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Why is Africa shut out from its biodiversity issues?

Environment

Why is Africa shut out from its biodiversity issues?

Why are African environmental and biodiversity issues still being designed, implemented and monitored by Western organisations despite serious scandals in the recent past? Report by Onyekachi Wambu

The environmental movement is on the up. The recent Extinction Rebellion which brought London to a halt over several days, showed the passion and power of a new generation of activists who are determined to make the earth’s threatened bio-diversity a new theme of global struggle. The focus is especially on the impact of the exploding human population on the planet.

As the continent with some of the most diverse and also threatened ecosystems, Africa will again play centre stage in this struggle. Additionally, in the campaign to maintain a sustainable balance between humans and wild-life, it is likely that African people are likely to be adversely impacted, as another group from the West, eyes blazing, are driven by a new environmental ideology.

This new ideology is in many ways repeating the moral certainties of the missionaries and those who promoted the ‘White Man’s Burden’ from the last century.

Recent revelations from Survival International about the activities of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the Congo already give cause for concern. The WWF, which is active across large swathes of the forest area, has been offering bonuses to its wardens for arrests of local people in the controversial Messok Dia protected area.

According to Survival International, the payments, detailed in the funding agreement signed between the European Union and the WWF, (which led to the creation of the Messok Dia protected area) has led to the beatings, torture and sexual assault of local Baka people. To quote one local Baka: “To us this is like a war, and our forest is now closed off to us. The rangers kill people for money, that’s how they raise their salary.”

This new ideology is in many ways repeating the moral certainties of the missionaries and those who promoted the ‘White Man’s Burden’ from the last century.

There are many disturbing questions raised by this WWF intervention. Amongst these are issues of accountability, mandate, and proportionate response to the threats faced by threatened wild life.

How is it possible that what is virtually a paramilitary group of wardens, operating under an agreement between the EU and WWF, are able to abuse people in the Congo? Where is the Congolese government in all this and why does an NGO, with headquarters in Switzerland and branches in Western capitals, appear to exist outside and above the state in Africa?

Despite its mission of ‘creating a world here people and wildlife can thrive together’ this is not the first time that the WWF have been accused of similar actions.

It was involved in the Project Lock scandal in 1991 through its First President, Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biersteld – the deeply controversial consort of the former Dutch Queen – who hired mercenaries, ostensibly to fight poachers, but instead the paramilitary group started to profit from illegal ivory trading and other dubious businesses, including training members of the then South African army to assassinate ANC members, maintain apartheid, and train UNITA and Renamo soldiers.

Controversial members

Prince Bernhard, was not the only controversial member of WWF. Formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, the WWF was founded in 1961, with founding members including the consort of the UK Queen, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Julian Huxley, a social Darwinist, who believed in a eugenic policy that involved introducing birth control and sometimes sterilisation for those ‘allegedly less well-endowed genetically…[and]…reproducing relatively too fast.’

Prince Charles is not the only member of his family involved in organisations that manage large swathes of Africa through conversation work.

Like Huxley, Prince Philip has frequently spoken out about population control in achieving a better balance between humans and wildlife, although this did not stop him fathering four children. He became President of WWF in 1976 following Prince Bernard’s resignation after accepting bribes from Lockheed. Prince Philip was in turn replaced as President in 2011 by his son, Prince Charles, who has also voiced concerns about the need for better population management.

Prince Charles is not the only member of his family involved in organisations that manage large swathes of Africa through conversation work. In 2017, his youngest son, Prince Harry was appointed President of African Parks, a Johannesburg based NGO, which currently manages 15 national parks covering 10.5m hectares in nine African countries.

Granted there is much work to be done to tackle poachers and conserve Africa’s fragile bio-diversity, but why is the leadership for this increasingly outsourced? And how can we ensure accountability from those who are maintaining the balance between humans and wildlife so Project Lock and Messok Dia scandals don’t become harbingers of the future, given Africa’s growing population. Particularly as we learn of the wish of the recently dismissed UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to ‘invade’ Africa.

 

 

 

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Written by Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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