In November 1884, European powers (represented by elderly white men) met in Berlin presuming to divide amongst themselves the large “cake” that was the African continent. It was a looting mission that later morphed into a political exercise, and the rest as they say, is history. An interesting footnote is that the conference lasted a whole three months until February 1885, indicating that the discussions must have been quite protracted, and probably interspersed with copious amounts of food, drink and debauchery (a feature of conferences that hasn’t changed much, over a century later!)
Fast forward to 21st Century Africa. The much-touted Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC2022) has been held in Kigali, Rwanda. Myself and others have already written and spoken extensively about how “Protected Areas” are actually “white spaces” in a majority black continent. During the colonial era, they were literally spaces set aside for the recreation of white people. In the post-independence era, the spectrum of users now includes black people, but they are still lily-white in terms of the paranoid, prejudiced, violent and intellectually stunted manner of their management.
This mentality is the “white” identity of conservation practice in Africa today. The practitioners have made many attempts to mask this identity, by creating strange mongrels referred to as “conservancies” of various kinds, but the concept is the same: annex land from indigenous African people who use it for their livelihoods and set it aside for the self-actualization of foreign elites.
Africa is fabulously wealthy in natural resources, but we must always remember that the value of the visible above ground resources is a mere fraction of what lies underneath. Sadly, the spectacular beauty of our wildlife, forests and rangelands makes them the perfect window-dressing for the cruel schemes laid out against us as a continent. The brutality of slavery and colonialism showed us the cruelty that exists within the matrix of Western capitalism. Laws and regulations have obviously been written in the last 100 years, but it we must remember that colonialism was a capitalist enterprise and it would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that capitalism had somehow lost its cruelty.
Africa is fabulously wealthy in natural resources, but we must always remember that the value of the visible above ground resources is a mere fraction of what lies underneath
The new dispensation only required that they apply new and more sophisticated methods and voila! Enter the climate change/carbon trade/conservation cult. It’s a perfect vehicle because it is pervasive, running in a contiguous vein through corporations, governments, civil society and even global bodies like the UN. Cult leaders (read: conservation “icons” like Goodall, Attenborough, et. al) have access to heads of state. Their greatest coup has been the so-called “30×30” plan, which is the ludicrous proposal that every country should put 30 per cent of their land under “protected areas” by the year 2030 to conserve biodiversity.
The “evil beauty” of this plan is that it has to be implemented in the global south, because there is no significant biodiversity gain to be made from expanding Regent’s Park in London or Central Park in Manhattan by 30 per cent. Everything is primed and ready to go. The adoption of this plan by the UN and governments smoothens out all the necessary regulatory hurdles, including by way of tax breaks in both the source and client states.
Once that is done, now all you need is a major conference like APAC2022 where you can blow all the dog-whistles against indigenous people and give all the apocalyptic alarmist statements about Africa (with no reference to the west where the real environmental destruction has been for the last 100 years). First, you pick a country like Rwanda that has formally decided that their greatest role in Africa will be as a European foothold on the continent (remember the UK refugees’ caper). Then you convene conservation organizations, practitioners, their corporate funders and governmental enablers. After a few days of lip service, drink and debauchery, you come up with a closing statement that includes a huge carrot and little substance and everybody leaves, struggling with the flatulence induced by excitement over the impending windfall.
One of the strangest parts of this excitement is that very little of the largesse actually finds its way to indigenous Africans. Most of it goes to expatriates from the donor countries, while Africans at all levels from heads of state to village elders are swayed with breadcrumbs in the form of business class air tickets, accommodation in luxury hotels, alcohol and per diem payments to attend meetings where they simply say “yes” to everything. The key point to note about this so-called conservation fund is that it proposes a “network” of a total of 8,600 conservation areas covering a total area of 26 million square kilometres. This is a startling figure, given that it is an area more than twice the size of the US, and represents more than 80 per cent of Africa’s land mass. How do these people subvert sovereign structures with such consummate ease? A simple tool known as “transboundary conservation areas”, conservation that purports to manage contiguous habitats across international boundaries.
We then find ourselves in a strange situation where non-state actors enjoy powers unheard of in state agencies, with untrammelled reach across international boundaries. An example of this power is the Big Life Foundation that operates across the Kenya-Tanzania border, enjoying access that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) cannot have. This is the nature of the new colonies. They fly under the radar by not following known boundaries, and within countries they exist as conservancies that don’t exist in law, don’t pay taxes and don’t register lands in their names.
We then find ourselves in a strange situation where non-state actors enjoy powers unheard of in state agencies, with untrammelled reach across international boundaries.
As the host of the conference, Rwanda has been the first signatory on this project and is taking leadership, asking other African countries to sign. With all due respect to that great nation, I don’t think that the owner of 0.0065 per cent of the protected areas in question should assume leadership of the same. This however reveals another well-practiced annexation technique of the conservation organizations—eliminating the individual opinions of nations and people by lumping them together into “projects” and “communities”. The colonists are here, again to stake a claim on our birthright. The other tried and tested technique is the relentless drive to evaluate our lands in terms of this strange thing they refer to as “carbon”.
What most Africans don’t realize about “carbon” credits, sequestration, sinks, etc., is that it is a tool for eliminating the natives from any discussions or calculations about the said land. They aren’t the fat old white men we see in the artists’ impressions of the Berlin conference. Many of them look like us, speak our languages, many are young, and many are women too, and they claim to be saviours. The methods and faces are certainly new, but the avarice and corruption remains unchanged, 137 years later. Despite myself, I must grudgingly acknowledge the historical correctness of holding the conference in Rwanda, part of what used to be German East Africa. Aluta Continua.