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How political, social factors relate with environmental issues – School of Ecology

A session of the School of Ecology that held virtually on Monday, December 5, 2022, focused on “Political Ecology” which is said to be the study of the relationships between political, economic and social factors as they all interrelate with environmental issues and changes.

Nnimmo Bassey
Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey

Organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the school allowed the contestation of ideas while discerning the points of convergence between participants. Moderated by Mfoniso Antia, the meeting featured an array of speakers listed to include Nnimmo Bassey, Ikal Angelei, Thuli Makama, Makoma Lekalakala, Ruth Nyambura and Ken Henshaw.

Starting off the conversations, Bassey, the Executive Director of HOMEF, said that Political Ecology looks at environmental impacts not in silos but holistically. According to him, it looks at the people’s responses to repression and resistance, their health, and socio-economic wellbeing because the current economics model directly impacts how the environment is utilised.

He referred to the gifts of nature as a natural resource and a dangerous frame, as it implies that nature’s gifts are to be grabbed, transformed or monetised instead of seeing and treating it as a re-source.

“Political ecology opens our eyes to sacrificial zones and sacred zones, it seeks to challenge the system that fuels crisis and conflicts hence the need to understand the intersectionality that exists in all sectors as all the campaigns today, our actions and inactions have generational impacts,” Bassey stated.

Ikal Angelei, a Kenyan politician, environmental activist and a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize awardee on the topic “Current Global Economic Model – A Precursor of Climate Change”, highlighted that food security is not a challenge for the African continent but rather we suffer from a lack of food sovereignty.

The food insecurity we suffer stems from a value chain that is built on land grabbing, water privitisation, and blockage of water flows, that is dams and others, she stated, adding that the current talks on carbon markets as a financial structure cannot solve the prevailing issues of climate change because it pushes for more of land grabbing from the indigenous peoples, and they losing control over their lands while the markets favour the elites and corporations.

“As a people, there is the urgent need to understand our history, relationship with our environment is central, we cannot allow them trade us and our communities without our consultation,” Angelei said.

Thuli Makama, also a Goldman Prize 2010 Awardee, an attorney and an activist, spoke on “Growth and Sacrifice Zones: The true cost of Present Development Paradigm”, spoke with examples from her hometown in Swaziland, how overtime there has been a conversion of the rights of a people to their land, to workers and slaves in that same land all with the promise of employment and development.

She stated that the development model that exists in African countries is one of underdevelopment that takes away your rights and dignity as a people.

“We need to begin valuing our heritage over the promised jobs from these corporations and there is the need to critically interrogate and analyse how our lives were before they were monetised.”

The money economy, according to Thuli, is a trap that keeps you looking for more money to survive. “It has allowed corporations takeover our lives, lands, waters and time. As a people we need to analyse what wealth and development means to us different from what the corporations tell us. The number of people employed by these companies does not warrant the amount of harm and havoc done by their extractive activities in our communities,” she stated.

Speaking on the “Commodification of Nature, Land, and Sea Grabs”, Makoma Lekalakala, the Director of Earthlife Africa, said a people’s culture and traditions, history is embedded in nature.

“Commodification of nature has led to land grabs, injustice, displacement of people and this is the new form of colonialism, if we are not careful with the activities happening across the continents, the pollution caused by extractive activities, we may be forced by commodification to buy the air we breathe.”

According to her, in the just concluded COP27, some industries and governments in some negotiation rooms said they had discovered new technologies for transition to decarbonise but these technologies are powered by oil, gas and nuclear, which makes them wrong for a just transition because of their ecological footprints, social economic and environmental impacts.

She reiterated that the commodification of nature should not be tolerated at any cost. Ending her lecture, she encouraged everyone to come together, stand firm and resolve to challenge and stop extractivism which has put our spirituality, our culture, our history, our way of life under threats and that’s what unites us as a people.

Ruth Nyambura, an ecofeminist and researcher, spoke on “Decolonising African Environmentalism”, describing ecology as the reflection and results of the long histories of global imperial appellate. She said there cannot be talks about the postcolonial world we live in when we haven’t dismantled the structures already laid.

According to her, scholarly works, activist works, knowledge passed down from generation to generation revealed that Africans had a rich and vast knowledge of their environment, cultures, land, water, forest of which they held in sacred trust.

Nyambura added: “To talk about decolonisation, we need to start at the beginning, our history, how we got here, what does it represent for us and how do we move from here to the future in a more liberating way especially for those in intersecting crisis like women, fisher folks, farmers and the urban poor. Humans should not view ecology or the environment as a disconnected hierarchy but rather as stewards.

“We should understand from history that there are structures in place even by our local national elites across the African continent that functions currently as systems of colonialism such structures include capitalism, extractivism. The marginalisation of women in Africa and the destruction of nature are intersected. The exploitation of women provides vicious incentives for capitalist economic growth. Neoliberalisation, colonialism, capitalist relations of the environment, carbon markets, development and even technology are all inbuilt in power relations – controlled and owned by the elites.

“Decolonisation within environmentalism looks at dismantling the structures that continue to keep the people oppressed and marginalised, disconnect and destroy nature. Rounding off her lecture, she implored everyone to come together as movements, organise in solidarity across continents because resistance is fertile and not futile.”

Executive Director, We the People, Ken Henshaw, who spoke on “Resource Democracy, Extractivism, Conflict triggers and Resource injustice”, said that, in the capitalist model, if something cannot be used it has no value, so all natural resources are to be used, but resource democracy says not all resources in the environment is for man’s pleasure.

He explained that we are not masters of nature, but stewards and we have a collective existence with it. He highlighted using the Niger Delta as a case study that all over Africa there is a great nexus between resource extraction and conflicts. According to him, for the years oil extraction began in the Niger Delta not once were the indigenous peoples consulted.

Using the struggles of the Niger Delta, he explained the illicit wedlock that exists between the people and the corporations. The response of the governments and the corporations to the crises and peaceful protests of the people led to them arming themselves, he said. Quoting Audre Lorde, he said we cannot use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house, “we need to act with our own schemes and dynamics outside of his own. If we must end conflicts, we must organise, mobilise outside the box created for us”.

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