Children are the stars as JA Celebrates International Forests Day

As we had announced, this year our celebration of the Forests Day on 21 March was different, as it was dedicated to the children, not adults!!

21 de Marco - dia das florestas

It was a fun day with lots of playful activities and joy, with many opportunities to introduce and discuss with kids the importance of our forests, the importance of conserving these ecosystems and of the environment in general, always highlighting that people and communities are a part of it.

A boa disposicao do nosso pessoal

We were all touched by the happiness of the children!! And our staff & volunteers enjoyed too!!

The event took place at the Parque dos Professores (Teachers Park), starting at 10am until 4 pm, and was organized in partnership with the Livro Aberto (Open Book) Association and supported by the participation and dedication of AMOR (Mozambican Recycling Association), Kosmoz, Mr. Rafo Diaz, the boys from the orphanage Casa do Gaiato and several tireless volunteers.

Mesa Amor e o Vai e VemCasa do Gaiato no dia das Florestas

The objective of this initiative was to use fun activities to raise awareness among children, Mozambique’s future generation, about the importance of our forests, and the conservation of our environment in general.

The activities for children included:

1. Making Bracelets with re-used plastic water bottles and strips of bright capulana (much-loved traditional Mozambican cloth)

Pulseiras com garrafas plásticas e recortes de capulana

2. Drawing trees and decorating them using motifs from old magazines;

Desenhando árvores - recorte e colagem

Making snakes by re-using the cardboard tube of toilet rolls;

Drawing a beautiful forest on canvas, elements of which were painted by many different children throughout the day at their choice and in the end, it illustrated the immense biodiversity and creativity;

O inicio da nossa floresta A nosso floresta 1

Face painting, which did take some courage as none of our staff had any previous experience with this, but it also gave us the opportunity to test the creativity of our colleagues and volunteers;

Reiki 4

In addition to these activities, we had several colouring pages available for the younger children, all with environmental themes;

Uma das muitas criancas que estiveram conosco colorindo!!!

We had a message board which was also a success; many children left their messages each on small cardboard leaves, which together made the tree;

A nossa árvore das mensagens

In addition to the activities that JA and Livro Aberto had organized we also had activities from important partners, who clearly contributed for a rich programme for the day, such as AMOR and Kosmoz.

AMOR is promoting recycling in Mozambique and was present with their great mood, inviting children to learn how to build fun toys from recycled material, such as the “Vai e vem” (literally ‘come & go’ – a toy) with recycled plastic bottles, which was a huge hit with the kids whilst at the same time their volunteers were talking about important environmental concepts.

Amor - ensinando com amor

The Kosmoz (Holistic Platform for Integral Human Development) was well represented, bringing elements of physical and mental well-being of communities.

Demosntração da energia vital- chi da natureza aplicado as artes marciais - kosmoz Demosntração da energia vital- chi da natureza aplicado as artes marciais 2

They had a very rich program that included dances, reiki, yoga exercises in group, educational games with emphasis to nutrition, massage parlour only for children (although the adults really wanted it too!), demonstration of aero yoga and hip hop dance, demonstration of theatre games, demonstration of a chess match, among other activities. The therapists from Kosmoz were present during most of the day providing advice and appointments for children and parents also.

Meditacao em grupo 2 - Kosmoz

We cannot forget the story telling moment in which Mr. Rafo Diaz charmed our children with his magical storytelling talent! Thank you very much Rafo!

Rafo Diaz - Encantando com as suas histórias

We are immensely grateful for the commitment and dedication of our new partners Livro Aberto Association, Amor and Kosmoz, because they believed in the cause and helped us make this day a day to remember!

Meditacao em grupo - Kosmoz

This day was a great example of Mozambican organisations working together for children of all socio-economic backgrounds, who rarely if ever have a chance to come together.

(All photos by Justiça Ambiental)

International Day of Rivers, The Zambezi and Mphanda Nkuwa

March 14th: International Day of the Rivers
To celebrate this date, JA! organized and held several events. The focus was the Zambezi River.
In Tete, we put up a banner on the Samora Machel Bridge in Tete which is the town closest to the proposed dam and also close to the coal mining-affected communities. The message on the banner was strong, and was directed at every single person who saw it: IN YOUR NAME, “PROGRESS” AND “DEVELOPMENT” ARE KILLING THE ZAMBEZI DAM BY DAM) We distributed leaflets about the consequences of the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam.

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(Photo credit: Gus Greenstein)

In Maputo and in partnership with the National Institute of Audiovisual and Cinema we also organized the screening of two documentaries about water: Entre Rios, which depicts the impacts of urbanization and expansion of the city of São Paulo on the rivers of the region, and Damocracy, which addresses the social and environmental impacts of the construction of mega dams in rivers. The aim of these projections was to create an awareness of the importance of rivers and water resources, which are vital for the planet and all of us. After the screening there was a very interactive discussion regarding the impact of human activity on the environment, its resources and their sustainability. Issues were also raised regarding the energy model that historically has caused serious social, economic, cultural and environmental consequences, and about the need to replace the use of dirty energy and the construction of mega dams (such as that intended to Mphanda Nkuwa) for the development and use of clean and renewable energy.

Dia dos Rios INAC

The Zambezi and Mphanda Nkuwa

In accordance to the mother of all geopolitical rules, as the developed countries stop building and actually begin to demolish their dams, the pressure from companies and financiers of such infrastructures over the underdeveloped and developing countries increases.

Unsurprisingly, the Mozambican government does not seem to be “getting the picture.” With a series of dams planned for our rivers in the coming years, fronted by the infamous Mphanda Nkuwa, the government’s agenda clearly indicates its commitment to send us the opposite direction to the course of development that they so often talk about.

In 2014, in the United States alone, at least 72 dams were demolished in order to restore rivers and preserve its people and biodiversity. In the US, the movement for the demolition of dams and river restoration is clearly becoming stronger, and much thanks to education and information campaigns, this increasing awareness regarding the impacts of dams in the past present and future is lessening the manoeuvring space for those who promote them within the political circles, and consequently, making it more difficult for politicians to foist them.

But who decides that a dam should be demolished? And why? Well, actually, there seems to be no rule. Sometimes governmental entities, for environmental and/or social reasons, determine it; sometimes the owners of the dam, when it is no longer profitable (if it ever was), come to the conclusion that maintenance costs are higher than demolition costs, and so, for financial and safety reasons choose to demolish it. Either way, nature says thank you.

The great victory in the fight against dams in 2014 was the overturning of the HidroAysén project, a 5 dams construction plan in the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia. The Environmental Impact Assessment was approved in 2011, but a group of citizens opposed strongly and in 2014 the Minister for the Environment announced that her Ministry had rejected the project. She justified it by saying that the dam was jeopardizing biodiversity, traditional cultures, communities and even tourism in the region.

Another big win was to finally be able to hold the World Bank accountable for their involvement in human rights violations through its funding of dams. An example: the Rio Negro massacres caused during the building of the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala.

But what about us? How long will we keep pushing one way while the world moves in the opposite direction? We are different and want to continue to be different, but different for the better. We have to impose our will so that wise decisions on these matters are taken. Decisions upon which depend the welfare and livelihoods of millions of people and the balance of our environment. We agree that we cannot believe everything is said and written, but we cannot allow lightly taken decisions made in our name to be so obscenely wrong that a simple online search on any search engine disqualifies them peremptorily.

We need the decision makers of this country to promote a broad and open dialogue with society on the country’s energy needs, and allow it to participate in decision making. They could start by giving us answers to questions such as:

We need more dams to produce energy what and/or whom for?

What kind of energy do we want, and what options do we have?

In terms of social justice, we are certain that these decisions, taken together with the society, will be fairer, more valid, and certainly will not cost so much sweat, blood and tears to Mozambicans. Environmentally speaking, we have faith that this will also allow us to preserve our rivers, our water.

In the specific case of the Zambezi, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that in the coming years “the Zambezi basin will potentially face the worst effects of climate change (…) and suffer probably a substantial reduction precipitation of about 10-15%”. We cannot afford to ignore these warnings from leading scientist panels and lightly build more dams on the Zambezi. The consequences can be disastrous.

Proud of our partners victories in the US and Chile, we remain resolute in our struggle and hopeful to the end that victory will smile to us too. And you may even be thinking that this much desired victory will not be yours; worse, that in case of defeat, nothing will change for you; or even worse, that this investment will certainly serve the country, create jobs and bring progress… Think again. This investment could irreparably affect the lives of millions of Mozambicans living on the banks of the Zambezi. It can take the fish and the xima out of their tables, because the “health” of a river depends on an entire ecosystem, including the fields it irrigates. And how will the thousands of fishermen and farmers living by and of the river survive?

And the possible repercussions in the Zambezi delta and the shrimp industry?

What if we told you that Mphanda Nkuwa is not meant to help fix our country’s poor electrification rate? Would you be surprised? What if we told you that behind Mphanda Nkuwa there are other plans for energy-intensive dirty industries, that will in turn bring the country other social and environmental problems and the same development that the Cahora Bassa, Mozal, Vale and Jindal, among others, bring us today: insufficient when compared to what we sacrificed and disproportionately distributed.

There is only one Zambezi, and yet, there are many projects that the executive seems to have for him, as if it was inexhaustible and indestructible… Don’t you find it strange that none of them are directly aimed at benefiting its people?

Do you really believe that is progress?

For more information about the HidroAysén project and dam demolition:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/06/140610-chile-hidroaysen-dam-patagonia-energy-environment/

http://www.americanrivers.org/initiative/dams/projects/2014-dam-removals/#sthash.PNG8jVEs.dpuf

Someone’s Republic

Thank goodness we are nobodies. We nobodies can speak freely with other nobodies like us about what we think, without having to worry that Someone might not like our ideas.

The thing is Someone does not like those who think differently. His message is clear: if you think differently, think silently.

Someone is dangerous and wants us all to know it.

Someone has long been trying to annihilate all those who are noble and competent in Mozambique. Trying to condemn us all to his mediocrity, to his predictable and repeatedly sterile, selfish and monochromatic ideas.

In November 2000 Someone ordered the hit on Cardoso and doomed our media to an era of opacity, of subordination, of dictated news, of amazing fables featuring ducks, partridges, monkeys, pigs and other characters in plots and intrigues so poorly staged that only a moron would mistake them for reality.

Less than a year later, Someone ordered the killing of Siba-Siba Macuácua, allegedly to cover up a big shady bank fraud that the economist was trying to unveil. How many like Siba-Siba has Someone “pushed over the handrail” to cover up his manoeuvres?

In 2010, Orlando José, the late Director of Audit, Research and Information of Customs, also paid with his life for the grotesque mistake of saying that Someone should pay the same taxes as the rest of us common mortals.

And now, after nearly five years of absence (in what concerns political assassinations of obvious intimidating nature), on Tuesday the 3rd of this month, Someone ordered another hit. Gilles Cistac was the victim. He was shot because Someone certainly found inconceivable that a teacher, a mentor, a renowned academic could have an opinion so further apart from his. Surely Someone considered that Cistac was thinking too loud. Moreover, Cistac occupied a social position too dangerous for a politically misaligned individual.

Now what?

Are we all supposed to cheep quietly like a good flock of nobodies?

Are we expected to, yet again, accept Someone’s impunity and pretend to believe in the guilt of yet another Anibalzinho? To accept Someone’s oppression as an amorphous, gagged and subdued society?

Are the other intellectuals of our society, who put themselves on the line for the millions of nobodies like us, supposed to feel intimidated and keep quiet from now on?

Although it seems obvious that the wellbeing and the future of the country depend now, and perhaps more than ever, on the courage of these men and women, it does not seem fair that we demand of them that they alone risk their lives to protect our future.

We can no longer be nobodies, we must leave our quiet and safe insignificance, give voice to our discontent and fight for the rights that so many have fallen to defend.

We have had enough comrades. Enough.

The Nobodies By Eduardo Galeano

Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream
of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will
suddenly rain down on them- will rain down in buckets. But 
good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter
how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is
tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or
start the new year with a change of brooms.

The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing.

The 
nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, 
dying through life, screwed every which way.

Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.

Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.

Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.

Who don’t have culture, but folklore.

Who are not human beings, but human resources.

Who do not have names, but numbers.

Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the 
police blotter of the local paper.

The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.

The world should remember: Lima talks did nothing to stop the climate crisis

The UN climate change talks in Lima are over. Instead of finishing on Friday afternoon, they went on till 4am on Sunday. It came close to a few break-downs because developing countries were really pushing back at the way at which developed countries were trying to control the situation. But finally there was a so-called ‘consensus’. But make no mistake, what was agreed in Lima did not and will not do anything to stop climate change.

The final approved text was driven by the interests of rich developed countries and corporations. This contrasted sharply with the real leadership and inspiration demonstrated in Lima by social movements, organisations and the communities on the frontline, who are already suffering the impacts of climate change.

Rich developed countries came to Lima determined to ensure that the outcome reflected their short term economic interests, as if the climate crisis really does not matter. The outcome lacks courage, justice and solidarity with the billions of people affected by climate change.

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Activists chanting “no justice, no deal” 2 hours before the final terrible text was approved. Photo credit: Yumi Sato
At the same time as the negotiations, again this year the Philippines endured more extreme weather and communities around the world are paying for the carbon excess of others with their lives and livelihoods. The Lima outcome failed people and the planet at a time when real solutions are needed more urgently than ever before.

The outcome says nothing about the drastic emissions reductions needed before 2020, without which we are at risk of an even greater temperature rise and climate breakdown. The outcome undermines historical responsibility. The urgent obligation of developed countries to provide climate finance is glaringly missing. This text creates an architecture that will set us up for a doomed deal in Paris. This is completely unacceptable. Governments of developed countries need to urgently find the necessary courage and political will to deal with the scale of this planetary emergency.

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Protest inside COP 20 demanding an end to dirty energy. Photo credit: Luka Tomac

But away from the negotiating halls, people continue to mobilize and build an enduring movement to implement the real solutions to the climate crisis. Justiça Ambiental was there observing and building alliances with movements and organisations. The Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change (Cumbre de los Pueblos/ Cupula dos Povos) – which ran parallel to the UN talks – gathered together social movements and organisations from Peru, Latin America and all over the world. They exchanged experiences and continued to build momentum for the transformation needed to address the roots of the climate crisis and create a better, cleaner and more just world.

Almost 20,000 people marched in a huge protest (the March in Defense of Mother Earth) on December 10 — international human rights day.

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Thousands marching into the historic Plaza San Martin in central Lima, demanding climate justice. Photo credit: Luka Tomac

From farmers to miners to environmentalists to students… Marchers called for justice and real solutions to the climate crisis, including steep and immediate reductions in carbon emissions, stopping fossil fuels and deforestation, building renewable community-owned energy solutions, and protecting our agroecological food sovereignty systems.

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No false solutions! No REDD! Demands from the Dec 10 Human Rights Day march in Lima. Photo credit: Babawale Obayanju

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Mozambique’s Dirty Elections: Not Free, Not Fair, Not Transparent

For over a year and a half, since April 2013, Mozambique has been going through a tense political atmosphere. Many parts of the country were going through an undeclared war between the party in power (Frelimo) and the main opposition party (Renamo). We reported on this situation in our New Year JA blog. It was because of this tense atmosphere, increased insecurity for citizens and clamp down on civil society that an unprecedented 30,000 people marched on the streets of Maputo on 31 October 2013, demanding peace, justice and solidarity, and an end to insecurity and war (see photos on the New Year blog).

After much negotiations, the parties decided to go ahead with elections scheduled for 15 October 2014, although the tense atmosphere had clearly not yet abated.

Elections took place on 15 October. On the same day, media and observers already reported several irregularities. There are many instances of violence including a young man killed in Beira. Opposition party observers were deliberately kept out of voting rooms and were unable to observe. There were reports of ballot boxes disappearing in some places, being burnt and destroyed in others. Several people were caught with multiple ballots in their hands already marked in the ruling party’s name and ready to be put into ballot boxes. Many election booths opened many hours after they were supposed to. Social scientist Joseph Hanlon’s page in English registers several issues with the voting.

All these and many more reports were actively covered in the media and are substantiated by two renowned Mozambican organisations, Liga dos Direitos Humanos (LDH, Human Rights League) and Centro de Integridade Publica (CIP, Centre for Public Integrity). They were both civil society observers of this election. These organisations were already raising these issues and irregularities on the day of the elections itself.

These irregularities were reported to the National Election Commission right away on the same day! However the official response was that these incidents were minimal and did not affect the overall outcome!

The Mozambican people are livid. The tension across Mozambique around this issue is evident and everyone is talking about the lack of democracy. Front page headline on Canal de Moçambique on 22 October stated “Filipe Nyusi: Uma Fraude Retumbante” (Fipile Nyusi [ruling party candidate]: A Reverberating Fraud). Social media including facebook has been ripe with discontent about the elections scenario.

Given the sentiment in the country, and the terrible official response, 4 Mozambican organisations today submitted a formal complaint to the National Election Commission. The 4 organisations include:

  • Liga dos Direitos Humanos,
  • Centro de Integridade Publica,
  • Justiça Ambiental (JA, Friends of the Earth Mozambique) and
  • Acção Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais (ADECRU, Action for Development of Rural Communities).

The complaint has nothing to do with who wins or who loses the elections. It is about governance, transparency, justice and democracy. We as Mozambicans demand free, fair and transparent elections. We demand justice. We know there will be backlash on our organisations from the government; however it is a matter of justice for all Mozambicans. It is also important to note that the Electoral Law does not provide any legal avenues for civil society or citizens to be able to make any complaints about the electoral process and get a response. However, the outrage is huge, so we decided to go ahead with a complaint anyway.

It is really sad that some big advocacy Mozambican groups who usually work together with us on issues, and who are criticising the election irregularities, yet did not have the courage to bring their voices to such an important complaint.

Just now the government has released the final results of the elections and has claimed a victory for the ruling party.

But what is the truth? Where is our democracy?

A luta continua (the struggle continues)…

UNAC’s 3rd International Conference about Land

Another International Conference about Land, organized by the National Peasants Union (União Nacional de Camposeses, UNAC), took place in early October in the Telecommunications of Mozambique (Telecomunicações de Moçambique, TDM) conference centre. It was a privilege to hear the peasants testimonies, concerns and appeals… most of which, unfortunately, remain unresolved and unanswered. The main issues addressed were:

  • Land conflicts that are getting worse all over the country. Farmers who find themselves competing with megaprojects, like plantations, for land that rightfully belongs to them;
  • The lack of market and of product flow paths, which sometimes leads to rotten goods;
  • Unfair competition with imported products from South Africa and Swaziland. Although most of the products from our farmers are organic, consumers end up choosing the cheapest and “nice-looking” products in detriment of local goods;
  • Community Consultation misguided and biased, often involving only community representatives and not the community as a whole, which allows leaders to be misled or even bribed, in exchange for personal benefits and at the expense of the welfare of the whole community;
  • The lack of incentives and of a specific policy for the preservation of local seeds and local knowledge, pushing farmers to purchase improved seeds that lead to having low production results;
  • Prosavana, because it is being imposed and because it is a top to bottom program which endangers the land and livelihood of peasants, clearly embracing agro-businesses;
  • Other issues raised were the lack of subsidized agricultural credit, lack of extension workers, ..

The problems are many, the feeling of abandonment is widespread and the fear of questioning and complaining is permanent. How can we be facing this scenario in a country that does not tire of glorifying itself over its excellent and progressive land law, and where over 80% of the population depend on agriculture?

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Nothing about us without us! (Photo credit: JA!)

Another much discussed matter were the seeds: the qualities of local seeds vs the qualities of improved and genetically modified seeds that we thought we were not allowed in Mozambique, but which the Ministry Of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, MINAG) is clearly keen to introduce. In fact, there are already experimental fields. In his presentation, the representative of MINAG praised widely the benefits of clearly questionable genetically modified organisms, and even said we cannot have an aversion to new technologies. The concerns of farmers are ignored, the concerns of non-governmental organizations are ignored – that is when they are not also accused of having outside interests – and there is plenty of evidence that shows us that by adhering to all forms of greedy development, based on the extraction of all types of natural resources and on the commodification of nature, the government is mortgaging the future of the country. The examples of large and serious impacts of new agro businesses programs like Prosavana, which are done with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are numerous, but still, those in charge insist on not accepting them, and insist on following the path of profit at the expense of people and the environment.

The conviction of the representative of MINAG on benefits of GMO’s, and the fact that he did not mention a single negative point, showed the pathway that the government chose to follow on this matter, despite the clear objections of the peasants who were present, despite the positioning of UNAC and several other civil society organizations. The way sensitive issues such as GMOs are approached is daunting, with only the “positives” being taken into account and no negative aspect being even mentioned. The peasants clearly said they want their native seeds, because the improved seeds do not germinate, because they do not want to pay for seeds every sowing season, because they do not want to become dependent on large agro business companies. But the government representatives said they were not prepared to discuss that issue at the forum, they had only been asked to present their work.

Although very briefly, the Nacala Corridor Strategic Economic Development Plan (Plano Estratégico de Desenvolvimento Económico do Corredor de Nacala, PEDEC), which the presenter defined as a set of strategies for economic development of the Nacala corridor, and safeguarding social and environmental aspects, was also presented at the conference. How this plan safeguards the social and environmental aspects of the area, remains a mystery among many other details of this immense and greedy program. Several issues remained “in the air”, as most of those present were totally in the dark regarding this program. The presenter had little or nothing to say when faced with questions, but assured that the 400 page study gives proper details and addresses concerns. The representative of GAZEDA, also responsible for the presentation of this program, stated that the PEDEC does not include Prosavana, that they are separate programs.

In the end, the reports and testimonies of current land conflicts were played down by one of the representatives of the government who said that the Law of the Land is quite clear and that there is no room for debate. If there are land conflicts they should be resolved with the Law of the Land. According to the same individual, there should be no doubt regarding this, so we asked him why then do these conflicts remain unresolved until today… the worst blind is the one who does not want to see.

The 3rd International Conference about Land confirmed the total lack of alignment between what farmers want and how they want to develop, and what the government wants economic development for Mozambique to be: designed at the highest level with its cooperation partners rather than with Mozambicans, and based on programs already implemented in other parts of the world, which benefit countries like Japan, a major player in both the PEDEC and Prosavana.

Any organization that seeks to question and wishes to obtain better understanding of these programs is labeled by some members of the government as “serving foreign interests”. It is hilarious to hear these comments from people who are implementing programs that are completely imported, and are against development… all to avoid having to answer difficult questions that have been consistently placed…

One of the questions that many farmers have posed during this conference was: “Ultimately, who does this government serve?”… No one dared to answer!

He steals, but he builds

A few days ago, the following headline caught our attention: “Roba, pero hace obras.” The article was from a Peruvian newspaper, and the statement was Susana Villarán’s, Alcaldesa (Mayor) of Lima, Peru’s capital, and candidate for re-election on the election that took place on the 5th of this month.

Campaigning, and by way of provocation to one of her political opponents, Villarán directed a shrewd critique to the Peruvian electorate, stating that the people were often too passive in the face of corruption. “This expression he steals but he builds is well known, (…) this kind of tolerance, that we get acquainted with in our homes, in schools, is everywhere and it is a terribly damaging culture.” – said the Peruvian politician.

Needless to say, a huge controversy broke out, and in the days that followed, many of the most important South American news media mentioned the case.

While political developments in Peru are of little or no interest to us Mozambicans, we could not help but find this news very interesting, the result of a very familiar social context and, as such, worthy of being shared. With our general elections at the door, and in a country where there is so much talk about corruption and so much corruption as there is in ours, we thought we could use it as a motto to share some ideas.

How many of us have heard, regarding elections in the country, the following barbarity: “Better leave him in power, at least he is already rich. If another comes, he will still have to get rich.” This is an example of the tolerance that Susana Villarán referred to, and it has to cease to exist in our society too so that we can move forward. Political corruption, regardless of shape or volume, is not acceptable in any way and should not be tolerated.

Another barbarity is the belief that the correct actions and decisions of someone in a position of power, serve as a counterweight to balance the ethical and morally wrong things they do. The good performance of a politician gives him/her credibility, not the right to take advantage of his/her position. After all, is it not the work of those in positions of power to honourably serve those who put them there? Do they not get a salary for it? Why are those who are caught stealing or conning their bosses arrested and fired and corrupt politicians in this country are not? These ideas may seem basic, but a lot of very well educated people often forget them.

But the problem of corruption in Mozambique is far deeper and extends far beyond our tolerance to the corruption of the political class. Far beyond… The biggest problem is that, among those who can afford to do it, corrupting someone is socially acceptable. It is OK to bribe the police. It is OK to “buy” a drivers license. It is OK to circumvent the Law of the Land to be able to get “that lot”. The result: after corrupting a lot of people on our way up, when we reach the top of the hierarchy, we Mozambicans think we have the right to be corrupted.

It is a cultural problem that we all have long been well aware of and that, as a people, we should all be engaged in solving. And we cannot afford the luxury of waiting for our leaders to take the initiative.

As a society, we have to be more demanding. For our democracy to grow, we must also grow and demand that our leaders grow with us. We have to guide them, we can not continue to allow them to decide our fates. We must show them the way we want to go. We must learn to impose our will, and they must learn to accept the responsibility to fulfil it.

Soon we will have elections and the possibility to choose who will represent us in the coming years. Let’s do it intelligently, and regardless of who wins, so that things truly change, we have to make it clear from the beginning that we, the people, own this country. That is what Democracy is all about.

Tear-drop in the Indian Ocean: JA! in Sri Lanka

In early October, Justiça Ambiental participated in the International Conference on The Role of Communities in Environmental Decision-Making. It was held in a beautiful forest resort in Kandy, in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Kandy was the capital of the last kingdom in Sri Lanka. It fell to the British as late as 1815, after fighting off the Portuguese and Dutch colonisers for 300 years.

This was the pre-conference, which is always held before the Friends of the Earth International Biannual General Meeting (BGM). The pre-conference gives a chance for FoE member groups to meet and interact with communities from the local country that is hosting the BGM.

 

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JA staff along with over a hundred people from Friends of the Earth International. Photo credit: Victor Barro, FoEI

 

The pre-conference is based on the clear understanding that listening to the voices of local communities is the most vital part in environment and development decision-making. It is based on principles of environmental democracy, free prior and informed consent and management and ownership of resources in the hands of local communities.

JA’s Programs Officer presented at the session on ‘Infrastructure Development and Community Rights’. He talked about the struggles that Mozambican communities are facing because of the onslaught of mega-projects that are destroying community lives and livelihoods. JA staff also chaired the session on environmental decision-making for urban communities. Changes in urban settings are usually very rapid compared to rural environment. Poor communities are often displaced more than once. When they are displaced from their lands and forests, they usually become merely a labour source in urban centres and lose their traditions and rights. It was wonderful to interact with Sri Lankan communities, many of whom are facing very similar situations to those in Mozambique.

 

In the evening, we were treated to a cultural night, including traditional Kandyan dancers. It was nice to see how dance is such a crucial part of all ancient cultures and there are some similar themes across continents. The Kandyan dancers used some masks and themes that are reminiscent of those used in the northern Mozambican communities.

 

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Kanyan dancers. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro

 

The wonderful keynote address that night was delivered by Justice C.G. Weeramanthri. He is a Sri Lankan lawyer who served as a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, from 1991 to 2000. Winner of the Right Livelihood Award in 2007, Justice Weeramanthri talked about the need for an ombudsman for future generations. “Nobody owns even one inch of land,” he said. He reminded us of the Native American tradition to consider the next 7 generations in our environmental decision-making.

Unfortunately the government of Mozambique and most other countries across the world at this moment are doing exactly the opposite. At least the Sri Lankan government seems to work a bit with local civil society, while here in Mozambique the government is usually working hard to undermine or weaken civil society.

After this inspiring speech, FoE Sri Lanka presented Environmental and Social Justice Awards to 13 icons of Sri Lanka. The list included an indigenous Vedda person who plays a leadership role in the indigenous rights, a Buddhist monk who has been instrumental in saving the Nilgala forest, a recently-deceased elder from the youth revolution of the 1970s who founded the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms and others.

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These monks were among those honoured with the environmental awards. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro

We felt honoured and humbled to be in the presence of these amazing individuals and movement leaders who have played an important role in the civil society of Sri Lanka.

CAN WE STOP OUR ELEPHANTS’ SLAUGHTER?

In an article we wrote on our Newsletter in June last year,  about the sad reports we were getting regarding a second extinction of the rhino in Mozambique (since they had been eradicated from our territory in the past and then reintroduced), we mentioned the possibility of extinction in our territory of yet another species, the elephant.

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Studies published at the time adverted that 4 to 5 elephants were being killed a day, most of them in our national parks, and warned that if urgent measures were not taken to change the course of things, elephants in Mozambique would be extinct in five years time. Statements of both international scientists and national park guards corroborated these allegations. A small documentary in one of the national television channels, with shocking footage of dead elephants and carcases, was also broadcasted at the time.

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But, as always in our country, a year as gone by and nothing has been done. In fact, the situation worsened and despite all the warnings by the civil society and the media, our elephants keep getting slaughtered. The competent authorities, whose duty is to act, are not acting. They do not even comment on the issue so that they do not have to explain how they are (not) tackling it. Maybe they are hoping that it will solve itself… And if it depends on them, so it will be: in four years time (five was last year) we will have no elephants left, and therefore, no problems to address. The way we see it, this is the only thing that can be going through their minds, otherwise, why are they not acting upon something so serious?

Unfortunately, we did not expect different. After all, this invariable incapability to take urgent measures that are necessary to solve serious environmental problems, whether on behalf of our elephants, forests or the environment in general, is a trademark of our government.

When we have no natural resource whatsoever (animals, forests or rivers), then we will not have the need to protect them, and consequently, we will not have any environmental problem. Correct? No? So why are we not acting?

Can someone please explain it?

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About this subject, in August of this year, an elucidative new study about the illegal ivory market global spreading was launched. This study, titled Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory, by Varun Vira, Thomas Ewing, and Jackson Miller, adds even more ashes to the fire by revealing some shocking recent data of the worlds counterfeit of this product.

The study states that the period between 2009 and 2013 was the worst in history since ivory trade was banned, and that in 2013 alone, over 50 tons of ivory were apprehended. Despite being hard to estimate the correct number of elephants that were killed to produce this kind of quantity, we know that at least 20.000 elephants are killed annually and that its world population is dropping, possibly on its way to extinction.

To make things worst, for example in China, ivory price has risen from USD $5/Kg in 1989 to USD $2.100/Kg in 2014. By itself, this stimulates an absurd increase in ivory traffic and converts what was “only” an environmental problem, into a case of organized crime with Africa as its focal point and countries like Mozambique, fragile due to its weak wildlife monitoring, as its main targets.

Given the seriousness of the situation and the feeble or nonexistent action of many of our governments, citizens from over 100 cities of the world gathered and organized a global march on the 4th of October, to protest against the present indiscriminate slaughter and to demand that serious measures are taken before it is too late.

But time does not stop and while we are writing this article, the clock keeps ticking in Mozambique and elephants keep getting slaughtered in our parks. Asking WHY and getting upset with what is not being done is not enough anymore. It is time to act, to move into action, to make use of our rights and duties as wise and caring citizens. Our government negligence and lack of attitude in these matters is a direct reflection of our apathy as a society in demanding that they be solved. And if our love for mother earth is not a strong enough motive to compel us, we should be reminded that there are many African nations that have long realized that their biodiversity is an enormous wealth, and among them, countries like South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, for example, have huge tourism incomes thanks to their clever management of those resources. By allowing the extinction of species in our territory, we are allowing those who perpetrate it to make us all poorer.

Out of the five year estimate for the extinction of elephants in Mozambique, we have now four left and nothing has been done. But as the proverb says, “together we are strong”. We believe that the majority of Mozambicans is aware of the importance of preserving our biodiversity, our natural wealth and we ask all of you to unite under this banner and demand of our goverment swift, practical and effective measures to save the elephants. Lets act to stop this reckless and merciless slaughter.

A luta continua, this time around for elephants and rhinos.

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Hot Air at UN Climate Summit

THE LEADERS’ SUMMIT HAS JUST HOT AIR, WHILE THE PEOPLE HAVE THE CLIMATE SOLUTIONS

World leaders and their unreliable promises grabbed all the headlines at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York last week, but if you want to know about the real solutions to the climate crisis you should tune in to what just happened on the streets instead.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens and environmental activists just marched, in cities across the world, from New York to Kathmandu to London to Delhi to Amsterdam, as part of the People’s Climate March, the largest climate action in history. Thousands also marched at the Flood Wall Street marches, to hold accountable corporations’ role in the climate crisis.

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Marchers at the New York Peoples’ Climate Mobilisations.

Our message to the so-called ‘world leaders’ is this: This Climate Summit and your empty promises will not bring us closer to solving climate change; you have to make real commitments, take the right actions, or get out of the way. Don’t just talk, walk.

We don’t want these weak voluntary pledges. What we need instead are more legally-binding, ambitious, equitable, science-based emissions cuts. We also need finance and technology for developing countries to deal with the crisis. At the Summit, we heard only the vaguest promises of funding without any real specifics or timelines.

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President Obama’s hot air speech at the UN Climate Summit. (Photo credit: UN)

The Climate Summit York laid out the red carpet for businesses. Developed countries’ leaders have been neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe because their priorities are being driven increasingly by the narrow economic and financial interests of corporations, dirty energy companies and wealthy elites.

Not all actions on climate change are the right actions. Unfortunately we have a long list of wrong actions or ‘false solutions’ to climate change that are constantly paraded, including mega-dams, natural gas, so-called “clean coal”, carbon capture and storage,  genetically modified organisms, agrofuels, carbon trading, ‘climate smart agriculture’, nuclear, offsetting and mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation). These false fixes distract from the real societal and economic changes that exist and are the real solutions needed to stop the climate crisis.

First and foremost we need reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at source. We also need to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume energy. Dirty energy is causing climate change and also harming workers and local communities. We demand clean sustainable community energy – the right for people to have access to energy; to decide and own their sustainable energy sources and sustainable consumption patterns.

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African Union speaking at UN Climate Summit. (Photo credit: UN)

So what did the Mozambican Ministry representative have to say in New York? “Energy, where our goal is to improve access to renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and promote low-carbon urbanization.”

But what are the actions that Mozambique is taking? Are they walking the talk? Actually they are doing the opposite. Instead of supporting small-scale renewable energy solutions for the 80% of Mozambique’s people without energy access, the government is pushing mega-projects, large-scale coal, oil and gas developments, mega-dams and large-scale land-grabbing. But we will hold them accountable to their words and push for people-centred clean development inside of this current polluter-centred, dirty economy.

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