WHAT DO Golfrid Siregar, an Indonesian environmental lawyer; Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and justice activist; Berta Isabel Cáceres, an indigenous leader from Honduras; and Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, an anti-mining activist from South Africa, have in common? They have all been murdered and those responsible still walk around boldly.

As African ministers of environment prepare to meet for the 17th African Ministerial Conference on Environment (Amcen), starting today, it’s more pressing than ever for them to openly denounce the assassination and intimidation of environmental rights defenders on our continent.

This week marks 24 years since the murder of Saro-Wiwa by the state of Nigeria for campaigning against the devastation of the Niger Delta by oil companies, in particular Shell.

He represented the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni Peoples, who were defending their livelihoods, their fisheries and fields, against an ecocidal extractive industry backed by a murderous state. Saro-Wiwa wrote in 1992 that the “Ogoni have been gradually ground to dust by the combined effort of the multinational oil company, Shell Petroleum Development Company, the murderous ethnic majority in Nigeria and the country’s military dictatorships”.

According to a recent report by The Guardian, the killings of environmental defenders globally have doubled in the past 15 years and can be directly linked to corruption, abuse of power, and weak laws.

In Africa, we have recorded the following assassinations of environmental defenders:

As African leaders gather here this week, we need to recognise that the deaths of our brothers and sisters are because they resist fossil fuel and mining corporates and the poverty this produces. So it’s with alarm that we find our political leadership, represented by Minister Gwede Mantashe, courting the very corporates that are implicated in the deaths of people, globally.

It’s critical that Amcen recognises that the fossil fuel and mining industry is steeped in human rights abuses, and that they must say no to its expansion on our continent – and globally.

Peek is groundWork Director. This opinion piece was published in The Mercury on 14 Nov 2019