Africa it getting more and more into the focus of oil production. In the last couple of years new oil reserves have been found along the Atlantic coast of West Africa. By 2015 the U.S. alone wants to import 25 percent of their oil from Africa. But looking back the abundance of oil in Africa has been like a curse for the continent. In Nigeria, the sixth biggest oil producing country worldwide, the oil extraction of the British-Dutch oil corporation Royal Dutch Shell has destroyed great parts of natural and living environments since the 1950s. Renowned African environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey talks about the crimes of Shell in the Niger Delta, gas flaring, lawsuits against the oil corporation and the effects of climate change carbon trading on the African continent.
Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International and Awardee of the "Right Livelihood Award" (Alternative Nobel Prize), Nigeria
David Goessmann: Welcome to Kontext TV. Crude Oil is the stuff that modern industrial civilization depends on: In the fields of energy, transport, agriculture, synthetics and pharmaceutics
In this broadcast, we will focus on the effects of oil production, on resistance against the fossil fuel industry and on ways out of the oil trap. At the world social forum in Dakar, Senegal, we talked to Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the earth International, Awardee of the Right Livelihood Award and worldwide renowned for his fight against the crimes of Shell in the Niger Delta.
David Goessmann: Welcome to Kontext TV.
Nnimmo Bassey: Thank you very much.
Fabian Scheidler: When it comes to Africa, in Western media we hear about poverty, starvation, HIV, conflicts, violent conflicts, but we rarely hear something about the structural backgrounds and root causes for these phenomena. Talk about the situation of Africa today and how it got there.
Nnimmo Bassey: I think you hit the nail on the head, actually, because a lot of the stories emanate from Africa are clearly putting away that people dont ask the question "Why are these things happening ?" and it's because, simply because, the stories are pushed out to support some commercial interests who want to exploit further the misery on the continent. And so the victims are usually condemned to suffer more, while those who cause the problem gain all the time. Er, the problems of Africa are many, of course, and of course can go back to colonial era, but we can't really blame everything on colonialism, but in the colonial era there have been not much difference. It has just changed one master for another master, so you have the local elites, the local power - people in power - continuing the work that was started before independence came to many of the African countries. Right now, we have, there is very strong influence of international financial institutions, like the World Bank, like the International Monetary Fund, who are sitting over government decisions making-apparatus, in the various countries on the continent. And virtually no serious economic policy drawn up without the endorsement of these international financial institutions. So, when it comes to policy - the policy (?) - is very little liberty for governments to carry out the policy that they would really want carry out. Well, again, the question could be asked "Why don't they stand up against this institution ? Why don't they reject those institutions ?" The problem here is that many of the governments we have are comfortable with the new liberal economic system, and they don't want to be in the bad books of these institutions that are bringing bad policies. It is as bad as having the World Bank, for example, er the IMF bringing about structural adjustment programs for the African countries in the late 1980s and later on admitting that these policies were wrong and were causing the problems, the World Bank admitted this, the IMF admitted this, it was terrible. They would bring new policies built upon the same structural patterns of the old ones that failed.
Fabian Scheidler: Mr Bassey, you have worked a lot on climate change also, you were present at the Copenhagen summit in 2009 where you were ejected although you were accredited, er, at the summit for Friends of the Earth international, er, you were not allowed to get in again, so you're working anyway a lot on climate change and climate change has already started, could you explain what impact climate change already has on African countries today and, er, what could be future threats of climate change for Africa?
Nnimmo Bassey: Yeah, climate change really has already various impacts and the impacts are going to be more, especially when we look at the official negotiations, the United Nations framework convention on climate change processes, as you mentioned, the meeting in Copenhagen produced the Copenhagen accord, which was just drawn up by a few countries, it ignored negotiations and the positions of most of the countries. Of course most countries were forced more or less to sign it after the conference, but that was because they were promised some kind of finance, which is the carrot, the carrot that is dangled before weak and poor countries. In Cancun, what we saw there was more what could be called Copenhagen part 2. Because again, the agreement was not a product of multilateral negotiations on the floor of the plenary, it was something that was crafted in greenrooms, but with more acceptance from governments, for whatever reason, but not different from the Copenhagen accord. And pushed for more market driven policies on climate change, which of course never really yield the real solutions. So, we have a situation where most of the world believes that market mechanisms can be used to tackle climate change and a lot of it is through carbon trading, carbon offsetting, and so called clean development mechanism. All the euphemisms you can find in the world are being used to foolish ideas of tackling climate change, whereas they actually compounding the problems. Take for example the clean development mechanism, or also the carbon offsetting system, which is what most people know about. It simply allows polluting industries in the global north, North America and Europe to continue polluting while they could feel they do something good or compensating for their pollution by calling on some activities in the global south, for example planting plantation and it will be believed that the pollution in the north is captured by the trees in the south, and then of course, also the new REED program, so this is allowing rich countries to grab the forrests in the global south and now is going to allow them to also grab the lands and grab the soils and grab the waters and the eventually also grab the atmosphere. Now the impact of all this is that you find people on the African continent being restricted from having access to resources that they always lived on. For example forrest dependent countries can't utilise the forrest resources the way they were using before, because somebody has an interest in maintaining the forrest as carbon stock. But a forrest is not just a carbon stock, not just a container for carbon dioxide or whatever. Your forrest is a living space where people make a living in. They depend not just on the trees but on the aquatic life, the freshwater systems in the forrest, they depend on the forrest for medicinal plants, they carried out farming inbetween the trees or amid the trees and in a very very sustainable way so all this is being affected by the new policies that are supposed to be tackling climate change. The other impact is that the more the world, the global temperature rises, we're are having increased incidents of desertification in Africa. Africa already has two very big deserts, the Sahara desert and the Kalahari desert in the south. Sahara in the north of Africa, and you find that in places like my country, eleven of thirtysix states in Nigeria is severly impacted by increased desertification. This means that pastoralists have been displaced to moved southwards. Fisher-folks are losing their fishing grounds. In the forrest the farmers are losing their lands. So you have a climate refugees within the country already migrating southwards. That is one incident, less rain, or too much rain, so you have draughts, loss of water in some areas is impacting food production. If it continues unchecked it is going to be really terrible for the continent. The other one is sea-level rise. This may not be siginificant now, but already we have a very severe cases costal erosion along the Atlantic coast. But this is also increased by activities oil construction companies, Oil companies, building canals from the ocean to take in the barges and equipment inland and of course the activities is also leading to subsidence in the region. Scientists tell us that if climate change goes unchecked and combined with the subsidence of the costal land in western Africa area, that a net sea-level rise of one meter would mean a flooding of land up to 90km from the coast. Now this would be severely impact on human er, population where a lot of the cities, populous cities in Westafrica along the coast - in Nigeria most of our big towns are along the coast - so if all those areas go down you're going to have serious climate refugees migrating from the south from the costal land inland. That if you have the desert pushing people from the north coming down and if the sea-level rising pushing people from the south going up, you can imagine the amount of conflict that we are going to have. Already in Nigeria we have a lot of conflicts that newspapers report, that media reports as religious conflicts, they are actually not religious conflicts, they are like the preludes to the climate conflicts that we're seeing there. They are economic conflicts, they are resource conflicts, that people find more confident to characterise as religious conflicts, which they are not. So we have these serious problems of crop losses, of increased food deficit, of loss of land and one of the biggest, biggest criminals in this regard are the oil companies operating in Nigeria. Because of the burning of gas in the oil fields, that comes out of the ground as they extract crude oil. In Nigeria, they are burning huge amounts of gas, 2.5 bn $ worth of gas, every year up in the smoke. Up in smokes, blown up, the burning is going on 24h every day, with that they're releasing carbon dioxide, methane and all the greenhouse gases continually. That's a huge amount of gas, a huge amount of global greenhouse gases, are released into the atmosphere on a daily basis and it's been going on for decades. Now, why is that happening? Don't the corporations know it's wrong? Don't the governments know it's wrong? The Nigerian government outlawed gas flaring in 1984. That's a long time ago. We went to court in 2005 and the court in Nigeria affirmed that gas flaring is illegal activitiy. But because the corporations like Shell started 1958 to flare gas, er, because according to them there wasn't a market for local firing natural gas and because of the leadership of Shell, all other companies adopted the same method, and according to them that is accepted industry practice in the region, whereas it is clearly criminal and it's unacceptable. It's killing people. People are dying from cancers, from blood-disorders, from all kinds of bronchitis, from all kinds of diseases, because of the toxic elements in this gas, apart from the pollution from oil-spills.