At the recently concluded VIVAT Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting in Rome, the board recommitted to its focus on Africa. This intervention is not only timely but long overdue. Derogatory names have sometimes characterized the African continent. Designations like ‘‘the dark continent’’ and the like easily come to mind. Africa is blessed with wonderful people with a rich cultural heritage. It is equally a continent fraught with large-scale human rights abuses.
Perhaps one way to understand Africa’s many crises today is to view it through the lens of its vast and rich natural mineral endowments. And perhaps again, what is dark about the continent can largely be appreciated when one considers the level of shady and underhand businesses that thrive in Africa, largely engineered by those whose interests in Africa are roundly questionable. A few examples will help illustrate why it is imperative that we beam our searchlight on human and environmental rights advocacy in Africa.
Carbon Neutral Target: Implication for Human Rights Abuses in Africa
The global climate crisis has successfully been dragged into the pantheon of human rights concerns by the UN Human Rights Council. As a result of these intensified efforts at curtailing this global emergency, programs, and policies have been advanced as models for the operationalization of the set agenda. Achieving a net zero carbon emission by 2050 is the target. We have found our beautiful bride and her beautiful mantra. Adopting environmentally friendly (?) options like the use of electric cars (instead of fossil-fuelled ones), wind, and/or solar-powered alternatives are considered best practices. The new agenda will depend on the availability and sourcing of the raw materials for these alternative sources of energy in commercial quantity. Luckily, there is an abundance of the required raw materials like cobalt and lithium in Africa. And herein lies the big problem.
Applauding the finished product, an electric vehicle, and how relatively smooth it runs (no noise, no carbon pollution) could be misleading if we fail to pay attention to what is happening at the downstream sector of the production line. This is where a focus on Africa, where huge mining and haulage of raw materials is taking place, is critical. We need to scrutinize the ethical standards during the extraction cycle, the miners’ welfare at sites, and the environmental impact on the local and extended communities.
Aggregating these data and the critical assessment is the surest way of determining our point of advocacy in view of the carbon-neutral agenda in Africa. We should be interested in knowing if and whose blood is being used to fuel our net zero agenda; we should be interested in knowing if and to what extent host communities’ human and environmental rights have been abused. To clarify that cruising in our electric cars was not just made possible by simply plugging in our car to the charging outlet is an important aspect of the debate and campaign. Knowing what level of pollution was discharged into the atmosphere while sourcing raw materials and producing the batteries is even more important than knowing the charge retention level in those battery cells. A simple search on cobalt mining in Congo DR may be less revealing.
I would then strongly recommend a recent, detailed, and unbiased documentary on this issue by mainstream German media DW titled The Cobalt Challenge: The Dark Side of the Energy Transition via the link: https://youtu.be/0Q2IW7UEclI. And this is only a part of the story. In Nigeria, the clandestine mining of lithium has led to the death of many rural dwellers in areas where the mineral is secretly mined. And for the avoidance of doubt, this article is not an argument in favor of a return to fossil fuel. It is rather a reminder that the solution to our energy and climate crisis and the attempt to solve it is not easily resolved by recourse to alternative sources of energy that equally degrade the environment and the locals that live in that environment. Ignoring this will be tantamount to not acknowledging that some of the beautiful diamonds from Africa hanging on our necks, wrists, ankles, and fingers are truly bloody diamonds.
Emission (Carbon) Trading in Africa
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has much to say about emission trading as a policy agenda. As enunciated in ‘’Emissions trading, as set out in Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, this framework allows countries with emission units to spare – emissions permitted them but not “used” – to sell this excess capacity to countries over their targets. Thus, a new commodity was created in the form of emission reductions or removals. Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol is perceived by many UN policy analysts in Africa as not only highly hypocritical but also a tacit attempt by industrialized countries to hold Africa down economically. It echoes the intervention made by former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, during the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm (1972) that ‘’poverty is the worst form of pollution.’’
When African nations, largely unindustrialised, are persuaded by pushy industrialized nations to sell their so-called emission allowance, how does that checkmate the global climate crisis? Who benefits? How does buying off an allocated emission quota from the poorest nations help to alleviate the global crisis? Analysts insist that the fresh report card issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021 offered no hope to the African continent. Emission trading in Africa is only increasing and will not abate as long as industrialized nations’ economic and underhand foreign policy interests remain unscrutinized and unchallenged. Simply put, you cannot curtail global emissions by buying off an allowance for more emissions. This practice clearly ridicules the net zero carbon emission target.
Road Mapping VIVAT Focus in Africa
To firm our renewed focus in Africa, the dynamics that shape the continent must be carefully studied and, to a great extent, understood before any meaningful advocacy engagement can be made. We must not be seen supporting policies that inadvertently affect the people we are fighting to liberate. The proper way to achieve this is the continual charge that VIVAT International continues to evolve as a prophetic movement.
Being prophetic entails the ability to resiliently stand with the few who are right rather than with the majority who are wrong. It is like being a ‘’prophetic stranger’’. A prophetic stranger is like an unbiased umpire refereeing a match. He or she is not cowed by the pressure from both the fans and the players. Such an umpire understands the dodgy antics players adopt to obtain decisions in their favor. He or she is fully involved in the game but maintains a stranger stance. In this regard, every UN campaign being propagated for adoption and compliance must first pass through the judgment seat of critical interrogation so as to weigh how it tallies with credible experiences at the grassroots. And the imperative to pursue this path of advocacy in Africa is now.
Fabian Onyekachi Adindu, CSSp