Francophone Climate Justice Gathering: Reflect! Resist! Rise!
Francophone civil society movements and allied organizations across 13 countries in North, West and Central Africa met in Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire from 18 to 20 May 2021 as the first of a series of sub-regional gatherings hosted by the Africa Climate Justice Group (AFCJ). The AFCJ is an emerging platform that is helping to strengthen the progressive climate justice movement in Africa. The local host was Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE), a group committed to supporting climate justice struggles. The event took place in the context of deepening interconnected crises impacting on Francophone Africa, including the climate and ecological crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic/health crisis, poverty and inequality crisis, debt crisis, political crisis and much more. The event sought to engage participants around these issues, to build solidarities, and to strengthen progressive action.
A Summit convened in Paris, France by President Emmanuel Macron to deal with the global economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the opening of the event and constituted a basis for analysing the challenges at the origin of the already existing climate crisis. In a show of solidarity, most participants condemned the debt that impacts the continent, criticized the development models of our States based on neo-liberal policies, and denounced the regime of predation and extractivism that is ongoing and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. It was recognized and agreed by all participants that it is the system of capitalism and its twin sister’s patriarchy, racism and neo-colonialism that impacts the energy, food and land and water sectors on the continent.
The Francophone meeting on climate justice in Abidjan was a space for information sharing, popular education, and construction of knowledge from below. A field visit to a fisher community was also held to offer participants the chance to observe the impacts of the climate and ecological crisis. These important moments of exchange (in a physical way), which had almost disappeared since the period of confinement due to the pandemic, was recognised as necessary for collective learning and the building of connections of solidarity amongst the many struggles for climate justice in the sub-region.
Africa, as discussed, is facing several crises. Regarding energy, we are witnessing new explorations and exploitation of gas and oil reserves (as well as coal) across Francophone Africa, which is causing harm to communities, their livelihoods, and their environment. Other dirty energy projects such as big dams are also being aggressively promoted by our governments together with corporates and are causing more harm.
Security challenges are growing and the repression of activists to defend their lands and livelihoods are compounding risk. The crisis in the food system caused by the agro-industrial industry and its quest for profit are also destroying the foundations of life of African people. The convergence of the climate crisis and the increase in food imports, for example, is leading Africa into disaster. Unless steps are taken to establish local food systems and remove the growing dependence on imports of cereals and other staple foods, Africa will experience multiple and more severe aftershocks than the food crisis of 2007-2008, which led to food riots across the continent.
African governments and donors have wasted the last decade implementing failed policies and programmes that aimed to support agribusinesses, when they did little to effectively oppose companies that get rid of their food surpluses and to instead support peasant farmers. This has led to increased global greenhouse gas emissions and destruction of biodiversity and the increase in poverty. Now, climate justice movements and African food producers must join forces to eliminate dependence on food imports and achieve food sovereignty on the continent to address the climate crisis. The state of affairs is alarming but as a response from states and public policies, it is the rise of private interests and the promotion of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
Instead of paying more attention to communities that are victims of extractivism and the debt crisis, the International Financial Institutions are developing even more efficient mechanisms to maximize their profits and increase debt to our countries and people.
The false capitalist solutions proposed by these actors such as REDD+, Grand Barrage, OGM, geoengineering, clean coal, Climate Smart Agriculture, etc. are therefore to be banned and rejected in the fight for climate justice on the continent. The construction of climate justice for Africa is therefore clearly to be established around the issue of sovereignty.
We need unity amongst people to build alternatives such as food and energy sovereignty, and for communities like fisherfolks and peasant farmers to be in struggle and resistance together against these false solutions and, and to carry the fight for climate justice.
The Francophone climate justice ‘group’ concluded the 3-day session by committing to share their struggles and analysis using various communication platforms and to monitor the implementation of destructive projects that some solidarity in resistance can be built around.
Grand Lahou, a city on borrowed time
By Oumou Koulibaly, WoMin African Alliance
Like the entire West African coastline, Grand Lahou, a coastal city located 150 km west of Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels and coastal erosion which, little by little, has continued to engulf the city. A hundred years ago when the city was built there was approximately 2 km separating the ocean from the lagoon. Today this distance has shrunk to 200m in some places, and each year it grows smaller.
Grand Lahou is truly a city on borrowed time. It was for this reason that the Africa Climate Justice Group chose this destination for its field visit on May 19, 2021. The field visit was part of the first Francophone gathering on climate justice held in Abidjan from May 18 to 20, 2021 under the theme Climate Justice for Africa – Reflect, Resist, Rise. It brought together about 30 participants from 15 countries in North, West, Southern and Central Africa, to discuss the issues around climate justice, which is so crucial to the future and the survival of our continent.
The city of three waters
Known as the “city of three waters” because the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Bandama River, and the Tagba Lagoon converge at its location, Grand Lahou has long been a treasured destination for tourists, traders, and travellers. Unfortunately, that time is long gone. Coastal erosion, exacerbated by the destructive impacts of climate change, is inexorably eating away at Grand Lahou, as it is all along the West African coast.
On the other hand, it has been worsened by the construction, 250 km to the north, of a hydroelectric dam built in the early 1970s. This has deprived the river of some of its power and capacity to resist the ocean. If nothing is done to halt the encroachment of the sea, the city may disappear under the waters.
The site offered a tangible and real-time meaning of the devastating reality of the climate crisis on peoples and their lands and territories, underscoring the urgency of the Africa Climate Justice Gathering.
After the traditional greetings to the community authorities, the participants embarked in two dugout canoes to the mouth that connects the ocean to the lagoon. Michel Ségui, one of the participants, fisherman, and customary authority of the city served as our guide. He shared that the mouth has considerably narrowed, and its location is changing, moving from east to west along the strip of land. It has moved 2 km in 30 years (1985-2016), and according to forecasts, if nothing is done to stop this advance along with sea erosion, the city would disappear by 2050. The sea is advancing by 1 to 5 m per year along the entire West African coast, with spectacular advances of 10m sometimes.
How silting is impacting the ecosystems:
“If the mouth which was once 10m, even 15 or 20m deep in places, is now barely 2m in places, the phenomenon of ecosystem exchange that existed between the two waters, with fish that came to replenish and reproduce in the lagoon from the sea, and vice versa, is no longer done," – Michel Ségui
It goes without saying that the quantity of fish has also dropped drastically, and this directly affects the activities of women who support their families in the processing of fish and taking care of the families’ food needs. Children’s schooling is also destabilised due to the lack of resources for school fee payment.
The coastline and the fishermen face threats not only from the rising waters, but from shark attacks – which are occurring increasingly closer to the city – and from pirate boats, both of which have a significant impact on livelihoods by disrupting the fish catch of the day and taking away the fishermen’s nets:
"About 4 months ago we lost about 10 nets. A 50m net costs about 100,000f XOF or 150,000f XOF, and a fisherman, to make a season must have 10 nets. When sharks or pirate boats destroy 5 to 6 nets in our park, it is a huge loss for us, it weakens us.”
Community solutions and recommendations
Faced with this situation, Segui, in concordance with the community members, recommends some solutions that could be beneficial to the city:
Stabilisation of the lagoon to decrease the silting and to ensure that the village does not move further. Silting also impacts the mangroves, increases the water temperature of nearby waters, and drives fish further away. "The best thing to do is to stabilize the embouchement by building a dike,” says Michel Ségui. “With piers, large stones to stabilize the mouth, as we see elsewhere in San Pedro. This will also prevent frequent flooding in the village”. Attempts to deal with San Pedro have been thwarted by a new coal plant that was built near the coast and had not factored in these issues. In fact, infrastructure projects such as the coal and dam projects generally appear not to consider the likely current and future climate-related impacts.
Sensitise the riparian communities so that they stop cutting the mangrove to make firewood. Segui: "Indeed, the mangrove is very good firewood, and as it is nearby, the populations do not know that they are very useful in the reproduction of fishery resources, cut it to make firewood. For some time, the chiefs of the communities have become aware of this and support us in raising awareness. They have understood that with global warming, coastal erosion, silting, we must preserve the mangroves, especially with the warming of the water, the fish go under the mangroves to reproduce”. Resolutions have been taken by local authorities to dissuade people from destroying mangroves. Any person who violates the rules pays a fine of 100 000f XOF and may have his boat withdrawn. These stipulations have slowed down the destruction of the mangroves. The community would like to learn from other communities, for example Mbour in Senegal, to learn the techniques of transplanting and restoring mangroves. As an alternative to cutting the mangrove, the community intends to set up a wood park, to avoid that the residents are always tempted to cut the mangroves.
To counter the lack of resources, the community leaders are proposing “biological rest” for a portion of the lagoon. That is, prohibiting fishing in that area for a given time under the supervision of authorities. Such an undertaking would require a lot of awareness-raising and training with the people.
Potentially exploring sustainable fish farming methods and practices on the river or lagoon which might help considerably during the lean season of biological rest.
Certainly, some solutions are within reach because they do not require advanced technical knowledge. However, given all the hard or soft structures envisaged, coastal engineering is needed to avoid the remedy being worse than the illness. The WACA program, a West African coastal management initiative funded by the World Bank, provides one such avenue to re-think community solutions. This program covers six countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Togo, Benin, Sao Tome and Principe, and Mauritania.
The trip to Grand Lahou offered the group a window into the violent consequences of natural phenomena such as coastal erosion, exacerbated by human activities such as dams and the climate crisis in this community. As a case study, Grand Lahou speaks to the urgency of the moment for many communities across Africa and around the world for whom time is already running out.