Keynote address delivered by groundWork Director, Bobby Peek, to the Oilwatch Africa General Assembly, in Lamu, Kenya on 07 August 2018
Dear Friends and Family
Yes, I use the word family, for no matter where in the world we are resisting fossil fuels, we need to remember that we are family, and family sticks together.
In 1996 Oilwatch was established in Quito, Ecuador. As Africa we can be proud that Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Gabon were amongst the first 12 countries that gave birth to an organisation that has immersed itself into the politics of many movements, and into the politics of resistance without compromise. In Oilwatch there are no “ifs” and “buts”; it is very clear: we keep the “oil in the soil”.
groundWork has been a member of Oilwatch from the very start of our existence, nearly 20 years ago. We were privileged to have one of the first international gatherings of Oilwatch in South Africa in 2000. At this gathering we came face to face with the many people and organisations resisting oil, from Thailand to Columbia, from The Netherlands to Sudan. For groundWork it was a watershed, and it built our resolve to make sure that as an organisation we stood firm in our resistance to fossil fuels and our politics of listening to what people were saying and demanding. Listening to those on the fence-lines in the host communities and who are suffering the daily injustice of fossil fuel extraction and production, is critical for groundWork. We believe these communities have to lead the way in our positions on resistance on all fronts, from civil disobedience to policy work, and from local to international.
At the outset, I want to apologise for not making it to Kenya, and in particular Lamu. groundWork, and I personally, have had many years of interactions with the Save Lamu campaign, so it was difficult to come to the decision to not join you in person. I also want to thank those folks in Lamu who have assisted Oilwatch Africa in hosting us. A big thank you to Ikal and to Nnimmo for pushing this meeting and for the many of you who are there. I am with you in solidarity.
In June, I was asked to speak on the topic: “Time to DeCoalonize Africa”. Just to let comrades know that this has been a very Kenyan slogan, so while I can speak about the ravages of coal in Africa, the real kudos for this imaginative slogan must go to the local folk in Kenya. Viva the struggle to keep coal in the hole in Kenya, and indeed Africa.
Oilwatch has always been against the extraction of fossil fuels. While one could read that the focus was only on oil, it was the politics of the 90s, the politics of oil, and the fence-line violence and global terror of a dying US empire that focused us on oil. But fossil fuels as a collective was our resistance. Indeed, the many organisations that make up Oilwatch International and Africa, do not have the luxury to decide what they resist. It is these people who come to us for assistance that we need to support. We cannot say no and walk away with the response that very many ‘professionalised NGOs give: It is not part of our strategy. To quote an oft-mentioned slogan: We Exist to Resist!
So, when in the past 20 years the impact of coal became so evident, groundWork and the many Oilwatch members such as Justice Ambiental from Mozambique and CENSAT Agua Viva from Columbia, had to respond. Before coal became ‘sexy’ to resist, we as members of Oilwatch were resisting. Today there is a global and African wide movement that challenges coal, which is built upon a deep foundation of resistance. Because of these foundations in very many parts of the world, we will succeed in turning the tide on coal.
I want to reflect briefly on coal in Africa, the resistance to this, and then a critical path on the way forward which responds to peoples’ demands and to an approach that serves people, which is termed by many a Just Transition, but in reality, is nothing more than what development should be.
Coal in Africa is concentrated in Southern Africa. Coal has a brutal history of being the backbone of major mining ventures that have destroyed the land, the water, the air and people’s lives throughout Southern African as they were forced into migratory ‘slave labour’ to serve the growing mining expansion of the pariah apartheid state. A mal-development is how we term the Mineral and Energy Complex which sought to provide cheap energy, cheap labour, and an environmental and social justice policy vacuum that allowed for the elite accumulation of wealth on the backs of the millions of disfranchised black people throughout Southern Africa. Coal was dug out and burnt cheaply to make cheap energy for the mining conglomerates to make super profits. What is alarming is that over the past years, the World Bank has come to recognise that extractives in Africa do not lead to development, rather it results in negative savings. And coal in particular, according to a 2011 World Bank report referenced by Professor Bond, longtime ally of Oilwatch International, the estimated annual coal depletion cost to South Africa's Natural Capital, accounts for 6% of GDP. So, by World Bank terms, we are poorer. Well, we did not need the World Bank to tell us this. We have known this since our first resistance. Fossil fuels create poverty, they are not a development plan. They are an extractives plans. Plans that create wealth for the elite.
While my neighbourhood is the starting point, it is clear that Africa is not spared in relation to coal. Nine African countries are facing their first coal plant proposal, nine African countries have at least one operating coal plant. There were 171 proposed power units in the pipeline in December 2015. Of these only nine have been successful in SA. In SA we are stalling and hoping to soon defeat more than 14 proposals, each making up numerous units. Critically, in the time since most of these pipeline projects were first considered, renewables have become cheaper in many parts of the world, including Africa. The countries in Africa that we need to remain vigilant over because of the increasing threat of coal expansion are: Namibia, Senegal, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Egypt and South Africa.
But besides coal fired power stations, coal’s other face is mining, which comes with the associated violence of displacing people from the land. Here we talking about Jindal and Vale in Mozambique, Atha and South32, to name a few mining developments in South Africa and in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria and Malawi. In South Africa it is well documented by groundWork in Destruction of the Highveld: Volume 1, how mining destroys people’s lands. Critically, it also highlights how mining is facilitated by the political elite, despite the mounting evidence of its destruction.
With coal comes an enormous burden of externalities on not only polluted water such as acid mine drainage, destroyed lands and polluted air, but also have an immense burden on health. The health costs from one pollutant from coal fired power stations in SA, particulate matter of the size 2.5 microns, is $ 2.3 billion. This is just one pollutant. Imagine if we had to consider all the pollutants.
The externalised quantification of water costs for Kusile, one of SA’s biggest new coal plants, stands at as much as $4.5 billion, according to the Centre for Environmental Rights.
While there is a global recognition that coal has to stop, in Africa there is nonetheless an expansion of coal on the cards, from mining to the building of power stations. Transition away from coal is just a gimmick for many corporates. For Anglo American, a transition is about “incremental expansion where it made sense” and “making sensible capital allocations on incremental life extensions” on thermal coal, despite all the evidence that coal and fossil fuels have to stop now. This is not a transition, let alone a just transition. This is going back to what is best for the bottom line. At best they are off-loading their past coal developments – which have caused massive environmental damage – and future development such as New Largo to companies “majority owned and controlled by historically disadvantaged South Africans”, essentially leaving the coal legacy for others to deal with. The future is bleak and affected people have to define and make their own future. They cannot depend on government and most certainly not corporates who got us into this mess.
So, it is clear that we are going to have to make the future ourselves. It is going to be difficult, especially as unions, while recognising that they have to move away from extractives and coal in particular, are caught in the bind as to what happens to the unionised workers as coal dies. But critically, we need to remember in Africa the majority of people are not in the formal working sector and, dare I say, capitalist working sector. It demands democratic practice and groundWork believes that the following can deliver on a future for the majority on the African continent.
Several elements to a just transition suggest themselves. Some elements are about urgently needed work in the coal regions while others are suggestions for a broader response:
- Building a new energy system based on socially owned renewables with jobs in manufacturing as well as construction and operations;
- Rehabilitating individual mines and the mining regions as a whole to restore and detoxify damaged land and ecosystems and use these lands to build utility-scale solar farms;
- Making people’s food gardens as a first step towards creating a healthy food system under democratic control, based on ecological agriculture and ensuring enough for all;
- Reconstructing settlements in anticipation of the intensified storms and droughts that climate change will bring, fixing the broken roads, water and sewage pipes, and providing proper municipal and health services that respond to those that are in most need and ensure people’s health improves;
- Building good energy efficient homes supplied with solar water heaters (with servicing after installation) so that people stay comfortable with minimal energy use;
- Planning to put work and amenities within people’s reach and to make walking and cycling the easy options and developing safe and reliable public transport for longer trips;
- Creating a zero waste economy, eliminating built-in redundancy and throw-away products and developing high levels of recycling and composting of organic wastes;
- Introducing a basic income grant for all to enable poor and unemployed people, who are most vulnerable to climate change, to participate more actively in all areas of life.
For us this could be a future.
Finally, a recent African Coal Strategy meeting concluded with the following strategy which we will continue to develop with organisations such as Oilwatch International:
Finance: Focus on both the AfDB and other Development Finance Institutions as well as Chinese finance.
Renewable energy: Focus on the various African and global initiatives that seek to push various energy approaches in Africa. Some of these are Power Africa; the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative; Sustainable Energy for All; the Africa Coalition for Sustainable Energy & Access; the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme; Lighting Africa (a World Bank programme); distributed energy service companies (pay-as-you-go).
Just transition: Focus on how the Just Transition approach can be adopted and worked with in Africa.
Human Rights Defenders and Closing of Democratic Space: Focus on ensuring that African governments commit to democratic practice and that people defending their lands from coal - and other mining/gas/oil exploitation - are not threatened in any way.
Fighting dirty energy/resisting coal - campaigning support: Focus on supporting national and local campaigns against coal with necessary campaigning tools, solidarity and movement strengthening, technical assistance, research etc. This is a big area.
Our struggle is big - we need to ensure that we build solidarity and maintain the links we build in this gathering.
A luta continua!