Category Archives: Responsibility and Justice

Supports who?

Another mega agricultural project launched in Mozambique

We received the news about its launching ceremony with skepticism. For many of us, it was the first time we were hearing about the project. Another mega project loaded with ambitious and (some) noble goals, like so many others that preceded it and vanquished without achieving half of what they set out to do.

“This mega project of my Government, whose objective is to gradually take rural families out of poverty, is the embodiment of the investment in Mozambican families as the main mechanism to promote sustainable, integrated and inclusive development and reduce regional and local asymmetries”, said Filipe Nyusi.

It is premature to make major considerations or comments on the subject because still very little is known. We have not yet had access to any document on the project, and the little information that exists is circulating in the mainstream media. However, the simple fact that a project this big (judging by the amounts involved and by the 125 thousand families of alleged beneficiaries) is launched in this manner, leads us to ask: Where did this project come from?

Once again, this is a top to bottom approach. The project was designed, discussed and launched, without giving the alleged beneficiaries or other interested parties and/or affected people, the chance to participate in its construction!

Surely there are more than enough reasons to justify the urgency to launch this project. To justify why there was no time to perform appropriate public consultations; to involve the many actors who deal with agricultural issues such as research institutions, academics, civil society, grassroots organizations and peasants in discussions on priorities for the development of peasant agriculture; and to design the project on the basis of a truly open and transparent process.

To justify their hurry, the noblest of reasons will be invoked, such as the urgent need to support the development of the peasantry, given their evident poverty and vulnerability. Obviously, old and less noble arguments – which, truth be said, are nothing but mere distractions – will also come back, like accusing those who question the project of being against development and/or unpatriotic.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank and other similar agencies are far more influential in deciding what may or may not happen in Mozambique than the Mozambican people. And although, as we have said earlier, we know nothing about this project yet, we risk guessing that the role of the World Bank is not limited to financing it. They have certainly been involved in the project’s conception, ensuring that their altruistic support goes mainly to what interests them most: agro-business and forest plantations – monocultures of exotic species – they call reforestation.

“More than 5,000 jobs will be created by forest plantations, through the reforestation of more than 1600 hectares of degraded lands.”

According to information in the media, this project was conceived by MITADER and will be supported by the World Bank! The perfect wedding!

In other words, we owe a great debt to our government (and no, it is not that hidden and illegal debt we talking about)! We are deeply grateful to them for granting us another ready-made project to reduce poverty. Free from burdens such as having to think about development issues, about inclusive and participatory strategies, about how to ensure that the priorities of the peasantry are properly included, and even about how we want to manage our resources and how we want to see our country in the coming years.

For now, let’s wait for the enthusiasm to fade so we can then try to understand how this mega project is supposed to work and, above all, how will it – unlike the many others in the past just like it (loaded with the same promises and the same rivers of money to implement) – finally get Mozambicans out of poverty?

Who has left poverty behind thanks to the fantastic green revolution? Who has left poverty behind growing jatropha or other biofuels? Who will benefit from Prosavana? Someone always profits, but who? And at what cost? How many hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans’ well being will these ready made projects with incognito beneficiaries “cost”?

And while misunderstandings and failures in communication are, unfortunately, too often invoked to justify civil society’s opposition to so many mega-projects, – even though they are never the main reason – people insist on doing things behind closed curtains. Where is the official information about the project? It has already been inaugurated; it is already being advertised in the media; but it is not available on the websites of the entities involved and all we know about it is what is being reported by the media.

We would also like to believe and share their enthusiasm, but skepticism has taken over us long ago. Now we prefer a “seeing is believing” approach, and we have not seen anything yet …

 

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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.

Press release: Mining…where are the rights of communities?

The Indian mining company, Jindal, tried for the third time in less than 1 year to derail the work of a Justiça Ambiental (JA!) team on the 4th of this month during the data collection of the research, monitoring, and advocacy in Changara district, Tete province. The JA team, composed of three members, were barred, intimidated, and threatened by certain Jindal officials when they tried to visit the community of Cassoca.

Jindal is operating one of the largest open pit coal mines running since 2013 whose total area includes communal lands and the communities themselves who have always lived in this area. They remain in the area with the mine in full operation and are victims of constant violation of their most basic rights and fundamental freedoms, including land rights and violation of their right to the environment due to air pollution caused by Jindal. The area of the mine was ceded by the Government of Mozambique and the mine went into operation without the Environmental Impact Study having been completed and approved in accordance with the law. No resettlement has occurred nor any other form of protecting the rights of communities affected by the mine.

The team of JA! intended to visit the community of Cassoca and upon reaching the gate that gives access to the company’s offices and the concession area of Jindal, the only means of access, they duly identified and informed the guards at the place where we intended to go as well as the work to be done. However, the team was immediately told they would have to obtain authorization from local superiors to allow the completion of the work in question. Moreover, the security team reported that the JA team should present themselves to the advisor of the company and the head of social affairs, resettlement, and corporate social responsibility. Indeed, we were received by a team of 6 people, including two local village leaders of Cassoca as well as employees of Jindal, who raised various issues, particularly regarding the interest of the JA team in that community and who suggested that instead of talking to community members the JA team should talk with the community leaders present there who, according to them, were the most suitable people to provide information. Our refusal of this proposal and insistence upon speaking directly with community members caused much discomfort and immediately brought an end to the little cordiality demonstrated, the atmosphere became heavy, with an intimidating discourse.

The advisor of Jindal and the head of social affairs and inter-industrial relations unfairly accused the JA team of being responsible for and instigating the protests carried out by the communities against Jindal as well as instigating violence. This interrogation lasted about two hours and in the end, the team was told in a threatening tone that they could go to Cassoca but that Jindal was not to blame for what might come to pass to the JA team as a result of the visit.
Therefore, the attitude of Jindal consisted once more of illegally impeding, through threats, intimidation, and restriction of the right to freedom of movement, the contact of JA with the communities that lie within the concession area.

Jindal does not want Mozambican society and the international community to be aware of the impacts of their activities on communities. Given these attitudes of Jindal which has been recurring, why does the Government remain silent in face of the various irregularities of the company and in the few situations in which it professes to do so in defense of these? And who defends the interests of the communities?

Maputo, 16 June 2014

JA! JUSTIÇA AMBIENTAL
Av.Mao Tsé Tung Nº 549, 1º Andar Direito, Maputo
Contact: 82 3061275 / 21 496668
E-mail: jamoz2010@gmail.com

 

 

A Socially-Dangerous, Environmentally-Careless, Unclear and Far-from-Transparent Development Path

Is this what you call development?

A few weeks ago, in a meeting held in Maputo about the controversial Anadarko and Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos natural gas project in Palma, Cabo Delgado, we heard the ENH representative say in a pleading tone that we all have a part to play in Palma, since we all have in common the desire to see the country develop and grow.

Well, right… and wrong.

Right, because we truly do want to see the country develop and we are perfectly aware that for the sake of that development sacrifices must be made, but if the idea is to sacrifice the local communities’ right to a good standard of living, then definitely wrong.

What if, as a result of that sacrifice, Mozambique and Mozambicans in general get huge benefits?

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Photo: Communities that will be affected by the proposed destructive Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the Zambezi river.

Well, if the investment is really going to bring benefits to Mozambique and all Mozambicans, we believe that those directly affected by the project should be the first to be properly rewarded by it, rather than just compensated. They have to be the project’s main beneficiaries. If that is not possible and, like some of the megaprojects which have been implemented in our country in recent years, it turns out that that questionable development only helps the poor get even poorer, then the answer to the question above must be “thanks, but no thanks”. We are not going to throw someone into a volcano so that the rest can have prosperity.

Public consultation? What for?

The blatant proof of how dangerous is the development path we are being dragged into (and we say path and not plan because we do not believe there is any plan at all) is the way the purpose of public consultations has been wickedly subverted by the system. Public consultation processes, as they exist today, are nothing but sheer formalities; bureaucratic exercises for the sake of appearances that despite having been created to safeguard the rights and interests of the people, are nothing but propagandist meetings where the government officials place themselves on the side of the project proponents. These meetings are of an informative nature and only exist to validate the idea that the communities have been consulted and agreed on the project, when most of the times they do not understand its possible consequences and repercussions, nor the potential gains they could or should demand in return. Oblivious of their rights and made vulnerable due to the lack of reliable support and advice from a government that, truth be said, seems to be more worried about making money than defending the future and the interests of the Mozambican people, some communities end up becoming easy prey.

“What are we supposed to do then? Sit on top of our wealth and keep starving?”

Well, we would be lying if we said that it would not please us to see the country change its investment policies: stop investing in extractive industries and mining, abandon the idea of building dams and thermoelectric centrals to feed those industries, support agricultural projects for peasants – no agribusiness, no monocultures and no agrichemicals, stop allowing the wood industry to destroy our forests, etc.

Basically, as we have stated in previous occasions, our notion of progress and development is completely different to our government’s, but we are not as naïve or as radical as we are often conveniently portrayed, and, as we have mentioned earlier, we understand perfectly that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the common good. Nevertheless, in our humble opinion, justifying those sacrifices with a vague “fight against absolute poverty” speech, without explaining how, is, in the best of chances, an insult to our intelligence. That, we believe, is one of the biggest flaws of our actual government.

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Photo: Coal-mining affected communities learn about their Constitution and rights in Tete province

What is the plan?

If our government promised us an honest answer to a single question only, that question would be: What is the long-term plan you have for the country? We honestly cannot figure it out.

In 35-40 years time, when the coal, the natural gas, the oil and the wood are finished, when the agribusiness and its tools have severely debilitated the fertility of our soils and our biodiversity has been depleted by all these actors, what use will we have for an infrastructure build to attend the needs of today’s companies and their labour? What are we doing to guarantee that in the future, cities like Tete and Nacala will not become white elephants? Ghost towns deserted and abandoned like many that exist today in the world. Orphans of yesterday’s development… Are we thinking about it? What are we doing for the future of national tourism? For the thousands of tourist operators in the country who today, due to the political and military tension we are going through, have barely any costumers and are faced with the possibility or having to close their businesses? Are we giving them tax exemptions and incentives so that they can survive? Other than the gigantic parcels of land we are giving to foreign corporations (always at the expense of coercively moving thousands of Mozambicans) so that they can grow corn, soya beans and rice for export, what are we doing to significantly increase Mozambique’s food production?

NEW REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY EXPOSES HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN MOZAMBIQUE; BUT THE UN RAPPORTEUR REFUSES TO ANSWER US

On the 10th of December, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, a new report was released titled Dirty Profits 2: Report on Companies and Financial Institutions Benefiting from Violations of Human Rights.

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The report was released by the Facing Finance campaign, which “calls on investors not to invest in companies profiting from violations of human rights, environmental pollution, corruption or the production of controversial weapons.” Justiça Ambiental (JA, Friends of the Earth Mozambique) is also a part of the campaign, along with Urgewald, Earthlink, SODI, etc.

The report puts a spotlight of shame on almost 40 companies and financial institutions that are building profits on the backs of human rights violations and environmental destruction all over the globe, from Mozambique to Indonesia, Nigeria to Colombia, Chile, India and West Virginia (USA).

JA provided information to expose the human rights violations being caused by dirty energy companies, Vale SA and Jindal Steel & Power, both of which are mining coal in Mozambique’s Tete province.

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This report confirms human rights violations in coal mining in Mozambique, just as 7 months have passed since JA wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Professor Raquel Rolnik, who is Brazilian and is based in São Paulo. In April 2013, JA submitted to her office a Letter of Allegation regarding Human Rights Abuses in Cateme, Mozambique. Cateme is where the Brazilian company, Vale has resettled some of its mining-displaced families. We requested confirmation that her office had received the complaint, and they confirmed so. However, despite 7 months having passed, and despite many reminders, we are still yet to hear back about Ms. Rolnik’s process of verification, responses from Vale or the Mozambican government. We have received no information till date, no indication that she intends to do anything at all with the complaint. Her silence is shocking.

What Lies Beyond?

Last week, JA co-hosted an International Seminar called ‘Beyond Development, Extractivism, Globalization and Capitalism: Alternatives for Economic Justice’.

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The seminar was organised jointly by JA along with Friends of the Earth International, Transnational Institute and Center for Civil Society (CCS). The 3-day workshop pulled together diverse people, from grassroots struggles against coal in Tete province Mozambique to academics from South Korea. For three days, we discussed the main drivers of the extractive, neoliberal ‘development model’, the struggles for rights and for the commons and especially the concept of ‘development’ and what lies beyond it.

 Gloria Chicaiza from Acción Ecologica, an eco-feminist organisation from Ecuador shared the important concepts of Sumak Kawsay. Sumak kawsay is a Quechua term, from an indigenous language of the Andean region. Sumak Kawsay translates to Good Living in English, Buen Vivir in Spanish and Bem Viver in Portuguese. But this is not Good Living in the way the world understands it currently. The entire paradigm of Sumak Kawsay is different from today’s dominant capitalist culture, so totally consumed by, well, consumption. Instead of unlimited economic growth, sumak kawsay embodies a balance with nature and taking only what is needed. In Southern Africa, we call it ‘ubuntu’.

 So what does this mean? What is the definition of Good Living? What does it include and what doesn’t it include? Does it include CAT scans? And computers? And ARVs for AIDS? And Universities? If Buen Vivir includes these things, then we need to get the material inputs to make these things. Again, the paradigm is important; are we using aluminium for military hardware, or for making cooking pots. This is an important conversation that needs to continue.

 The dominant paradigm is to move everyone to a first world type of existence; but the simple question is whether it is feasible given our energy and planetary limitations.

We heard this staggering example from Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa:

Swedish energy use is not extravagant by First World standards and 45% of it comes from renewable energy. So, if we were to have everyone who is currently denied energy (1.4 billion people) living like the Swedes, we would need 5 times more oil than what Saudi Arabia currently produces, and in only 25 years we would exhaust the carbon budget that corresponds to a 2ºC temperature rise. We can’t all live like Swedes, so the fundamental issue is redistribution of wealth and power.

So, what lies beyond?

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Well, Beyond Development: Alternative Visions from Latin America, the title of a book (written by The Permanent Working Group on Alternatives to Development and published by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) released during the seminar, might be good reading material if you are curious.

 During the seminar, there was an interesting discussion on the need to deconstruct ‘development’. Some said the idea of development had to be scrapped. It couldn’t be modified with adjectives like sustainable, popular etc., because those are just reformist. We need to abandon the very idea of development, including exports, extractivism, everything about the way it exists now.

But is it a semantic dilemma? i.e., a problem with the word ‘development’? Because development also implies meeting people’s needs and basic necessities like water, sanitation, basic electricity, a simple house, a health clinic a school. So it’s hard to abandon the word, when it represents basic needs aspirations, as distinguished from hedonistic overconsumption.

But it was argued that it’s not just semantic – it is a problem of who gives meaning to the word, but it goes beyond. There is power associated with the word development; it is used to control territories and people on the basis of a certain dominant idea of development. That’s why the concept of Sumak Kawsay and Buen Vivir is being discussed by movements; the idea of a ‘dignified life’ not one based on the dominant notion of ‘development’.

On the other hand, others felt that saying, ‘we don’t want development’, might be extreme, perhaps what is needed is to investigate the question of ‘development for whom?’

These are the newer, ever newer strategies of capital, as it tries to reinvent and re-legitimise itself, while also generating more and more profits. After many decades of this ‘development’, we see that it doesn’t work and hasn’t worked; extraction and pollution continue; and now we are tottering on a cliff of ecological collapse and runaway climate change. And the re-legitimising tactics just continue. Carbon markets are just the latest tactics.

So what does this all mean? This blog doesn’t aim to provide answers, just to raise more important questions.

A GOVERNMENT WITHOUT SHAME, A PEOPLE WITHOUT HOPE

THE PROTEST NO ONE TALKED ABOUT

Late last month, on the 22nd and 23rd of July, a protest took place in Chirodzi area, Tete province, in central inland Mozambique.  The local communities had gathered there to protest in the concession area grated to Jindal, an Indian mining company. Jindal is extracting coal from an open pit mine in Tete province, without an environmental impact study and without ensuring the safety of the local communities. Till date the communities have not been resettled, but continue to live in the concession area.

The communities have been raising their voices, asking for their rights. On this day, the frustration and desperation of the communities mounted, and the protest turned violent. The communities attacked four Indian Jindal employees. Of the four Jindal people attacked, one was attacked in his office and the other three in their homes, all within the concession mining area. There was a security company, who usually secures the gates and the whole perimeter of the concession area, were also attacked, and with no place to hide from the public anger, they ran away. The police were also present, but were outnumbered by the irate people.

The protest involved four communities: Chirodzi / Cahora Bassa, Chirodzi / Changara, Cassoca and Nyantsanga. These last two communities are located within the concession area of ​​the mine, while the first two are on the periphery. But it is very important to note all these communities have communal lands which have now been taken by the company.

According to community testimonies, the protest erupted because of Jindal’s failure to fulfil the promises they made to the communities when their settled here in 2008.

  • They promised they would not extract coal before resettlement of the communities, yet they have been doing exactly that for over eight months;
  • They promised not to occupy lands, specifically the fields of local communities, without first negotiating with their legitimate owners;
  • They assured the communities that there would provide a water supply;
  • They also promised jobs for community members.

The communities and Cassoca and Nyantsanga stated that in December Jindal usurped part of their farms with standing crops, without any warning, thereby seriously undermining their food sovereignty. As for resettlement, it is not happening but the coal is being mined. On 9th of May 2013, Macauhub news reported that a ship left from Beira port, heading for India, carrying 36,000 tons of coal mined by Jindal Mozambique Minerals.

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The communities constantly face respiratory and other serious problems, from being so close to the open pit mining. Air pollution resulting from mining activity is visibly hanging in the air; the black dust settles on everything. How will the lungs of people cope with this? How much longer will children continue to have their classes in this atmosphere?

Their frustration is what led to this protest. The communities also promised that if their rights continue to be ignored and trampled, and if the company does not fulfil the promises made to them, there will be more protests. This protest revealed how bad the relationship is between Jindal and these four surrounding communities.

The relationship between employees and employers in Jindal is also bad. According to company officials who agreed to talk to us, there are many quarrels about alleged discrepancies in pay and subsidies to employees. Even the workers who operate the mine say they do not have the protective equipment that is required.

But Jindal reportedly seems to have a excellent relationship with the government. This is substantiated by the fact that some people even said that the government collects “taxes” from the company.

At the end of the day, according to the laws in force in the Republic of Mozambique and international conventions, Jindal is in the wrong, but the government is partly responsible for this, because of their passivity and permissiveness (or should we say say collusion).

Jindal declined to provide any information to us, but they summoned a meeting with community leaders and “informed” them not to provide any information to civil society organisations, and they threatened not to renew contracts with those who did communicate.

The silence of the media is also shocking. It is extremely sad that, even though we know that there were several teams of national media in the middle of all this circus in Chirodzi, but other than the Diário de Moçambique, nobody published this story.

Less than a month after this transpired in Chirodzi, the communities still continue to wait for their rights to be recognised. But meanwhile, the complicity of the government was proved. While the communities were protesting the way this company is operating and protesting against unfulfilled promises, the Mozambican President, Armando Guebuza, visited Chirodzi to officially inaugurate the project, and doing so, legitimized what Jindal is doing. Basically, he gave his approval to what was happening, to mining being carried out without an Environmental Impact Study, to mining being carried out while communities are still living there, with about 563 families still waiting to be resettled. Adults and children. All living in an environment extremely dangerous and harmful to their health, not to mention that their livelihoods and futures are being silently trampled on. They have been forgotten and made invisible by those who should protect them. A shameless government leading a hopeless people. This is our Mozambique.

Meanwhile, protests against Jindal are not new. In their home country of India too, Jindal has been exploiting local communities with impunity. In the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, which are states with large populations of tribal people, Jindal has been devastating farms, villages and lives for many years now. But, same as in Mozambique, the communities have not been silent. In Asanbani village in Jharkhand, the houses are marked with signs in Hindi such as “Naveen Jindal go back! We will give our lives but we will not give our lands” (see photo below). This is the Visthapan Virodhi Samiti (Committee against Displacement).

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Photo credit: Panos South Asia, Alchemy of Iniquity: Resistance and Repression in India’s Mines. A Photographic enquiry.

We are moving towards building bridges between these communities fighting again a common enemy, Jindal, across India and Mozambique.

A recent book called ‘A New Scramble For Africa?: Imperialism, Investment And Development’, carried a great quote of Gandhi to help us contextualise why the presence of Indian company Jindal in Africa is so problematic.

Gandhi said, “The commerce between India and Africa will be the commerce of ideas, not manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.”

Africa is Sovereign and WILL NOT ACCEPT being Re-colonized

In response to Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis Bach recent controversial interview, Friends of the Earth Africa elaborated an Open Letter to be handed over to every Embassy of Denmark in African countries where FoEA is present. Based on that Open Letter and with the purpose of empowering it by allowing all of us, concerned citizens of the world to sign it,  we are now starting a petition with the same motto.  You can read the Open Letter bellow and if you share our concern, please sign our petition and add your voice to the struggle against the development models of capitalist neocolonialism.

Open Letter from the African Civil Society To The Representatives of Denmark in Africa

Subject: Africa is Sovereign and WILL NOT ACCEPT being Re-colonized

In light of the interview given by your Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach, on the 9th of this month to the Danish newspaper Politiken, and taking into account that the presence of Danish cooperations on the African continent dates long before the independence of most countries where they still operate today through various organizations that develop various projects and activities in various spheres of the political system, civil society and the business sector, we cannot refrain from expressing our deepest distaste for the disrespectful and peculiar ideological content of the above-mentioned interview.

Truth be told, Minister Christian Friis Bach said exactly what many politicians and leaders of developed countries think but cleverly would never dare say. Frankly, we prefer Christian Friis Bach to those other dodgy individuals. Petulant or reckless, your Minister of Development Cooperation said just what he thinks, giving us a chance to rebut, to contest and tell him that his notion of development is obsolete, that what he says he is willing to do is ethically despicable and offensive, that those who he claims would be the main beneficiaries of the policies he intends to impose will for sure become its main victims, and that even though unfortunately he may have the power to influence the decisions taken by the state apparatuses of some African countries, he definitely does not have the right to do so. We believe that he ought to know it. We Africans assure Christian Friis Bach and all who think like him, that even though we are already being pillaged, we will never allow Africa to be economically recolonized. Never.

It is instructive to remember that contrary to what Minister Friis Bach said in his interview, we Africans do have capacity to feed and sustain our people. African agriculture and food needs have been met over time through sustainable and multi-dimensional approaches, keeping to a minimum such externalities as artificial fertilizers, imported pesticides and herbicides, as well as practices that are alien to the socio-cultural settings of our people.

The support Africa needs right now is a decisive stand to maintain seed as well as cultural diversities and defend staple crops which are targeted by biotech even when there is no need for their engineered varieties or GM crops.

To you, as the highest representative of the Danish people in our territory, we would like to ask if you share the opinions of your Minister for Development Cooperation. If you do, please be kind enough to answer the following questions:

Do you think it is fair that the African continent should be held accountable “today” for the bad decisions rich countries such as yours made “yesterday”, and which led to over-exploitation of nature, animals and human beings by introducing unhealthy and destructive diets as well as excess energy consumption?

Do you consider it acceptable that countries like yours should impose their failed development models on Africa as if they were models of success and the only guaranteed path towards development?

Would you imagine a world in which Africa adopts your ideas of production, consumption, development and progress?

Do you think it right that we Africans must accept without question the responsibility of using our resources to support those who were obviously unable to manage theirs?

It honours us greatly that the world is turning to Africa and its leaders say they are counting on us. We Africans are hospitable and supportive and for long we have been wanting to contribute more and better to a development path that supports sustainable livelihoods. However, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves to accommodate the whims of those who think it is a mark of progress to destroy the planet. We want to rely on the support of all who are well intended, but such support must not trample on our sovereignty and dignity.

In this context, we, African organizations, movements and associations who hereby signed this letter, reiterate that we continue to consider much welcome the support of those who wish to walk with us towards a development path:

  1. That adequately serves our needs and those of our future generations;
  2. That is fair and just and not predicated on exploitation, resource grabs and denigration;
  3. That is logical and thoughtful and does not necessarily have to be traversed in pursuit of anything or anyone;
  4. In which we may not be sole beneficiaries, but we must not be denied our due;
  5. That not only respects the sovereignty of each African country, but also our diversity as a people, as well as the diversity of our cultures and traditions;
  6. That is guided by principles of honesty, transparency and inclusion, fundamental to the democratic exercise of any territory.
  7. That respects our Food sovereignty, which is built upon the inalienable rights of peoples to maintain their cultural as well as seed diversities. Cultural diversity permits peoples to maintain and enlarge their stock of local knowledge; produce, save and use their seeds and have control over farming practices developed over centuries of experimentation and experience. Food sovereignty ensures that farmers stay in business and that peoples are not forced to alter their diets.Naturally, we consider that any development project that ignores or disregards any of these principles is not in the best interest of Africa or Africans, and we reject and denounce the position taken by your government through your Minister of Development Cooperation.

For the sake of the good relations we wish to maintain with you, we would appreciate you would be so kind as to respond to this letter.

Signed by

African Organizations,

Friends of the Earth Africa

Justiça Ambiental/FOE Mozambique

ATPNE / Friends of the Earth Tunisia

Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement / Friends of the Earth Cameroon

Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria

Friends of the Earth Ghana

Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone

GroundWork / Friends of the Earth South Africa

Guamina / Friends of the Earth Mali

Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team / Friends of the Earth Tanzania

Les Amis de la Terre / Friends of the Earth Togo

Maudesco / Friends of the Earth Mauritius

National Association of Professional Environmentalists / Friends of the Earth Uganda

Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) / Friends of the Earth Liberia

Yonge Nawe Environmental Action Group / Friends of the Earth Swaziland

Alliance For Food Sovereignty  In Africa (AFSA)

African Biodiversity Network (ABN)

Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS) Africa

Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)

Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association

Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESSAFF)

La Via Campesina Africa

FAHAMU, World Neighbours

Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA)

Community Knowledge Systems (CKS)

Plateforme Sous Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)

Laurent Alex Badji COPAGEN Senegal

The Green Belt Movement Kenya

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, ((HOMEF) Nigeria

Committee on Vital Environmental Resources (COVER) Nigeria

The Young Environment Network (TYEN) Nigeria

Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD/Afrque)

Mali Coalition pour la Protection du Patrimoine Génétique Africain Mali (COPAGEN-Mali)

Actions Pour le Développement Durable, Republic of Benin

Kenya Debt Relief Network(KENDREN) Kenya

African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) South Africa

The Rescope Programme Malawi

Host Communities Network Of Nigeria (HoCoN, Nation Wide) Nigeria

Students Environment Assembly Nigeria (SEAN Nation Wide) Nigeria

Community Forest Watch Group Nigeria

Green Alliance Nigeria (Nation wide) Nigeria

Abibiman Foundation Ghana

Oilwatch Ghana

Oilwatch Nigeria

Improving Livelihoods Through Agriculture (ILTA) Ghana

Acção Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais (ADECRU), Mozambique

Associação de Apoio e Assistência Jurídica às Comunidades (AAAJC), Mozambique

Fórum Mulher, Mozambique

Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos Humanos (LDH), Mozambique

Kulima, Mozambique

Non African Organizations:

Amigos da Terra América Latina e Caribas TALC

Amigu di Tera (FoE Curaçao), Curação

NOAH Denmark, Dinamarca

COECOCEIBA / FoE Costa Rica

Community Alliance for Global Justice Denmark, Dinamarca

Amigos de la Tierra México, México

Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (REMA) México

Movimiento Mesoamericano contra el Modelo Extractivo Minero (M4) México

The Rescope Programme

Community Alliance for Global Justice

PLANT (Partners for the Land & Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples)

Various African Organizations and Movements are still signing in and several Non African movements and organizations are also subscribing to this letter.

Neocolonialism: Who Do You Think You Are?

Unbelievable…

Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation has done it. He has put it out there. In an interview given last week in Denmark, the Danish politician spoke his mind and told his constituents what he has in mind for Africa. Under the cloak of a very noble poverty eradication and gender equality speech, a shameless and shocking eyeopener of how some European leaders completely and utterly disregard our sovereignty, and of how comfortable they feel about taking decisions for us.

Read the translated full article below.

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Politiken | 09.07.2013

Food from Africa, Interview by JENS Bostrup with Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach

Friis Bach is Up for a Match Against the African Chiefs

Africa must be developed in a rush in order to avoid global food crisis. It requires huge changes, including a confrontation with chiefs, the role of women and the view upon collective property, says Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach.

Denmark will use its political influence in large parts of Africa to get rid of local cultures and traditions that hinder the development of African agriculture, says Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis Bach.

“It is certain that Africans will have to develop their agriculture, for their own sake and for the entire world”, says Christian Friis Bach. “The good news is that it can be done. Africa has a huge growth potential, and within a generation, we can transform Africa from being dependent on others for food to being the world’s breadbasket. It will require massive investments, especially from abroad, and it will bring them very quick and very harsh structural changes, which large parts of the continent are not prepared for”, he says.

This confrontation must address fundamental issues in the African societies: gender relations, land ownership and the power structure.

“Some have a rather romantic belief that traditional cultures have a value in themselves, and they want to sit down with the chief and fix things. I do not share this belief”, says Christian Friis Bach. “For the poor farmers, who are the majority in the village, collective ownership, which is in practice administered by the chief, is usually of no value. They would be much better off if they owned their land. For women, the traditional norms has no value either. It prevents them from the equality they deserve. It is an ongoing local power struggle, and we must engage in this struggle”.

This is not just words. The Danish Minister for Development Cooperation actually plays a role in African politics. Most countries on the continent are dependent on Western aid, and donor countries often conspire to make demands that local governments have to acknowledge.

Denmark has prioritized 12 countries in Africa, where we “are present with a long-term perspective and with political and financial weight” as Danida puts it. This applies amongst others Uganda, Niger, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. “One of the things we particularly insist on is that women should be able to own and inherit land. This can increase agricultural production by 5-10 percent because women are far more productive and innovative in agriculture”, says Christian Friis Bach.

[Q] But this is also completely contrary to ancestral traditions and values on which people build their identity. Can you as a donor allow yourself to change that?

“Yes, because not all values ​​are equally worthy. For me it is fundamental to give women equal rights to the land, both human and political, besides, it is the way to boost agricultural production”, says Friis Bach.

The right over their own bodies

Women must not only have the right to land, but also the right to decide over their own bodies. This is another fundamental principle that, in time, will contribute to the economic development, he continues.

“Women should have the right to decide when and how often they will bear children. This is crucial in order to allow them to get through school and complete their education. And population growth in Africa is so high that it seriously undermines their ability to solve the structural problems”, says Christian Friis Bach.

[Q] By what right can you insist that our concept of equality should apply in Africa?

“Fortunately, these are not just our values. These are universal human rights, as developed by all countries worldwide throughout two hundred years. So we can allow ourselves to insist on them”. Similarly, he perceives the inviolability of property as an important part of the civil and political rights. “And that is not a Western invention either”, says Christian Friis Bach.

Helle Munk Ravnborg, newly elected president of Danish ActionAid and senior researcher in poverty at the Danish Institute for International Studies, recently appealed in Politiken [the newspaper in which this interview is also published] that the government recognizes the reality that the majority of the land in Africa is collectively owned.

Christian Friis Bach would very much like to offer Danish assistance to register the collectively owned land to avoid that uncertainty about ownership is misused by corrupt officials and foreign investors.

“But I will insist that land ownership becomes private and individual. It is a fundamental condition for us to develop agriculture. Otherwise there is no incentive to invest in the land. No one builds terraces, plants shade trees or buys fertilizers, if the harvest is not theirs”.

Unclear and collective ownership also slows down a key part of the transition: much larger and more effective farms based on foreign capital.

“In the long term there are very many people who need to move away from the agricultural sector and into the cities. But without ownership to the land, they cannot sell it. They cannot take money with them, which can be used to start a life in the city. Therefore, lack of land rights is in all ways a very large barrier to development”.

[Q] But the African societies have lived with collective ownership for millennia; it is a fundamental part of their culture and tradition. Can you without further ado establish that it needs to change?

“Yes, I am relatively clear on that point. We just have to recognize that the system is not functioning”.

[Q] Are you absolutely sure that the Western, market-oriented model works for Africa?

“I do not know if the market economy is a Western invention, I think it is rather universal and global. But yes, I am sure that the market economy functions for Africa. I have seen great many examples of this. African women farmers in particular are very innovative when they are given the chance”.

[Q] You recognize that there will be swift and harsh structural changes. Can you allow yourself to impose a model onto African societies that large parts of the continent are not ready for?

“We must not impose anything on them. That is precisely why the individual land ownership is crucial. It gives poor farmers and women a voice and a strength to resist changes that conflict with their interests”.

[Q] But you insist on changing the gender relations, the land ownership rights and the power structures of societies. It took Europe several hundred years and fierce fighting to get through a similar development. Can we expect and demand that Africans readily jumps to where we are today?

“The world cannot wait for Africans to take their time to build up capacity as we have done in our part of the world. There is an enormous pressure on the global food supply. The 9 billion, we expect to be in 2050, will eat as if they were 12 billion because they will live in the cities and eat more meat”. “While this takes place, up to 25 percent of the agricultural land will be adversely affected by climate change, and we will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by half. It is a phenomenal task. It is going to happen very quickly, and it will find resistance in the local populations”.

But it would be wrong to see it as a battle between the rich investors in the North and the traditional societies in Africa, he adds. “If Africa does not develop and increase the production of food, it will not only hit the poor in Africa, but also the poor in the rest of the world where the food crisis also may be very harsh”. “What is encouraging is that it can be done. I have just returned from a region in Ethiopia that previously was almost a desert, but where massive investment has changed it into a green oasis where you can harvest three times a year. There is now less poverty, more jobs and higher growth”, says the minister.

Other texts in the article:

Photo text: Bound by tradition: Antonio Longok, chief of the Jie tripe in Uganda, does not welcome the idea of ​​cultivating the land. His men are warriors who must stealing cattle from neighboring tribes and defend it against enemies. (Photo: Jens Bostrup)

Figure text: Use of fertilizers: While the rest of the world has embraced fertilizers, the consumption in Africa is more or less steady. This is one of the main reasons for the very low yields. (Source the World Bank)

Map text: Danish influence: Denmark has prioritized 12 countries in Africa, where we “are present with a long-term perspective and with political and financial weight’, as Danida puts it. (Source: Danida JBM13224)

A Positive Example

During a trip to Nampula for a meeting with AGIR (Action Programme for a Responsible and Inclusive Governance) and its partners, we were told that we would visit the community of Nacoma in the village of Mele, Meconta district, about 83 km from the city of Nampula, where, with the support of the National Association of Rural Extension (AENA), the community formed an association composed of 20 members (13 women and 7 men) to improve their crops. This association would be presented to us as a good example of a farming, savings and literacy project (for the community even created a school in the farm area itself).

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After an almost two hours journey, we finally arrived to the place. Several women with colourful scarves and capulanas, clapping and singing welcoming songs for us, greeted us at our arrival. There were barely any men, only three were present.

From there, always singing and clapping, they led us to a small plot of land next to a dirt road where they showed us an example of the good practices and crop improvements they had learned for a more efficient agriculture on poor soils. These women, with the help of a partner of AGIR in Nampula who shared its knowledge with them, improved the soil of the area, which was not the best for agriculture, through the practice of techniques such as the use of dry grass to conserve soil moisture and thus retain its nutrients. From AGIR’s partner, they mentioned they also learned that setting fire to a plot before using it, a widely used method in the area to prepare the soil, when done systematically ends up reducing the nutrients and weakening the soil. They further demonstrated, using only water grass and sand, rudimentary examples of other methods used to enhance and improve their harvests, and showed us how they had arranged between them to monetize the goods they produce (cassava, pigeon pea, sweet potato, peanut, etc… ) and thus increased their income allowing it to improved their lives and their families. Finally, they showed us a peanut dryer made by the association, made with simple poles and grass where it was protected from rain, insects and other animals.

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After visiting the peanut dryer, our group informed that visitors would also like to see and know the method of collecting income from all who were part of the association. Then showed us a wooden suitcase, where not only they deposited their earnings, but where they also kept the register of their loans, as well as their savings, each amount in its place (in three man socks of different colors). They explained to us that the suitcase had two keys and that they were never in the same place or with the same person. The keys were handed over to two different people in the group and when the suitcase was opened everyone should be present to count the money together, a measure of security for all.

We were impressed by the organization, methodology and capacity of a group so small yet so effective in managing their own interests. A good example of community empowerment, with which all present were astonished. However, for us it was more than that. It was once again a confirmation of the power of the people of Mozambique and Mozambican women in particular, their ability, courage and perseverance in trying to resolve their difficulties and strive for a better future. For us it was a true life lesson!

To finish, we would like to leave you with some food for thought: What will happen to these women in the community of Nacoma when the giant and controversial ProSavana is implemented? We know that Meconta is one of the areas covered by it… Will it be the “early death” of another good example in Mozambique? Or will it survive?

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