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?

These are Revolutionary Times

1Stand_Up

Poster by Chaz

These are Revolutionary Times. A revolution becomes necessary when it becomes obvious that bringing about change will take too much time. This underscores the reason why a revolution necessarily is a challenge to business as usual. It could challenge political orthodoxy and may not be palatable to those whose interests are rooted in the status quo.

There are many reasons why we can reasonably say that we have come to the point when a global revolution has become an inescapable necessity. Think of the rapid species extinction, water stress, increased deforestation and desertification. Bear in mind the current trend of organized and even random violence, rising inequality and xenophobic politics. Think of the fact that we are at the precipice of an ecological catastrophe with looming runaway climate chaos coupled with inordinate consumption and wastage of resources.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

The socio-political situation in Nigeria has been calling for a revolution for decades even though the word ‘revolution’ may not have been used. Today the word has been presented as one with incendiary connotations. This could be due to the fact that the term has been used in that manner in the past. For example, Isaac Adaka Boro declared a revolution in the 1960s only to have the uprising crushed in twelve days. Since then we have had governments embarking on programmes that were fundamentally conceived as seeking to birth a revolution in Nigeria. No eye brows were raised.

Let us stay in history for a moment. Have we always been averse to revolution? The answer is a resounding no. The government of President Shehu Shagari mounted what was called an Ethical Revolution, while the government of General Muhammadu Buhari waged a War Against Indiscipline (WAI). In the days of the military presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida there was the programme tagged Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) which was one of the recommendations of the Political Bureau that was headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey.

The 2015 election saw the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which ran and won the election with a clarion call for CHANGE. At that time, the ruling party was campaigning on the tracks of Transformation, which in itself can be said to be more radical than Change. And to up its drive for Change, the current ruling party has promised to take Nigerians to the Next Level. While we may debate what that Next Level portends, it does seem that when Change steps up its game the result is bound to be revolutionary.

Having these historical and current antecedents in mind, it can be said that a revolution is not necessarily a bad thing. And, we don’t have to be fixated on so-called sponsors of revolutionary activities. The truth is that a revolution may not need to be funded. It is people who make radical changes happen.

The meaning of the word revolution is admittedly broad and can be given a bad slant so as to deter its effectuation. A concept that is similarly misunderstood is anarchy or anarchism. Anarchists are opposed to unjust societies and work to support individual creativity, human development and opportunities while eliminating domination and oppression. It’s about realigning the way power is distributed in society, including by extending gender justice. Anarchy is not disorder or the reign of violence, even though some may argue that situations generally point to that direction. But politics is not an arena where terms are given precise definitions.

Clearly, a sitting government can be revolutionary or it can become revolutionary. That would not be termed a rebellion. The call for CHANGE, by some definition could be termed a revolutionary call. As earlier noted, an election was contested and won on that platform. No one screamed rebellion or treason.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

Some of us get really troubled when official spokespersons to political leaders behave more like attack dogs than as persons carrying out a duty that requires careful thinking driven by defined strategic pathways. We must tolerate dissent and not escalate every contrary expression.

Seeing #RevolutionNow as rebellion is just one of a thousand possible interpretations. Incarcerating Omoyele Sowore in the long run cannot add a positive notch to the image of the government or to the nation. It has been said that history depends on those who organize. Sowore is an organizer whether or not anyone likes to admit that as a fact. He has proven it. He is resilient. He is convicted of his convictions. Jail cannot upturn that. Neither would incarceration eliminate the demands he and associates demand of the system.

Every nation needs dreamers, especially when the night hours become exceedingly lengthened. With dreamers we also need those that sound the alarm, that proclaim when it is time to wake.

The Classroom of life has no graduation

C97AC918-4170-4535-86BF-5A3970E9A0D5The Classroom of life has no graduation. Life offers classrooms without walls. Increasingly we are seeing these learning spaces to be the streets. They remain enclosed by our environment and our culture. Importantly, the Classroom of life has no graduation.

The classrooms of universities and multiversities, are concentrated arenas of learning that offer special opportunities to raise students and intellectuals to speak up for the poor, for Mother Earth and her children. In a time where our foods are being assailed by chemical-based agriculture, science needs to assure us that what we eat is not eating us up. At a time when our water, land and air are poisoned by wrongheaded extractivism, we need to remind ourselves that wellbeing is not defined by how much minerals we dig up, transform or accumulate.

What we make of our environment makes us, molds our imaginations and shapes our philosophies of life. It makes us humane or monstrous.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we cannot be onlookers in the fight to tackle the existential crises of our days, especially that of climate change. Through music and philosophies of life we can persistently project our memories and challenge our imaginations till we all agree that the saying ‘another world is possible’ and calling for ‘system change’ are not mere sloganeering but real calls for action.

We face a challenge of how to communicate the horrors of climate impacts and displacements in ways that can wake the world from slumber. We have a duty to stand as environmental defenders and reject the forces compelling millions to live in extremely contaminated environments and pushing others to early and watery graves in the Mediterranean Sea or to fiery graves in the burning dunes of the Sahara.

With broad spectrum programmes such as the Festival of Ideas annually hosted by the University of York, it is clear that the town and the gown, the field and the laboratory, can all trigger innovation that would dismantle the concentration of power in a few hands and rebuild a future for our collective humanity.

Music, poetry, prose, drama, sculpture, architecture, painting and other forms of arts have been veritable tools for education, as well as maintaining our cultures for ages. Today we can make music with our feet and fists and halt over-consumption and build cooperation, solidarity and the true ideals of wellbeing.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

We simply cannot stay silent or feign neutrality as societies fall apart. That is challenge offered by the education and practice at the University of York. This is an arena where academics and practice truly blend. We step up today by looking at the past and with solid hindsight building a harmonious and just future with one another, Mother Earth and all our relatives.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

Let us close with “Keep Out of Prison” – a poem written by Ken Saro-Wiwa while in prison.

Keep out of prison,’ he wrote
‘Don’t get arrested anymore.’
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.

* My speaking notes on receiving an honorary degree at the University of York graduation ceremony on 19 July 2019

Between Truth and Falsehood

Fabulous Fake Music (or When Fake is Real).

The need to deepen the interrogation of the current tensions between truth and falsehood cannot be overemphasised. With the rise of fake news and alternative facts, reality has come to be doubted. What is real could turn out to be fake and what is true could turn out to be false. This was the thematic focus of a recent Elevate Festival held in Graz, Austria, that this writer participated in.

Strands of conversation covered music, arts and political discourse. It was at this event that I got to hear of, and experience, fake music for the first time. In the performance at the opening session of the festival, the music was jarring, arresting and unforgettable. Was this music or was it a clash of sounds, light and vocal gymnastics? This was the sort of creativity that creeps on you and leaves you wondering what you just experienced. In other sessions, participants were immersed in a clash of words, more words, concepts and yet more words. Interestingly, they were also concrete.

According to the organisers, “Elevate’ is an annual interdisciplinary festival…With its unique combination of critical political discourse and contemporary music and art, the ‘Elevate Festival’ stands out of the ‘usual’ festival circus. Amongst the guests are human rights experts, climate researchers and activists from all over the world, who gather in Graz once a year with musicians and artists, illuminating pertinent issues of our future.”

One of the highlights of my participation was a visit to a chocolate factory, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, which is more than just a place for making and eating the delicious stuff. With a hands-on leadership provided by its founder, Josef Zotter, the establishment produces up to 500 varieties of chocolates and admits 270,000 visitors a year. Among the attractions on the sprawling grounds of the establishment is an Edible Zoo, restaurant and a Choco Shop Theatre. What is an edible zoo? If you are curious about this, you definitely have company. The ‘zoo’ provides the meat served in the onsite restaurant. Yes, the meat comes from the animals that roam the farm here. When visitors that visit here see the connection, they either get drawn into eating more meat or they may decide against meat.

The cocoa beans used in making chocolates here are sourced mostly from cooperatives in Ecuador, Belize and other Latin American countries. A fraction of the cocoa beans is sourced from Africa. These come from Congo DR and Madagascar. Not one cocoa bean from Nigeria. The company uses only organic cocoa beans and is strictly concerned about fair trade, good quality beans and the working conditions of the farmers and harvesters.

Back at the festival, there were important discussions on topics such as climate truth/climate lies; conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts; echo chambers and bubble breakers. Two of the conversations that grabbed my attention were the ones on the intersection or lack of it of civil society activism and politics. The second conversation was on climate refugees.

The exchange of views in the session on civil society and politics was framed around the questions: “How does progressive or ecological politics actually come about? Is it political parties and parliamentarians who have prevailed here? Or are NGOs and civil societies the ones that provide the necessary pressure? And how does the cooperation look like? Is it necessary or should too much proximity among NGOs, grassroots movements and politics be avoided?”

The lead conversation was between yours truly and Thomas Waitz, member of the Green Party of Austria and member of the European Parliament. Waitz is an organic farmer, activist and politician all rolled into one. He makes politics look so good. His positions drive home the truth that politics remains a dirty game when those that can help transform it stand aside rather than step into the fray.

While politicians tend to seek to maintain the status quo and their grip on power levers, activists tend to be more disposed to be disruptive in response to broken or iniquitous systems. The undue influence exerted by corporations force some politicians to support the pursuit of competition and exploitation rather than the building of cooperation and the common good. This has given rise to right wing politics and dominant relationships in which nations exploit other nations, then seek to wall and insulate themselves from the exploited and wounded nations.

On the other hand, civil society groups sometimes run fragmented programmes that are tailored to meet targets favoured by donors. We also see undue pressure on the youth to be apolitical, imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and expect little or nothing from the state. Self-employment and individualism are taught as the ultimate virtue. Public institutions are often encouraged to be self-financing, build watered down ethics and open themselves to privatisation. When we understand that being political is not the same as being partisan, it becomes clear why being apolitical is not an option.

The commercialisation of science is one obvious outcome of pressure of vested interests in universities around the world. This situation has sometimes pushed scientists to work for commercial or even political interests. This explains why some persons speak and act the way they do. The revolving doors between corporations, governments and research institutions continue to complicate our search for safe and just societies.

The ‘Elevate Festival’ was a space to make dreams come to life. It was a space for confrontation of ideas and the questioning of what truth and falsehood are in a world where the lines are getting increasingly blurred. One truth that stood out in my heart is that colonialism is alive and well, but often wears different clothes and bears different names.

Dying for Pieces of Copper

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Okrika Water Front, Niger Delta

Of the ten most toxic places on earth, three are found in Africa. They are: the Niger Delta, the mining communities of Kabwe in Zambia and the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana. While Kabwe ranks as number five on the list, Agbogbloshie stands at the tenth spot.

The Niger Delta ranks as number two on the list prepared in 2013 by Pure Earth and Green Cross, Switzerland. If you think that the region may have slipped out of the list since 2013, we are sorry to disappoint you as the listing remained valid at the close of 2018.

The rampant pollution of communities in Africa has gone on unabated and mineral rich communities are the worst hit. The state of affairs has been driven by the manipulation of governments by a mix of transnational corporations, as well as national and international financial bodies. Throw into that, the wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies by governments eager to attract so-called foreign direct investment and development aid and the waters become murkier. The craze for privatisation of public goods continue on the premise that government cannot be a good manager of business and must not be caught in any enterprise that requires efficiency. Thus, janitorial tasks in public offices are contracted to private enterprises and the digging of trenches in warfronts are being privatised and contracted out in the rich economies.

In our 2012 book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, we stated, “The conversion of public goods into private property through the privatisation of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one [of the ways] neoliberal institutions remove the tenuous threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities and a nation.” This pathway has oiled and locked in corruption of various shades in the continent.

Zambia stands out as one of the countries that ended up holding the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the pursuit of privatisation, pliant surrender to corporate interest and lax regulatory and tax regimes. Corporate tax stood at almost zero at a time when they enjoyed a tax boutique that had the biggest chunk coming from workers’ withheld taxes. At that time extractive companies generated a mere 2.2 per cent of the revenue collected by Zambian authorities.

The abuse suffered on the continent is clearly systemic and places the burden on poor communities. Unfortunately, often the struggles of the poor are overlooked and even subverted by external and internal forces. How else could the list of the top ten most toxic locations in the world be in the public realm for over a decade and we continue with business as usual and keep weakening environmental laws so as to score cheap points on the chart of nations rated for ease of doing business?

Niger Delta communities continue to fight decades of horrendous oil and gas pollutions that have heinously degraded their environment. They have resisted and continue to do so through protests, litigation, direct and political actions. Thousands of lives have been lost, or cut short due to the pollution and attendant militarisation of the region.

In Zambia, 1800 villagers have stood up to the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, that had polluted their waters through the activities of its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers complain that the company’s Nchanga copper mine has turned their Kafue River into a river of acid and are suing for personal injury and loss of livelihood. Villagers from Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are demanding compensation for harms arising from the pollution of their primary source of water. They also complain of the impact on their agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing.

The Zambian case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent, indeed across the world. Local and international civil society networks continue to work with the suffering communities of the Niger Delta while the impacted Zambian villagers enjoy the solidarity of groups including Foil Vedanta in the difficult efforts to secure their right to life in a battle against mining behemoths. International oil corporations operating in Nigeria are deft at utilizing loopholes in the legal system to ensure that cases are often never decided on within the short lifespan of the litigants. When they are found guilty, they can shrug the sentence off as they are sure the government would be unable to force compliance since they are literally in bed together due to the business partnerships that are rigged against the people and the environment. Litigation in the home countries of the offending companies has been the option that offers a ray of hope for justice for the poor and for Mother Earth.

When the case against Vedanta went to the High Court in the United Kingdom the company argued that the matter should be heard in Zambia and not in the UK. The court disagreed on the understanding that the villagers would not get justice in their own country because of the costs and other aspects of the adversarial legal system.  That has always been the first objection that Shell, Chevron, ENI and the others raise whenever a case is brought to a location where their shareholders may pay attention. In fact, a Zambian court had ruled in 2011 that the company should pay a $2million compensation to 2000 claimants affected by pollution of the Kafue River that occurred in 2006.

The Zambian case will be heard at the Supreme Court of the UK next week based on Vedanta’s objections. While that is coming up, the manner by which Vedanta acquired the copper mines in Zambia is a lesson that conscious citizens should pay attention to. In a sort of confessional speech captured on video, Anil Agarwal, the founder/chairman of the company at a conference, gleefully outlined how he fooled the Zambian government when they advertised the desire to privatise their mining company. The guy literally scammed/bluffed his way into acquiring the Zambian assets. The video showed the chairman of KCM boasting that the mines make him $500 million in profits a year, when he acquired the mine for only $25 million. The lame excuse by the company is that the video clip was part of a longer speech and was taken out of context.  The facts speak clearly for themselves and show a very condescending attitude towards the Zambian authorities.

The company went ahead to claim that they had invested $120 million in “local communities, providing schools, educational programmes, sustainable agricultural initiatives, critical medical programmes and funding for cultural events.” This sounds much like what we hear as corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in Niger Delta communities where the basic right to life is clearly negated by the ecological harms orchestrated by the same companies.

Next week we shall know what the Supreme Court of the UK thinks of the cry of the Zambian communities. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly time for our communities to connect their pains, strategies and fights. Pollution respects no geographic or political boundaries and we cannot afford to allow these boundaries to short circuit our struggles.


This article was first published in The Instigator, my weekly column in The Leadership newspaper, Nigeria as Poisoned for Pieces of Copper

The Instigator debuts

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy weekly column, The Instigator,  commenced on Friday 9 November 2018 in The Leadership newspaper.  You can join the weekly conversation by getting the hard copies on by looking it up online. We will be sharing the pieces here after they had been published in The Friday Leadership. Enter your weekends with thoughts on socio-ecological transformations 😂

Meanwhile, here is first piece The Instigator offered: Draining the Mine Pits

This column will always seek to instigate thoughts, conversations and actions using mostly political ecological lens. Your participation through comments and questions will instigate further responses and hopefully actions. Let us begin with a look at the mine pits in Nigeria.

The abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coal mines of Enugu are grave metaphors of the ecological harm that the advent of cheap petrodollars brought to Nigeria. It is scarcely remembered that Jos and Enugu were once prized mining locations and that their products were major contributors to the colonial and post colonial economies of Nigeria.

The mines provided jobs to thousands of Nigerians and gave birth to towns or camps – such as Coal Camp at Enugu. They were also sites of horrendous exploitation of labour, with particularly obnoxious levels reached during the colonial era. It is on record that 23,000 Africans had to carry tonnes of the tin ore on their heads over a distance of 320km before a railway line was built to the mines in Jos.

With the ascendancy of oil as the prime revenue earner for Nigeria, and with a poor record of environmental management, the mines that ought to have been decommissioned and some level of environmental remediation and restoration carried out, were simply abandoned. Government after government simply followed the oil, or money.

At Jos, mine pits, some with toxic slurries, were left as open craters in the landscape. Over time, the mine pits turned into vast ponds that essentially turned into death traps for man and beasts alike.

The abandoned coal mines in Enugu did not quite become as deadly as the mine pits of Jos. One reason for this was that whereas tin was extracted through open cast mines, at Enugu, coal extraction was a subterranean affair. Nevertheless, the residents of the Coal City found that the mines could be turned into refuse dumps. And they did.

We should remind ourselves that every mine pit or oil well has a lifespan because mining is not a renewable process but a subtraction or amputation as one analyst once stated. This is so irrespective of whether the pit or well is for the mining of gold or for the extraction of crude oil. This is one reason why mining regulations require that environmental impact assessment must be carried out before any mining activity is conducted; and that there must be an environmental management plan, including plans for closure of the mine – even before its opening.

Article 61 (d) of the Solid Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, stipulates that a miner must maintain and restore, the land that is the subject of the license to a safe state from any disturbance resulting from exploration activities, including, but not limited to filling up shafts, wells, holes or trenches made by the title holder, and in compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

A cursory look at the state of mining in Nigeria today shows that miners are carrying on in any manner that seems right to them. Unregulated artisanal mining has been going on in the area now known as Zamfara State for decades. However, in August 2010 there was a catastrophic loss of about 300 children due to lead poisoning. Others suffered brain damage while women recorded high incidents of miscarriages. Such reckless mining is ongoing elsewhere.

The mining of granite for building construction in the Federal Capital is a clearly worrisome phenomenon playing out before our eyes. Everywhere you look, hills are being blown apart so that building materials merchants can do brisk business and do not have to go far for the material. Beautiful cultural and landscape place markers are being destroyed. The city is being scarified and the scars of exploitation of the rocks dot the landscape from the outskirts to the heart of the city. One would not be surprised if Zuma Rock, or even Aso Rock, get earmarked for destruction. Again, the remains of the mined rocks in Abuja communities are not in any way remediated and pose grave dangers to citizens that live near them.

Although government agencies claim that the recent earth tremors experienced in Abuja are nothing to worry about, or that the tremors are caused by indiscriminate water mining (boreholes), many of us finger the continuous blasting of rocks in the area. The fracturing of rocks above ground could have impacts on structures beneath the Earth’s surface.

Back to Jos, the sad story of the abandoned tin mines of Jos deepened with the recovery of cars in one of them. It is clear that none of the cars recovered from the deadly pond was driven by the owner into the pond. The case of the recovery of the car belonging to a retired General of the Nigerian Army is shocking, to say the least. The finding of his body somewhere else indicates that the death of the general and the burial of his car in the pond left by mining activities should demand an urgent decommissioning of the tin mines of Jos. The recovery of other cars from the yawning mine pit shows that plenty of criminal activities have been going on around the mine pits.

Now is the time to drain the mine pits of Jos and elsewhere, decommission them and fully restore the territory. It is time to carry out detailed and exhaustive forensic examination of the pits to ensure that historical and current crimes around them do not go unpunished.

https://leadership.ng/2018/11/09/draining-the-mine-pits/amp/leadershpnga/
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