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Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa: In Conversation with Hamza Hamouchene

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Reality Check: Accumulation thru underdevelopment, capitalist development at the expense of the health of people and planet

Hamza Hamouchene has done research on extractivism, energy democracy, food sovereignty and environmental and climate justice in the North African context. He is also the coordinator for North Africa at the Transnational Institute.

Enslaved citizens due to global capitalism

In this episode, Hamza Hamouchene discusses his report titled: Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa, which documents several cases of natural resource extraction which take the form of brutal “accumulation by dispossession,” degrading environments and ecosystems through the privatisation and commodification of land and water. The report shows that these extractive activities have also been met with new waves of resistance and the entrance of new social actors onto the scene, demanding that wealth generated in resource projects be shared equitably in society.

Where it’s at and what can people do?

Are these new actors mainly motivated by environmental concerns, or are they fundamentally anti-systemic, seeking to undermine the basis of the capitalist extractive economy? Are these passing episodes of resistance, or do they represent a new development in the historical trajectory of class struggle in North Africa?

Hamza Hamouchene is a London-based Algerian researcher-activist, commentator and a founding member of Algeria Solidarity Campaign (ASC), and Environmental Justice North Africa (EJNA). He previously worked for War on Want, Global Justice Now and Platform London on issues of extractivism, resources, land and food sovereignty as well as climate, environmental, and trade justice. He is the author/editor of two books: “The Struggle for Energy Democracy in the Maghreb” (2017) and “The Coming Revolution to North Africa: The Struggle for Climate Justice” (2015). He also contributed book chapters to “Voices of Liberation: Frantz Fanon” (2014) and “The Palgrave Encyclopaedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (2016). 

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A web of Life for ALL Life

See the opportunity to return to the sacred

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“Nature is a totally efficient, self-regenerating system. IF we discover the laws that govern this system and live synergistically within them, sustainability will follow and humankind will be a success.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

 

Hopi Indian Chief White Eagle commented on the current situation:

“This moment humanity is experiencing can be seen as a door or a hole”. The decision to fall in the hole or walk through the door is up to you. If you consume the news 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole, but if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, then you will walk through the portal.

Take care of your home, take care of your body. Connect with your spiritual home. When you take care of yourself, you take care of everyone at the same time.

Do not underestimate the spiritual dimension of this crisis. Take the perspective of an eagle that sees everything from above with a broader view. There is a social question in this crisis, but also a spiritual question. The two go hand in hand.

Without the social dimension we fall into fanaticism. Without the spiritual dimension, we fall into pessimism and futility.

Are you ready to face this crisis? Grab your toolbox and use all the tools at your disposal.

Learn resistance from the example of Indian and African peoples: we have been and are exterminated, but we never stopped singing, dancing, lighting a fire and rejoicing.

Don’t feel guilty for feeling blessed in these troubled times. Being sad or angry doesn’t help at all. Resistance is resistance through joy!

You have the right to be strong and positive. And there’s no other way to do it than to maintain a beautiful, happy, bright posture. This has nothing to do with alienation (ignorance of the world). It’s a resistance strategy.

When we cross the threshold, we have a new worldview because we faced our fears and difficulties. This is all you can do now:

– Serenity in the storm

– Keep calm, pray everyday

– Make a habit of meeting the sacred every day.

– Show resistance through art, joy, trust and love.

Source: Pressenza

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First in the U.S.: “Rights of Nature” State Constitutional Amendment Filed in Florida to Protect Waterways

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Would amend the Florida Constitution to recognize all waterways as having rights to “exist, flow, be free from pollution…and a healthy ecosystem.” 

June 2, 2021: Florida environmental leaders have begun collecting signatures to qualify a state constitutional amendment that would recognize legal rights of waterways in the state.

The statewide amendment, the first “rights of nature” measure in the United States to be proposed and approved for state ballot petitioning, would, if adopted, change the landscape of environmental protection in Florida. It was approved for signature circulation by the Florida Division of Elections on May 20.

Thomas Lindzey and Chuck O’ Neal are special keynoters at the MOBILIZED World Summit June 12-13, 2021

The amendment would recognize the legally enforceable rights of all waterways across Florida to “exist, flow, be free from pollution, and maintain a healthy ecosystem.” The amendment then provides that any Floridian or Florida organization can file a legal action on behalf of those waterways to require their protection, repair, and restoration.

The amendment also recognizes every Floridian’s legal right to clean water, and authorizes Florida counties, cities, and towns to enact additional protections for waterways. It then shields those municipal enactments from preemption by the state legislature.

The state amendment is modeled on the Orange County, Florida, “Right to Clean Water” initiative which passed overwhelmingly in November 2020. The initiative passed with an 89% majority vote, and recognized legal rights of waterways. In April, the first enforcement case under the new law was filed – against a development company proposing to build on, and eliminate, over a hundred acres of wetlands and waterways in the county.

The amendment is part of a five-environmental amendment proposal aiming for the November 2022 statewide ballot. The other amendments would recognize new legal protections for Florida iconic species, ban toll road construction on conservation land, ban the dredging and filling of Florida wetlands, and ban captive wildlife hunting facilities.

Chuck O’Neal, Chair of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, explained, “It’s time to replace a state government which has been focused on developing as much of Florida as it can, with a system which permanently protects what is important to Floridians and our tourism-based economy. This amendment would achieve several goals – stopping the systematic destruction of Florida’s wetlands while providing permanent protection to what makes Florida special – its waterways and its clean water.”

Mari Margil, Executive Director of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, which provided assistance with the drafting of the measure and assists with “rights of nature” measures worldwide, stated, “For too long, state governments have enabled developers who want to destroy Florida’s waterways. This amendment represents a re-programming of government, to a system which protects, rather than destroys, nature. In establishing the rights of waterways, the amendment is an opportunity to protect and restore nature, following in the footsteps of countries around the world which are changing how they protect threatened ecosystems.”

Joe Bonasia, a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, explained the need for the amendment, stating, “There were 64 months of red tide from 1878 to 1994 in Florida. There have been over 184 months of red tide in the 27 years since then. Over half of Florida’s waterways are officially declared “impaired,” and the state has issued 23,000 permits for the discharge of pollution into our waterways during the past 50 years. This is all evidence that the system isn’t working. We need a new approach to environmental protection, and recognizing the right of people to clean water and the rights of waterways is that new approach.”

Mary Gutierrez, Founder and Director of Earth Ethics, based in Pensacola, Florida, added, “Northwest Florida is experiencing significant growth that is causing the loss of species habitat, surface water contamination, and increased flooding due to poor planning and increased development. We must act now to protect the waterways and land that sustain us. This amendment will do just that.”

John Cassani, the Calusa Waterkeeper, added, “The Right to Clean Water Initiative, as a new or additive legal tool for protecting Florida’s waters, may be our last best hope to save what is left.”

To qualify for the ballot, the Right to Clean Water state initiative must collect nearly 900,000 signatures over the next eight months. Those interested in signing the petitions to qualify the amendments are encouraged to go to www.FL5.org and download, sign, and mail-in the petitions.

Contact

Chuck O’Neal, Chair, Florida Rights of Nature Network (FRONN), chuckforflorida@gmail.com (407) 399-3228

Thomas Linzey, Esq.,Senior Attorney, Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, tal@pa.net, (509) 474-9761

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Economics

How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

In October 2020, a group of 79 Kenyans filed a lawsuit in a UK court against one of the world’s largest plantation companies, Camelia Plc. They say the company is responsible for the killings, rapes and other abuses that its security guards have carried out against local villagers at its 20,000 hectare plantation, which produces avocados for European supermarkets.

Such abuses are unfortunately all too routine on Africa’s industrial plantations. It has been this way since Europeans introduced monoculture plantations to Africa in the early 20th century, using forced labour and violence to steal people’s lands. Camelia’s plantations share this legacy, and the abuses suffered by the Kenyan villagers today are not so different from those suffered by the generations before them.

Abuses and injustices are fundamental to the plantation model. The question that should be asked is why any of these colonial plantations still exist in Africa today. Why haven’t Africa’s post-colonial governments dismantled this model of exploitation and extraction, returned the lands to their people and emboldened a resurgence of Africa’s diverse, local food and farming systems?

One important piece of this puzzle can be found in the archives of the World Bank.

Last year, an alliance of African organizations, together with GRAIN and the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), produced a database on industrial oil palm plantations in Africa. Through this research, we found that many of the oil palm and rubber plantations currently operating in West and Central Africa were initiated or restored through coordinated World Bank projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The ostensible goal of these projects was to develop state-owned plantations that could drive “national development”. The World Bank not only provided participating governments with large loans, but it also supplied the consultants who crafted the plantation projects and oversaw their management.

In case after case that we looked at, the consultants hired by the World Bank for these projects were from a company called SOCFINCO, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg holding company Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (SOCFIN). SOCFIN was a leading plantation company during the colonial period, with operations stretching from the Congo to Southeast Asia. When the colonial powers were sent packing in the 1960s, SOCFIN lost several of its plantations, and it was then that it set up its consultancy branch, SOCFINCO.

According to documents in the World Bank’s archives, SOCFINCO was hired by the Bank to oversee the development and implementation of oil palm and rubber plantation projects in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinée, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. SOCFINCO oversaw the development of blueprints for national oil palm and rubber plantation programs, and helped identify lands to be converted to industrial plantations.  It was also paid to manage the plantations and, in some cases, to organize sales of rubber and palm oil by the state plantation companies established through the program.

SOCFIN received lucrative management fees through these projects, but, more importantly, they positioned the company to take control of the trade in agri-commodity exports from Africa – and eventually to even take over the plantations. It was a huge coup for SOCFIN. As the World Bank projects were operated through parastatal companies (companies owned or controlled wholly or partly by the government), local communities could be dispossessed from their lands for plantations under the justification of “national development” – something that would be much more difficult for a foreign company like SOCFIN to do. Indeed, a condition for World Bank loans was that the governments secure lands for the projects, a step made easier by the fact that most of the projects were being implemented by military regimes.

The World Bank projects also allowed SOCFIN to avoid the costs of building the plantations and their associated facilities. Under the projects, the African governments paid the bill via loans from the World Bank and other development banks.

It was not long before the parastatal companies set up by the World Bank were mired in debt. Of course, the Bank blamed the governments for mismanagement and called for the privatisation of the plantations as a solution – even if those plantations were already being run by the high-priced managers of SOCFINCO and other foreign consultants.

In the privatization process that then followed, SOCFIN and SIAT, a Belgian company founded by a SOCFINCO consultant, took over many of the prized plantations. Today, these two companies control a quarter of all the large oil palm plantations in Africa and are significant players in the rubber sector.

Nigeria is a good example of how this scheme worked. Between 1974 and the end of the 1980s, SOCFINCO crafted master plans for at least seven World Bank-backed oil palm projects in five different Nigerian states. Each project involved the creation of a parastatal company that would both take over the state’s existing plantations and develop new plantations and palm oil mills as well as large-scale outgrower schemes. Overseeing all of SOCFINCO’s work in Nigeria was Pierre Vandebeeck, who would later found the company SIAT.

All of the World Bank projects in Nigeria generated enduring land conflicts with local communities, such as with the Oghareki community in Delta State or the villagers of Egbeda in Rivers State. After dispossessing numerous communities from their lands and incurring huge losses for the Nigerian government, the parastatal companies were then privatised, with the more valuable of the plantation assets eventually ending up in the hands of SOCFIN or Vandebeeck’s company SIAT.

SIAT took over the plantations in Bendel state through a subsidiary and then, in 2011, it acquired the Rivers State palm oil company, Risonpalm, through its company SIAT Nigeria Limited. Vandebeek was SOCFINCO’s plantation manager for Risonpalm under the World Bank between 1978-1983.

SOCFIN, for its part, took over the oil palm plantations in the Okomu area that were also developed under a World Bank project. It was SOCFINCO that first identified this area for plantation development as part of the study it was hired to undertake in 1974. The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. (OOPC) was subsequently established as a parastatal company in 1976, and 15,580 hectares of land within the Okomu Forest Reserve of Edo State was “de-reserved” and taken from the local communities to make way for oil palm plantations. The company hired SOCFINCO as the managing agent to oversee its activities from 1976-1990. Reports vary, but at some point between 1986 and 1990, OOPC was then divested to SOCFIN’s subsidiary Indufina Luxembourg.

This sordid history explains why so many of subsidiaries of SOCFIN and SIAT in Africa still carry national sounding names, like SOCAPALM in Cameroon or the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company. It also explains why these companies are so well designed to extract profits into the hands of their owners, and the crucial role of the World Bank for facilitating this corporate profit-seeking process in the name of “national development”.

 

Courtesy of Local Futures, This post is adapted from a GRAIN blog

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