With the world’s rapidly dwindling oil supplies and the threat of irreversible environmental damage, the United States allied with its European eco-friendly counterparts, have committed to investing in cleaner, and more renewable energy sources. Though this may sound eco-friendly, their choice of environmentally safe projects has Africans often agreeing to self-detrimental deals.
Reminiscent of anything we’ve seen before…?
The biofuel industry supported by wealthy investors- the auto industry and key decision makers- is booming internationally, especially on the continent. What has been traditionally regarded as a western induced phenomenon has morphed into an arguably global collective to “save our planet”. Not to say that collaborative efforts are uncalled for, but what concerns me is the irony of the situation.
In their quest to build their economic empires, western governments were quite selfish and exploitative in their ventures. Yet now, that they need a helping hand, or rather a certain agenda pushed, whom better to turn to then the iron fists of our Mugabe’s and Melesse’s? With a few backroom deals and the assurance that their citizens won’t or shall I say cannot react, corrupt African governments can successfully implement various projects.
Due to limited land in many of these European nations, African soil is becoming a hot commodity. Sun Biofuels, a UK based energy company, currently has projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. In exchange for free land, they promise to invest millions in infrastructural projects. In Tanzania for instance, the company has promised £20 million in construction projects for 22,230 acres of land. Other European companies have also been closing deals beyond borders. The Norwegian firm Biofuels Africa has secured the rights to the 93,860 acres and Kavango BioEnergy, a British company, plans to invest millions of euros in northern Namibia.
Is this not traditional capitalism at its finest- Africa supplies Europe’s demands?
And although we should not be surprised at this historic relationship, supporting the biofuel market raises some very critical questions. In a time of food scarcity on the continent and even fluctuating food prices in the west, can we morally and ethically grow these edible crops to run our cars? Should Africa have to pay for the West’s over indulgence in fossil fuels? Even more upsetting is level of deception that has been incorporated in securing some of these lands.
A recent Business Week article exposed Biofuel Africa’s dirty tactics in Ghana. The company wrested away land clearing and usage rights from a village chief who could neither read nor write. They were on their way to securing thousands of acres when the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency put a stop to the process. In Tanzania as well, many head villagers were outraged when Sunbiofuels began their projects without even contacting village elders.
While some of you may argue that for many of these struggling nations these deals are beneficial and can improve the quality of many lives, Tanzanians have already begun voicing their skepticism. Journalist Khoti Kamanga of the University of Dar es Salaam warns against the side effects of energy plantations. “The population Kamanga writes, is usually uninformed, while the cultivation of energy plants usually goes hand-in-hand with forced resettlement”
With very little or no assurance that these companies will hold up their end of the bargain, alongside suspicious methods, and not to mention the ethical dilemmas that these practices raise, I wonder to what extent this could realy help Africans. Don't get me wrong while I do realize that "going green" is the newest trend sweeping the west, and other priorities such as world hunger may not currently be as popular, I am a firm believer that some causes no matter how vintage they may seem, should just never go out of style.