the once iconic Floating School which had gained global attention but was knocked down by a storm and left the hapless kids watching as their dream was shattered and the debris floated away.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee? You would be excused if you wring your hands or noses and snort that primary eduction is free. What options do children have in places where there are no public schools and only a handful of spaces are available in struggling private establishments? That is the reality in Makoko. That is the cry of the children of Makoko. What would be your response if you lived in this reality? Accommodation? Resistance? Transformation?