Bulletin 133 – August 2008


A great deal of attention is focused on Africa today, but hidden beneath all the talk about fighting poverty there are ambitious plans to exploit its enormous wealth. This widely heterogeneous continent, home to almost 900 million people, artificially divided into 53 states by European colonialism, is now under siege in the face of new advances by corporate globalization, while serving as the stage for the battle between the imperialists of old – the United States, European Union and Japan – and the economic and political expansion of China and India. It would seem that the future of the continent and its peoples is being decided in the distant seats of the world’s wealth and power.

Within this framework, WRM is also focusing its attention on Africa -not in order to talk about Africa, but rather to listen to what Africans themselves have to say. That is the whole purpose of this edition of the bulletin: to open up a space where Africa can speak about Africa.

We have created this blog where you can make comments on every article. We encourage and invite you to do so!





8 / 2008 at 12:55 am 3 comments

Africa, my Africa!

Welcome to this special edition of the WRM bulletin looking at Africa through the eyes of Africans. To many people in the world, Africa is an exotic continent filled with dances and songs of both people and birds.

Africa is a big continent. Its land mass covers 31 million square kilometres and takes up 20% of the earth. It is the second largest continent in the world and has a population of some 900 million people, meaning that it is less populous than India and China.

Africa is one of the richest areas in natural resources and cultural diversity. The blessing of the continent with natural resources has been termed a curse, but a resource can only be made a curse by the activities of man. Statisticians claim that up to 41% of Africans live with less than 1US$ per day. We, however, note that the quality of a person’s life cannot be measured by how many United States of America’s dollars he or she has in the bank. Our environment is our life!

Africa is the centre of the world. She is the birthplace of humanity and retains much of the humaneness that has been lost in many parts of the world. The strength of the continent is her biodiversity, cultural diversity and rich store of knowledge and wisdom. This bulletin lays out for us the many and sustained assault on Africa by greedy speculators, transnational extractive corporations and international financial institutions. This diversity must be defended and protected.

Africa was once covered by lush tropical forests and was awash with clean water bodies and home to a huge number of species, some of which are not yet documented. Years of mindless exploitation has led to massive deforestation and resulted in displacement of peoples.

Years of colonialism pushed African governments into plantation agriculture with the focus on supplying raw materials to Europe and North America. International division of labour required skilled labour in the metropolis and low-level manpower in the dependencies and as the scholar, Walter Rodney (in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa) summarised as follows: “the most convincing evidence as to the superficiality of the talk about colonialism having ‘modernised’ Africa is the fact that the vast majority of Africans went into colonialism with a hoe and came out with a hoe.”

Colonialism and the current neo-colonial relations ensure that lands that would have been utilized for production of foods for the continent are turned into plantations whose products are mainly for export. Lands that were used for the production of cassava, yams and other local staples became plantations for the production of tea, rubber, oil palm, cotton, coffee, sugar, cocoa and groundnuts. Today huge swaths of land are being converted into agrofuels plantations simply to feed the machines in North and entrench the dependency situation of Africans. Very annoyingly some of our lands are labelled as marginal lands and set aside for crops such as jatropha. The labelling of lands as marginal is just a linguistic weapon for marginalising and displacing poor communities for the benefit of land grabbers.

The fact that Africa is rich in mineral resources has engendered severe and violent conflicts. These conflicts are not only those that manifest as wars, there are several other underreported cases that occur as irresponsible extractive industry operators rip through the continent grabbing what they can and leaving the land scarred and the people impoverished. Recall the recent conflicts that brought Liberia and Sierra Leone to their knees; the conflicts that ravaged the Congolese region and the ongoing situation in the oil fields of Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

Talking of the delta brings to mind the destruction of the beautiful mangroves that lined the tropical shorelines of the continent, offering spawning grounds for various aquatic species and protecting the land against ravaging waves and coastal erosion. Today, oil company activities and industrial shrimp farming pose serious threats.

Climate Change is a human rights issue and this fact has been recognised by the United Nations. No one contests the fact that it is unjust for industrialised nations to continue with their record carbon emissions while suggesting that actions taken in less industrialised nations in Africa and the rest of the South would compensate for inactions at home. Justice demands that countries of the North take robust actions at home to stem carbon emissions at source and by so doing show some seriousness in tackling the real manifestation of climate crisis that is threatening the survival of many nations and peoples.

One of the key failures of the Kyoto protocol is that it did not unambiguously pin the blame for the problem on hydrocarbons. As long as this was the case, the frameworks for handling the problem were fundamentally flawed. Conventional wisdom instructs us to tackle the root causes of problems rather than the symptoms if we wish to radically pursue long lasting solutions. Prodigious carbon emission cannot be a mark of progress and development.

The Kyoto protocol was set on a market ideology and this has blocked the pathway to real and just solutions to climate change. Even the agreement reached at Bali (December 2007) on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) is hinged on the same market ideology. It allows Northern countries to finance forestry projects using the World Bank’s carbon funds and claim carbon credits that offer permission to carry on polluting at home. The REDD scheme is already sending red alerts through the South as communities worry that control of their forests and lands will be taken over by carbon traders and speculators thereby further marginalising them and placing them at greater risk than the climate chaos itself has done.

The destructive march of transnational oil corporations from the West and the East must be checked. The footprints of these corporations can be seen in the Gulf of Guinea and is increasingly emerging on the Eastern shores of the continent and oil companies are implicated in the violent conflicts in Sudan as in the rest of the world. Communities in Africa are beginning to demand a halt to any new oil field development in the region because the world is better off if the carbon is left in the ground. Reliance on oil as a revenue spinner and as an energy resource of the future is akin to living in a fool’s paradise because it is a diminishing/finite resource and because the future of crude oil is already history.

We offer you a rich African dish that is sure to make you think, and hopefully resolve to stand in solidarity with the brave peoples of this continent as they defend their patrimony. Enjoy!

By Nnimmo Bassey, Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria

8 / 2008 at 12:50 am 14 comments

The rights of indigenous peoples in Africa

It is difficult to analyse the question of indigenous rights in Africa without engaging with the question of statehood, and it is impossible to address the latter without considering its dubious origins. The colonial enterprise in Africa, marked by domination and annexation of territory, was masterminded by Leopold, the Belgian monarch, and Bismarck, the German chancellor. It reached its peak in the Berlin conference of 1884, which was convened ostensibly to regulate trading relations between European powers but ended by legislating for the partition of Africa. The result was the dismemberment of the continent into 53 multi-ethnic and odd states with no basis in scientific or social rationality save that of resolving territorial disputes between the colonisers. This certainly lends credence to the fledgling movement for the unification of Africa.

Colonialism was based on the ethnocentric belief that the morals and values of the European coloniser were superior to those of the colonised African. It involved egregious racial discrimination linked to pseudo-scientific theories that were buttressed by the Christian religious zealotry of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The post-colonial state in Africa, emerging from this colonial artifice, is fraught with weaknesses which have manifested themselves in serious ethnic conflicts, poor governance, wanton inequalities and chronic poverty. Indigenous rights in Africa must be assessed and asserted from this context.

Indigenous rights and people in Africa

While it is undeniable that the West ravaged and looted the entire continent through slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, the disproportionate disadvantage dispensed by these forces upon some communities in Africa is vehemently denied. Why is it so hard to appreciate that the Maasai, who lost over one million acres of grazing land in Kenya’s vast Rift Valley to the British, today constitute one of the poorest communities in the country? Does it take rocket science to appreciate that the expulsion of the Batwa from the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks in Uganda to pave the way for the protection of the mountain gorilla, a key tourist attraction, has led to the near-decimation of this hunter-gatherer community? Does one need to ask what contributes to the penury of the Herero in Namibia, whom the Germans butchered en masse and used as guinea pigs at the turn of the 20th century?

The worst part of the nightmare is that rather than pave the way for the reconstruction of Africa’s political and economic order, the departure of the colonialists ushered in a new set of black dominators who, taking advantage of the instruments and institutions of the colonial state, proceeded to plunder and loot the continent of its resources and completely closed the door to restitutive justice.

Contemporary public policy makers in Africa ignore the shame of colonialism and make vigorous attempts to construct a reality based on the ‘national interest’ rather than communitarian pursuits, which they consider provincial and therefore sectarian.

That some communities have refused to align their interests with national development priorities is seen as failing to take on the responsibility and demands of progress. A critical analysis of indigenous rights and their beneficiaries would demonstrate the fallacy of this objection.

First, indigenous rights are grounded in the general notion of the universality of rights within a multicultural context as endorsed by the Vienna Declaration of 1993. That declaration unequivocally reaffirmed the inherent dignity and unique contribution of indigenous people to the development and plurality of society, and called for their full inclusion in the life of the state.

Second, indigenous rights must be seen as enabling substantive equality, thus spreading light to a group of people previously not reached by the transformative premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While non-discrimination is held up as a jus cogens,[3] the fact that it is still difficult to achieve equality for all means that marginalised groups, be they women, children, minorities or indigenous groups, have to pursue strategies that go beyond formal equality to attain the promise of dignity for all people.

Third, the collective conception of rights has often seemed to be a child of a lesser god within a human rights system that has historically pitted civil and political rights against economic, social and cultural rights. Collective rights, which are central to the struggle of indigenous people the world over, have suffered from being poorly articulated, which has prevented them from being regarded as the norm. Thanks to Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the progressive jurisprudence that has flowed from the Human Rights Committee on this article, a lot of ground has been laid for the protection of group rights to land and development, among other things. The rich array of solidarity rights provided for under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the charter, hereafter), which lend themselves well to the cause of indigenous peoples, is thanks to Keba M’Baye, the Senegalese jurist. His appreciation of the dynamics of African society inspired the document.

The modern understanding of the term ‘indigenous peoples’ focuses on the lived experience of systemic marginalisation, discrimination, cultural difference and self-identification, in line with the emerging practice of the commission.

The notion of indigenous people in Africa also overlaps with the concept of minority rights, another problematic but less controversial term in the continent.

Africa’s opposition to the adoption of standard-setting mechanisms and norms for indigenous peoples has largely been informed by misconceptions and myths. In 2006 an assault on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, led by Namibia and Botswana within the African group in the UN, caused the General Assembly to postpone its decision on the declaration, thereby holding in abeyance substantive recognition of indigenous rights under international law. When the African Union’s assembly of heads of state and government met in Addis Ababa a year later, they justified the position of the African group on the grounds that indigenous rights as elaborated in the declaration would affect territorial integrity. The question that baffles many is whether the Batwa in Uganda, the Endorois in Kenya or the Bushmen in Botswana have designs to create their own separate states. Is it not obvious that the right to self-determination sought by these groups is one that can empower them and lead to their recognition and enhanced participation in public affairs? The Katanga v Zaire communication of 1976, which established that a variant of self-determination that ensures the inclusion of marginalised groups within a state is consistent with the principle of territorial integrity, was reiterated nearly 20 years later in the Ogoni v Nigeria decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The term ‘indigenous people’ should therefore be used in a practical way, to draw attention to and alleviate the particular form of discrimination from which communities suffer. In the African context these communities are almost always nomadic or hunter gatherers. By identifying with the term, they feel that the particularities of their suffering can be better articulated and can lend themselves to the protection of international human rights law and moral standards.

A cry from the dark: living on the fringes

Groups that self-identify as indigenous live a peripheral existence. Most governments in Africa do not have disaggregated data or indicators to monitor the social, economic and political status of indigenous people. How then can they track progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals if the poorest of the poor are not even properly recognised? A major concern is that many states will focus on the bottom line of reaching the MDGs, rather than the matter of who reaches them or how. This risk was noted in the Human Development Report of 2003.[5]

Take the Twa in Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and Uganda, for instance. Their lifestyle and the rate of deforestation has kept them moving for decades and left them vulnerable – falling through the cracks of a modern social and legal system which would normally secure tenure on both their lands and livelihood assets. Growing pressure to preserve the few remaining rainforests in the most densely populated countries of the Great Lakes region means that they find themselves excluded from their traditional habitats. The Rwandan state has for decades been tightening its control over forest areas, driven by the need for more protective conservation policies, the growth of the tourism industry and security concerns along its borders with DRC, Burundi and Uganda. The Batwa have been the most affected by these measures, which have uprooted them from their traditional lifestyle and means of earning a living. They have been unable to make a successful transition to a sedentary life and a market economy.

Most indigenous communities, including the Twa, were never compensated when expelled from the ‘protected areas’ or ‘state reserves’ they used to live in, due to their traditional marginalisation and to flawed legal and policy frameworks. As a result, their living conditions have degenerated further. Today, most Batwa lead a shockingly impoverished existence. A recent report by the Forest Peoples Programme predicts that the Twa are in danger of extinction unless massive and concerted action is taken to reverse their decline.

Such is the state of many other groups of indigenous people, both pastoralists and hunter gatherers, from the Barabaig in Tanzania to the Tuareg in Mali.

The road less traveled

Indigenous rights, shunned by politicians across the continent, have found solace in an unlikely quarter: the judiciary. Reputed to be incorrigibly corrupt and inefficient, judiciaries across the continent have yet to be acknowledged as bastions of justice for the weak. It is here that the struggle for recognition and respect for indigenous rights has been most vociferously waged. From Botswana to Kenya, South Africa to Uganda, courts have become the theatre for dramatising the plight of indigenous people and the sheer scale of their destitution. In Kenya, a toothless goat was produced to persuade a court of allegations of environmental genocide perpetrated against the indigenous IL Chamus community. In Botswana, hundreds of members of the Basarwa community, clad in their colourful traditional attire, endured a 200-day hearing to demonstrate that they were indeed a recognisable group, contrary to the state’s assertion. Judicial proceedings have been used with mixed results to seek land restitution for an indigenous group in South Africa, halt state displacement of the Ogiek from the Tinet forest in the Rift Valley of Kenya, procure provision of social services for the Benet in Uganda, stop a multinational mining company from procuring a land concession in the Magadi area of Kenya for soda ash production, and secure language rights in Namibia.

Disappointingly, African governments have been reluctant to embrace with open arms the decisions of their own judiciaries. The government of Botswana, for instance, side-stepped the decision of its constitutional court and refused to allow the Basarwa to return to their hunting livelihood in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. A year after the Kenyan constitutional court held that a constituency should be created for the IL Chamus in Baringo to ensure their participation in policy making, no action has been taken. A similar state of affairs prevails in Uganda, where two years after consent judgment was entered allowing the Benet rights to graze and farm the land they occupy, there has been no action by the administration to back up the court’s decision. In a continent that professes respect for the rule of law as a central tenet of its constitutional order, the failure to implement judicial decisions is a mocking indictment of Africa’s commitments to good governance and democratic ideals.

Undeterred, indigenous groups have seized on regional mechanisms to develop standard-setting precedents on indigenous rights, but their attempts have yet to bear fruit. In 2006 the Bakweri lands claim against the Cameroonian government was defeated when the commission declared the communication inadmissible. Indigenous people in Africa wait with bated breath for the commission’s decision with respect to the Endorois communication against the Kenyan government, which seeks the restitution of ancestral territory.

The media houses, belatedly, have taken their cue from these dramatic scenes and begun to highlight the folly of non-recognition of indigenous communities’ plight in Africa, enabling the African public and policy makers to consider their predicament. Mainstream civil society organisations such as ActionAid and CARE in Uganda have begun to demand state attention to indigenous rights as a means of attaining the Millennium Development Goals. The rise of organisations such as the Centre for Minority Rights Development in Kenya and the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) in South Africa, dedicated solely to the struggle for indigenous rights in Africa, is also helping give visibility to these issues.

Good news, difficult to come by, is slowly emerging. Countries such as South Africa and Cameroon have taken the bold step of commencing processes to ratify ILO Convention 169, which extends a substantive regime of rights for indigenous people, including the right to free, prior and informed consent in relation to development processes on indigenous lands.

Not yet out of the woods…

Indigenous people’s struggles for recognition of their rights must be considered within the context of building multicultural societies in Africa, where diverse identities contribute towards the well-being of the whole. Without this paradigm shift, indigenous rights will continue to be perceived negatively, as instruments of parochialism and division. Yet to achieve this shift, Africa must rise up to the challenge of its own identity. Until then, it is ‘not yet uhuru’(*) for indigenous groups in Africa.

(*) “Not yet uhuru” means the independence fought for by the Kenyan people had not been achieved. It comes from the title of a book written by the first vice-president of Kenya, the late Oginga Odinga, who observed that despite the country’s declared independence, the government led by blacks was as opressive as the colonial government.

* Excerpted from: “The rights of indigenous peoples in Africa”, by Korir Sing’Oei Abraham, Centre for Minority Rights Development (Cemiride); the full article was published by Pambazuka on 13-11-2007 and is available at http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/44413

8 / 2008 at 12:49 am 4 comments

Women’s Voices

“Mr. Chairman, Honourable Delegates;
We, women representatives from different organisations in Africa, representing farmer’s, Community Based Organisations, Landless Peoples Movements, Pastoralists and Youth, from Western, Southern and Eastern Africa, meeting in Nairobi from June 16-18, 2008, to share our diverse experiences on women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa and governments’ extent of implementation of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) Declaration in Africa and the current food crisis.

It is widely acknowledged that improved women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources, is a key factor in eradicating hunger and rural poverty. This has been restated in the framework of international commitments at World Food Summit 1996 and its Plan of Action; in the Voluntary Guidelines on the Implementation of the Right to Food unanimously adopted by FAO Council; and most recently at the FAO’s 32nd Committee on Food Security in October 2006. However there has not been a concerted international action to address the question of women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa.

“The overall situation is that in the face of increased competition and conflict over land rights for mining, development, logging and other economic activities and as a result of trends towards market-based land reforms, and environmental and health disasters, African women are fast losing their already precarious access to land and resources. HIV-positive women or widows and children orphaned by HIV and AIDS risk losing all claims to family land and natural resources”, notes Annette Mukiga from Rwanda Women’s Network.

We note that the world is in a food crisis that is linked to a record increase in prices of 83% -a situation not seen in the last fifty (50) years. For years, African governments, advised by international financial institutions and donors, have dismantled public support to agriculture and neglected the small farmers, particularly women farmers, who feed their people.

As Isabella Wandati of Butere Focus on Women’s Development, Kenya, notes, “The targets and goals to eradicate hunger and achieve food security will not be attained unless governments and international organisations take specific action to end the persistent discrimination against women in matters of access to, ownership and control over land and natural resources in Africa. Because women produce up to 80% of the food in developing countries, yet now comprise 60% of those suffering from hunger”.

We are cognisant of the fact that the ICARRD Declaration in Africa will be implemented through the African Union’s (AU), United Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Africa Development Bank (ADB) led Africa Land Policy and Land Reform Framework and Guidelines currently being developed to: ensure secure land rights; increase productivity; improve livelihoods; enhance natural resource management, and; contribute to a broad-based economic growth.

As Fatou Bah from the National Youth Association for Food Security in The Gambia points out: “Improved women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources are key to the achievements of these aims. The process and content of the above Africa Framework and Guidelines must fully adhere to African governments commitments in the ICARRD Declaration 2006 and the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003 on women’s rights to land and natural resources to realize its aims”.


1. To FAO and African Governments on implementation of ICARRD to implement existing commitments as part of the follow up to the ICARRD Declaration March 2006 at continental, regional and national levels through concrete measures:

Uphold equal citizenship rights for both women and men by eliminating all discriminatory cultural, religious and traditional laws on succession and inheritance included in statutory law at national level that exclude African women from citizenship on an equal footing with African men, as a first step to ensuring women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa;

Support the establishment of a reporting, monitoring and evaluation mechanism for member states managed collaboratively by FAO, the African Union and regional economic communities regarding the implementation of ICARRD follow up;

Fund agrarian reform and agricultural development through the development of long-term strategies linking all concerned ministries at national level-Agriculture, Land, Environment, Livestock and Natural Resources;

Support establishment of gender disaggregated data-base, at national, regional and continental levels, to measure the ICARRD Declaration’s implementation progress in order to inform policies, programmes and processes for women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa.

2. To FAO and African Governments to implement the measures below in the implementation of ICARRD in Africa through the African Land Policy and Land Reform Framework and Guidelines:

Convene a continental round table on women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa in 2008 to develop indicators and benchmarks for the AU Land Framework and Guidelines before their adoption by the AU Heads of States Summit in 2009. Problems of women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa are in many national contexts complex and sensitive issues. There is a need for policy makers and governments and civil society (particularly organisations of rural women farmers) in Africa to come together to assess the extent of the challenges and share possible ways forward at the sub-regional level and resolve collective action;

Mainstream women’s rights in the Draft AU Land Framework and Guidelines. Women’s access, control and ownership over land/natural and productive resources need to be treated comprehensively in each of the aspects of the land question in line with government commitments on women’s rights including the ICARRD Declaration 2006 and the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003.


Women’s access, control and ownership of land/natural and productive resources in Africa intersect with other problems such as discriminatory inheritance patterns, agriculture and food insecurity, violence against women, the appropriation and privatization of communal and indigenous lands and other natural resources, as well as gendered control over economic resources and the right to work. This inter-sectionality highlights the need for governments to secure women’s rights to access, control and own land/natural and productive resources, in order to lessen the threat of discrimination, different forms of violence and HIV/AIDS, denial of political participation, and other violations of their economic and human rights. There is also need to ensure gender responsive land and environmental law to facilitate women’s access to resources. The measures we have recommended above will be key to securing those rights.”

African Women’s Statement on Land/Natural and Productive Resources,
25th FAO African Regional Conference (ARC). June 16-20, 2008, Nairobi, Kenya.
Signed by Coast Women’s Rights (COWER), Kenya; Rwanda Women’s Network(RWN), Rwanda; Plateforme Sous Regionale Des Organisations Paysannes D’Afrique Central (PROPAC), Cameroon; National Youth Association for Food Security (NYAFS)/IFSN, The Gambia; Kenya Food Security Network (KEFOSPAN), Kenya; Kenya Land Alliance (KLA); Eastern African Farmers Federation(EAFF), Tanzania; National Women’s Farmers Association (NAWFA), The Gambia; Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA), Ethiopia; Uganda Land Alliance (ULA), Uganda; Community Land and Development Foundation (COLANDEF), Ghana; La Via Campesina, South Africa; Network of Organisations Working on Food Sovereignty (ROSA), Mozambique; Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum(ESAFF), Zambia; Shelter Forum, Kenya; Food Rights Alliance-Uganda; Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, Uganda; ACORD International ActionAid International.

8 / 2008 at 12:45 am 1 comment

African Friends of the Earth

Members of FoE Africa from Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius, Tunisia and Swaziland met for five days in Accra, Ghana reviewing issues that confront the African environment. A particular focus was placed on the current food crisis and agrofuels on the continent.

FoE Africa groups deplored the characterisation of Africa as a chronically hungry continent; and rejected the projection of the continent as an emblem of poverty and stagnation and thus as a continent dependent on food aid. FoE Africa reiterated the fact that the agricultural fortunes of the continent have been dimmed by externally generated neoliberal policies including Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on the continent by the World Bank, IMF and other IFIs.

FoE Africa expressed disgust at the manner by which the burden for solutions to every crisis faced by the North is shifted the Africa. Examples include the climate change and energy crises wherein the burden has been inequitably placed on the continent. Africa is forced to adapt to climate impacts and she is also being targeted as the farmland for production of agrofuels to feed the factories and machines in the North.

FoE Africa resolved as follows:

1. Africa contributed very little to climate change and the North owes her an historical debt to bear the costs of adaptation without seeking to further burden the continent through so-called carbon finance mechanisms.

2. Africa must no longer be used as a dumping ground for agricultural products that compete with local production and destroy local economies.

3. Africa must not be opened for contamination by GMOs through food aid and/or agrofuels.

4. Africans must reclaim sovereignty over their agriculture and truncate attempts by agribusiness to turn the so-called food crisis into money-making opportunities through price fixing, hoarding and other unfair trade practices.

5. We reject the promotion of conversion of swaths of African land into monoculture plantations and farms for agrofuels production on the guise that some of such lands are marginal lands. We note that the concept of marginal lands is a cloak for further marginalising the poor in Africa through their being dispossessed and dislocated from their territories.

6. Africa has been subsidising world development for a long time and this has to change and African resources must be used for African development to the benefit of local communities.

FoE Africa calls on all communities of Africa to mobilise, resist and change unwholesome practices that entrench servitude and exploitation on our continent.

Signed: Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Swaziland, South Africa, Mauritius

Statement by Friends of the Earth Africa at her Annual General Meeting held at Accra, Ghana, 7-11 July 2008.

8 / 2008 at 12:43 am 1 comment

Central Africa: Management of protected areas and participatory approaches

“Co-management: a situation in which two or more social actors negotiate, define and guarantee amongst themselves a fair sharing of the management functions, entitlements and responsibilities for a given territory, area or set of natural resources.” (Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2000) [1]

In the countries of Central Africa, numerous programmes have been undertaken since 1990 to demonstrate that protected areas can be more effectively managed through a participatory or “co-management” approach. There are three main reasons for the adoption of this approach:

  • Recognition of the limitations, if not the total failure, of policies that exclude certain actors from participating in the management of protected areas, especially since those excluded are often the most important actors.
  • The search for alternatives to these policies.
  • The desire to promote the adoption of protected area management “norms” developed with the effective participation of all actors involved. The assumption is that participation will guarantee respect for these norms and the continued survival of the protected areas.

An idealized approach

Today, almost all policies, legislation, decisions and activities related to the management of protected areas in Central Africa refer to co-management. The use of the term “co-management” with regard to decision-making processes would appear to imply that those responsible for administering protected areas have the knowledge, expertise and “modernity” required to solve any problems that arise.

This concept was first sparked among those responsible for protected areas by the publication of a series of preparatory studies for the Programme for the Conservation of the Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (ECOFAC) [2], then spread like wildfire among theoretical and field researchers like Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Alain Karsenty, Jean Claude Nguinguiri, Vincent Ndangang, Norbert Gami, Michael B. Vabi, Tchala Abina, Aurélien Mofouma and Zéphirin Mogba, who have crisscrossed the region’s protected areas armed with tools and procedures to facilitate the co-management process. The intellectual and technical outputs of their work (reports, publications, methodologies, presentations at conferences and seminars, etc.) have come to form part of protected area management programmes.

Content of research outputs

What can be said about the content of these outputs? First of all, it should be clarified that, as in the case of previous approaches, the populations who live in and around protected areas are examined, explained, presented, represented and interpreted in a multitude of discourses and from different angles: historical, demographic, anthropological, sociocultural, socioeconomic, etc. While these studies may be necessary, given that they contribute basic data for activities aimed at development and conservation of biological diversity [3], they are not always directly applicable to development or conservation. The simple description of facts, which is what most of these studies amount to, is not enough to raise awareness of the need for the desired changes (the effective conservation of biodiversity, improvement of the living standards of local populations, co-management of natural resources).

Secondly, programmes for the conservation of protected areas seek to serve as the means for participation by local populations in the management of these areas. For instance, ECOFAC, a regional programme funded by the European Commission, declares its intent to distance itself from previous approaches focused on protecting patches of forest from local populations, and consequently “seeks to implement a policy aimed at the involvement of these populations in the rational management of resources in order to demonstrate that it is in their own interest to protect these areas in the long term.” From this perspective, it is assumed that the redistribution of the benefits derived from the conservation of forest ecosystems (salaries for project employees, income from tourism and game hunting activities, employment in the tourism or rural development sectors) will encourage local populations to participate in the conservation of natural resources in protected areas. In effect, the ECOFAC programme pays out around 10 million CFA francs monthly on salaries in the Dja Reserve (Cameroon) and 14 million in Odzala National Park (Republic of the Congo). It also supports economic activities that supposedly relieve pressure on natural resources in protected areas (fishing, farming, horticulture, forestry, crafts, wood sculpting, carpentry, etc.), implements labour-intensive techniques, promotes the use of local materials, renovates and repairs health care facilities, schools and roads (Vautherin, 1996), provides human resource training, and promotes community organisation. Thanks to ECOFAC, the communities of Idongo-Da in the north of the Central African Republic and the Lengui-Lengui reserve in the Republic of the Congo derive 60% and 30% of their total income, respectively, from tourism.

The experiences of the ECOFAC programme inspired similar initiatives in other areas. For example, the PROGECAP project included the recruitment of “eco-guards” from among local commercial hunters. This was a brilliant conservation measure, but ultimately precarious, since these are short-term projects and there is nothing to prevent the eco-guards from returning to their previous employment (as commercial hunters) once the projects have ended. These initiatives are also meant to involve the participation of local populations in the management of protected areas. However, while the communities may in fact participate in the management of protected areas in the sense that they benefit in some way from forest conservation, they can only be considered to “negotiate, define and guarantee a fair sharing of management functions, entitlements and responsibilities” with forestry companies to the extent that they receive a share of the benefits of this forestry activity (licensing fees, salaries as employees in the sector, etc.), and this is not the case. As Shiva points out, you cannot describe as “co-management” an approach that seeks the consent of local populations for the execution of conservation programmes but places control over all of the activities in the hands of external agents (who may be “experts”, NGOs, state officials or all of them at the same time).


We recognise that the models described above are not without merit, and they have been implemented throughout Central Africa for a good number of years. But we should now be focusing on the present and the future. In this regard, it would be neither legitimate nor scientifically acceptable to immediately extend these models to all of Central Africa. It would not be legitimate, because over the last 50 years (to limit ourselves to the post-colonial era), numerous strategies, theories, techniques, etc., have been implemented, and not always with the desired results. On the contrary, the system of protected areas has tended towards entropy: today, most are undergoing a process of disintegration, due to the multiplication of paradigms and management bodies and a lack of internal coherence. It would not be scientifically acceptable, either, because all too frequently, ideas are implemented without foreseeing the transition between the place where they are developed and the place where they are put into practice, and without testing their effectiveness in a limited area in order to determine, among other things:

  • The capacity of local populations to assimilate new activities.
  • The local populations’ interest in these activities.
  • The potential for linking new activities with existing knowledge and skills, in order to lessen the resistance to change and increase the acceptance of ecosystem conservation initiatives.
  • The increased effort that may be required by new activities as compared to traditional activities of harvesting natural resources.
  • The profitability of the new activities from the viewpoint of rural dwellers first and the national economy second, as well as the cost of new conservation and development measures in terms of social upheaval or cultural fragmentation, as was the case with the implementation of the Conkouati project in the Republic of the Congo, for example.

By: Assitou Ndinga, independent consultant, BP 2298, Brazzaville, Congo, email: ndinga_assitou@yahoo.fr. The full article is available at: http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Africaspeaks/Gestion_Aires_Protegees_En_Afrique.pdf

[1] Borrini-Feyerabend, G., Farvar, M. T., Nguinguiri, J. C. & Ndangang, V. A. (2000) Co-management of Natural Resources: Organising, Negotiating and Learning-by-Doing. Heidelberg (Germany): GTZ and IUCN.

[2] UICN (1988-1990) La série des analyses environnementales préparatoires au programme ECOFAC.

[3] Information on the relationships between humans and the natural environment: practical reasons for the use of biodiversity resources (human consumption or sale), frequency of extraction of these resources, reasons for the traditional choice of activities, techniques used, current composition of the population and migrations, traditions, customs, demographic growth, views on conservation, beliefs, taboos, local populations’ perception of projects, etc.

8 / 2008 at 12:41 am 3 comments

Oil, Environment and Disaster Economics

Simple lessons are not necessarily easy to learn.

For example: oil is a non-renewable and limited resource (1).

Oil and conflicts appear to be twins in today’s world. When people think of oil, in general terms, what come to mind are ‘progress and development’. Thus, people speak of oiling the wheel of progress. Today, however, what we see and experience is that oil greases the wheels of conflict. And this is very much the case in the oil fields of Africa.

The crisis we are witnessing needs to be viewed both in economic and political terms as a major for profit venture. Understanding it through this filter is crucial to our seeing why we appear trapped in intractable murky waters and it may also help us construct bridges over which we may come out of the malaise.

The lure of cheap oil has kept the rigs drilling through the soul of Africa, destabilizing governments and dividing communities. Oil is cheap mainly because its extraction in much of the tropical world is carried out in ways that pay scant attention to environmental costs. Thus the poor people continue to subsidize the costs of crude oil by the losses they suffer in environmental services, quality of life and extreme environmental degradation. This results in continued conflicts as opportunistic groups as well as gangs find space to extract financial gains from the system.

Global end of Oil

The world has finally woken up to the reality of climate change. Harsh weather events have shown that not even the most developed countries of this world can fully withstand these freak weather events. The world is increasingly seeing floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and wild fires of huge proportions. With these events, citizens of the world are recording increased incidents of disease, poverty, losses and untold hardships. And because the climate crisis also manifests in restriction of access to resources, incidents of conflicts are on the increase too. Africa is the worst hit and the most vulnerable.

It is generally believed that the world will soon witness a peak in oil production and this will coincide with the world having used more than half of all currently proven reserves (2). Some experts estimate that Nigeria reached her own peak oil level two years ago. Already Nigeria is saying that production here can be increased from the current reported 2.5 million barrels a day to 5.2 million barrels a day by the year 2030 so as to meet the oil demands of the USA as access to Middle East crude may get more difficult. It was recently reported that by early 2007 Nigeria became the third largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, after Canada and Mexico (3).To underscore the strategic importance, the U.S. is setting up a military command (Africa Command or AFRICOM) in the Gulf of Guinea possibly to ensure that nothing disturbs the flow of oil from the region.

The Nigerian dream would only be realised if the geologic findings were wrong, as estimates already say that her oil will run out in less than 30 years if production keeps to the current rate. In addition, escalating conflicts have resulted in huge shut-ins through the rise of armed groups in the area. The power of oil to generate conflicts can also be seen to be growing in the continent as Cameroon and Nigeria flex muscles over ownership of an oil-rich marshland (called Bakassi) at the Southeast tip of Nigeria. A ruling of the International Court of Justice that the land belongs to Cameroon does not appear to have resolved the crisis in those backwaters.

The almost desperate move by nations to find crude oil is leading to audacious activities as well as innovations in the extractive fields. Recently we heard of Russia claiming ownership of the North Pole by planting a flag in the sea bed there, 4.2 km bellow the surface! (4). Claiming ownership by flag planting is an emblem of gaining victory through warfare. We may soon expect to hear that since the USA planted a flag on the moon in 1969, they are the owners of the celestial body.

Oil and conflict are Siamese twins. It is doubtful if oil just happens to be found in places where there is conflict. Consider Darfur region of Sudan for instance. While northern transnational corporations are often the culprit in terms of environmental despoliation, in Sudan the culprit is Sinopec, the Chinese state oil corporation. In 1999, as the first barrels of crude oil were shipped from Sudan, so did the war between government forces and those of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army escalate. When we turn our eyes to the Middle East we see the raw situation of war waged for profit and resource appropriation and control.

Profiting from Crisis: the economics of war

The path of crude oil development has been strewn with skeletons and soaked in human blood across the world. The ongoing case in Nigeria is a glaring example. The case of Angola is still fresh in memory. Naomi Klein has expertly exposed the issue of the profitability of disasters in her new book. She states that “With resource scarcity and climate change providing a steadily increasing flow of new disasters, responding to emergencies is simply too hot an emerging market to be left to the nonprofits – why should UNICEF rebuild schools when it can be done by Bechtel, one of the largest engineering firms in the U.S.?” She also asks the question, “Why deploy UN peacekeepers to Darfur when private security companies like Blackwater are looking for new clients?” (5)

It should be instructive that at a time when oil fields have become hotbeds of conflicts and insurgency that is precisely when oil companies are making record- breaking profits. This boom is also enjoyed by those involved in weapons trade, deconstruction/reconstruction, private soldiers and the like. In the month of October 2006 when the highest Iraqi civilian casualties of 3,709 were recorded, a market analyst stated that Halliburton’s quarterly profit was “better than expected.” By the last quarter of 2006 this company had enjoyed an inflow of up to $20 billion from the Iraqi war alone.

Communities trapped in the barrel

One activist (6) posited that the Nigerian government is a victim of disaster capitalism and that the new government is caught in the web of supremacist gangs engaged in the business of kidnappings and abduction of oil workers and children and parents of politicians. In a phrase, while both the government and oil companies are the beneficiaries of the crisis raging in the oil fields through huge profits and so called windfalls, both are equally vulnerable. Both face the challenge of access to oilfields and with time, not even the offshore installations will be so secure. This will come to pass unless steps are taken to look away from short-term profits and to work for security of the environment, livelihoods and the rights of the people to live in a way that is favourable to their development (7).

Moreover, deep seas and far off offshore locations do carry special financial risks besides the physical ones. Offshore activities are being intensified in the Gulf of Guinea: Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and new comers like Ghana and Sierra Leone. One factor that make offshore drilling and platforms so attractive is their perceived security and the lack of need for accountability to ‘host communities’ since no one can easily monitor their activities out at sea. A recent attack of one of the Bonga Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FSPO), 75 kilometres offshore, allegedly by Niger Delta militants has made the claim of security to be seen as a mere dream (8). Perhaps the ultimate security will be the landing of USA troops in one of the nations under their AFRICOM. Note that this command will come into full operation as a unified command by October 2008 (9).

Following the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 United States of America’s policy to Africa has been largely built on oil and terrorism (10). The USA is seen as building deeper military ties with neoliberal protégés such as Nigeria, South Africa and Mozambique; working to weaken OPEC by getting her allies to leave the cartel, and doing this, as an industry operative put it, by peeling off certain countries. By 2002, President Bush’s Africa policy was already characterised as “build the military and extract the oil.” (11).

About 42% of Nigeria’s crude is exported to the USA. Together with the prodigious fields of the rest of the Gulf of Guinea, about 25% of the crude needs of the USA is to be met from here by 2015. Already the USA has suggested that the Gulf of Guinea is an ungoverned space making it very clear that she intends to provide this governance here through military bases and under the banner of the AFRICOM. This region is a vital source of this vital raw material as other regions like the Middle East become too expensive to manipulate. Africa is the nice lady who accepts rape without complaints. But for how long?

AFRICOM as a command solely set up to focus on Africa goes beyond mere military reorganisation, but is fundamentally paving the way for other changes that places military solutions above diplomacy. The Department of Defence, for instance, will take over functions previously handled by civilian agencies. Such functions will include building schools and digging wells. The command seeks to protect oil resources to ensure supplies to the USA and to counter Chinese incursions into the region. In the words of Resist AFRICOM, it is “designed to fulfil the immediate special interests of the United States with little heed to the implications for the people of Africa.” (12).

In a policy brief, transAfrica forum describes AFRICOM as “the newest iteration of a failed foreign policy agenda driven by exploitation of natural resources and the expansion of the Global War on Terror.” (13). The body describes the U.S. foreign policy in Africa “as one of the unilateral prioritizing of U.S. government and corporate interests over African development.”

The African continent appears to have been divided among the oil corporations in concessions and plots for their exploitation and destruction. The scramble for Africa is seeing oil activities rapidly spreading in Eastern and Southern Africa. While the oil and gas fever grips the tycoons in Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Chad, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, etc, the local communities are never brought into the picture of what is about to hit them.

A case in point is the West African Gas Pipeline project which is already in operation. Right at the inception of the project, communities had complained that environmental rules of even the supporting World Bank were not being followed. It is only now that the World Bank admits to this serious flaw. According to reports, “Following a request by some communities in Nigeria, which claim that the WAGP project was adversely impacting on their safety, environment and means of livelihood, an inspection panel was set up by the bank…. the global bank’s board, the panel headed by Mr. Warner Kiene, on Wednesday, contended that the bank failed to comply with its policies and procedures on environmental assessment, project supervision, and involuntary resettlement, posing irreparable harm to the communities’ livelihoods.” (14).

As already noted, oil corporations are huge beneficiaries, and may even be said to be instigators, of the crisis related to the industry. The surge in global awareness about peak-oil and climate change, all-time-high price of oil as a result of conflicts in Nigeria, Iraq and disturbances in Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, etc can become rather unsettling. Joint venture arrangements are incredibly lopsided in favour of the corporations not just in financial terms but also in responsibility and accountability over the environment and to the communities. Nigerians complain about the gross wastage of natural gas being flared by oil corporations, but the government is a partner in this heinous crime. US$15 million worth of gas is flared daily, pumping massive quantities of greenhouse gases as well as toxic substances into the air. There is no breath of fresh air near these flares. They cause asthma, bronchitis, cancers and blood disorders. They also pour acid rain on the land, vegetation, buildings and the people. (15)

Oil Communities: beaten by all sides

The usual assertion that Nigeria suffers from a resource curse may not be true because the resource that we are endowed with is a blessing rather than a curse. Resource wealth does not necessarily have to subvert development. One would agree however that the scramble for the wealth does subvert our collective ability to resolve the conflicts into which we are immersed. And this is primarily because of the privatisation of public funds generated through the exploitation of these publicly held resources.

The crisis situation can best be seen as a result of interplay of a web of interrelated factors, and not the result of a single determinant. As an analyst put it, “While most of the attention is often placed on local actors: the state/political elites, militia groups/warlords, and weak and inept bureaucracies, very little attention is paid to the role of external and transnational actors and the lack of transparency that shrouds the extent of their involvement in these conflicts.” (16)

Oil communities in Africa are asking questions today. They want to know why oil should still be drilled in their land when the process and the resource are poisoning their lands, waters and atmosphere. They want to know why they must live with the oil spills, gas flares and the moral, economic and social dislocations that trail the industry. They want to know why they must be silent in the face of serious deforestation caused by the oil industry. They are asking that the crude oil be left in the ground where they rightly belong.

By Nnimmo BASSEY, Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria

End Notes

[1] Floegel, Mark, Half a Tank: The Impending Arrival of Peak Oil (Washington: Multinational Monitor, January-February 2007) p. 15
[2] Multinational Monitor, The End of Oil (editorial), (Washington: January/February 2007 edition). P. 6. This issue of the Multinational Monitor illustrates, among others, that the “Corporate control of energy policy and energy resources, especially in the United States, the country that consumes more energy than any other, is the single greatest obstacle to slow and hopefully reverse the world’s headlong rush to disaster.”
[3] Akande, Laolu, Nigeria is third largest oil exporter to U.S., (Lagos: The Guardian, 13 June 2007). http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/news/article02
[4] BBC: Russia plants flag under N Pole, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6927395.stm
[5] Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine, (London: Penguin Books, 2007) p. 15
[6] In a private conversation with the writer
[7] As enshrined in the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 24
[8] see http://www.vanguardngr.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11187&Itemid=0
[9] US Africa Command Reaches Initial Operating Capability, Press Release 08-001, October 1, 2007. See http://www.africom.mil/
[10] Feller, John, ed. Power Trip- U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2003, P.149
[11] Montague, Dena. Africa: The New Oil and Military Frontier, Arms Trade Resource Center Update, 20 September 2002
[12] See www.resistafricom.org for more information on this and related topics.
[13] See transAfrica Policy Brief AFRICOM: The “Freedom Agenda” on the African Continent. June 2008 www.transafricaforum.org
[14] World Bank tackles effects of W’Africa gas project, The Guardian, Lagos. 8/8/2008 available at
[15] Conant, Jeff and Fadem Pam. Community Guide to Environmental Health, Hesperian Foundation 2008
[16] Obi, Cyril, Oil and Development in Africa: Some Lessons from the Oil Factor in Nigeria for the Sudan (Copenhagen: DISS Report 2008:8: Oil Development in Africa:Lessons for Sudan after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement Edited by Luke Patey, 2007) p.14

8 / 2008 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

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