2011 - African Migration, Global
Inequalities, and Human Rights: Connecting the Dots.
Current African Issues Paper for Nordic Africa Institute.
August 1, 2010 - Oped in Providence Journal U.S.-Africa 'reset' requires honesty about America's wrongs
President Obama has inspired hope in Africa and around the world.
Africans who heed his call to build the future, however, must still
reckon with the stubborn fact that the United States can be an
obstacle as well as a partner.
Spring, 2010 - Foreword to issue of Articulate -
End "Aid," Invest in Global Public Goods
Let us agree that the "aid paradigm" is fundamentally flawed, in that it is based on
a model of the rich "helping" the poor. But the paradigm advanced by free-market
fundamentalism, that poor countries and poor people can and should lift themselves
up by their bootstraps, without benefit of support from the wider society, is also
April, 2010 - Zimbabwe: Demystifying Sanctions and Strengthening Solidarity,
by Briggs Bomba and William Minter
In the case of Zimbabwe today, both supporters and opponents of
sanctions exaggerate their importance. The international community,
both global and regional, has other tools as well.
October, 2009 - Africa: Climate Change and Natural Resources,
by William Minter and Anita Wheeler
Africa will suffer consequences out of all
proportion to its contribution to global warming, which is
primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy
countries. But Africa can also make significant contributions to
mitigating (i.e. limiting) climate change, by stopping tropical
deforestation and ending gas flaring from oil production.
March, 2009 - Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa,
by Daniel Volman and William Minter, for Foreign Policy in Focus
html | pdf (283K)
Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent focus
on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize
bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the
United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to
respond to Africa's own urgent security needs? If the first option is
taken, it will undermine rather than advance both U.S. and African
February, 2009 - Inclusive Human Security: U. S. National Security Policy, Africa,
and the African Diaspora, edited for TransAfrica Forum html (150K) | pdf (2.8M)
Fundamentally, it is necessary not only to present a new foreign policy
face to the world, but to shape an international agenda that shows more
and more Americans how our own security depends on that of others. The
old civil rights adage that "none of us are free until all of us are free" has
its corollary in an inclusive human security framework: "None of us can
be secure until all of us are secure. "
April, 2008 - Migration and Global Justice, pamphlet written for American Friends
html | pdf (379K)
"As the global economy drives global inequality, movement across borders
inevitably increases. If legal ways are closed, people trying to survive and
to support their families will cross fences or set sail on dangerous seas
regardless of the risks. "
December, 2007 - "The Armored Bubble: Military Memoirs from Apartheid's
Warriors," pp. 147-152 in African Studies Review
html | pdf (70K)
"The books reviewed in this essay are a small sample of one genre of war
literature: detailed accounts of battle from the perspective of those among
South Africa's military veterans who have no question that they were fighting
a just cause in defense of their country. "
Jan 31, 2007 - Oped in Providence Journal
"Don't replay Iraq in Horn of Africa"
"Somalia is not Iraq, of course. ... But the similarities are nevertheless substantial. The United States and Ethiopia cut short efforts at reconciliation ... They disregarded Somali and wider African opinion in an effort to kill alleged terrorists. And while chalking up military "victories," they aggravated long-term problems."
Jul 8, 2005 -
"Invisible Hierarchies: Africa, Race, and Continuities in the World Order" (pdf)
"The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of today’s unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to address the past, present, and future of American society without giving central attention to the role of African American struggles, so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global inequality requires giving central attention to Africa."
In Science & Society, July, 2005
Jul 8, 2002 -
"Aid—Let's Get Real"
"There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid system will not do. ... For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a common obligation to finance international public investment for common needs."
In The Nation, July 8, 2002, with Salih Booker.
Nov 3, 1992 - Oped in Christian Science Monitor
"Savimbi Should Accept That Democracy Worked in Angola"
"Just one month after Angolans peacefully thronged polling stations in their first multiparty election
ever, the conflict-battered Southern African country is on the brink of all-out war. ... The international
community, including the US, has been unanimous, in urging Savimbi to accept the election results, but Savimbi and his close-knit group of top officers remain both unpredictable and militarily potent. The new conflict, which appears to the starting, will be hard to contain."
April, 1988 - "When Sanctions Worked: The Case of Rhodesia Reconsidered", with Elizabeth Schimdt, in
African Affairs html (97K) | pdf (3.4M)
"Sanctions, while not the only factor in bringing majority rule to Rhodesia, made a significant
long-term contribution to that result. ... Moreover, more strongly enforced sanctions could have
been even more effective. If Rhodesia's petroleum lifeline had been severed and if South Africa
had not served as a back door to international trade, ... the country could not have survived
for more than a matter of months."
"Action against Apartheid,"
in Bruce Douglas, ed., Reflections on Protest: Student Presence in
"But the government usually seems to be a very distant and unresponsive target
[for anti-apartheid protests]. Therefore exposure of U.S.A. business involvement in
Southern Africa - by demonstrations, withdrawal campaigns, etc. - is at least equally
Climate Change and Africa's Natural Resources:
African Governments and Outside Powers must be Accountable
by William Minter and Anita Wheeler*
William Minter is the editor of AfricaFocus Bulletin. Anita
Wheeler is a doctoral student at Howard University specializing in
China/Africa relations. This article is a co-publication by
AfricaFocus Bulletin, Foreign Policy in Focus (http://www.fpif.org),
Pambazuka News (http://www.pambazuka.org),
and Niger Delta Rising (http://www.nigerdeltarising.org).
On the eve of the climate change summit in Copenhagen this
December, momentum for action still falls far short of that needed
to avert catastrophe. Africa will suffer consequences out of all
proportion to its contribution to global warming, which is
primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy
But Africa can also make significant contributions to mitigating
(i.e. limiting) climate change. Stopping tropical deforestation is
one of the most cost-effective means to slow the growth of
greenhouse gases. Ending gas flaring in Africa's oil-producing
countries could reduce carbon emissions and, as a bonus, also
provide cleaner electricity.
Environmental activists in Africa people like Nnimo Bassey in
Nigeria, Wangari Maathai in Kenya, and Marc Ona Essangui in Gabon
are thus also on the frontlines against global warming. The damage
from gas flaring and deforestation shows up both on the ground and
in satellite photographs on the Internet. Reversing the damage will
require both local and global action.
Africa's Stake in Climate Change Action
In Africa, as around the world, awareness is growing that climate
change is not a remote threat but an immediate danger causing more
frequent "extreme weather conditions" of drought and flooding. Ice
is melting at the poles and on Mount Kilimanjaro. The waters of
Lake Chad are disappearing. Drought cycles in East Africa are
becoming more unpredictable.
Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change, notes the
International Panel on Climate Change. Factors such as dependence
on rain-fed agriculture and the impact of warming on the spread of
disease reinforce multiple preexisting stresses. Like AIDS, the
threat is already here. The toll is rising. Even more damaging
effects will play out over decades.
Yet global warming comes primarily from greenhouse gas emissions
outside Africa. Much of Africa's share, moreover, comes from
extracting natural resources to be exported.
According to the latest estimates, the entire African continent was
responsible for only 3.7% of the world's annual CO2 emissions,
compared to China with 21.5%, the United States with 20%, and the
European Union with 14%. Comparing cumulative emissions, a better
measure of environmental impact, Africa's estimated 26.7 billion
metric tons of emissions (1900-2004) were less than half the 55.1
billion tons from the United Kingdom, and only 8% of the 314.8
billion tons from the United States.
Africa, compared with selected countries
% of world's cumulative CO2 emissions. 1900-2004
% of world's CO2 emissions, 2006
South Africa only
African countries have prepared a common position for Copenhagen,
stressing strong targets for emissions reduction by developed
countries and global responsibility to aid Africa in reducing
emissions and adapting to change. But attention at the conference
will center elsewhere. The United States and China are the two
largest contributors to global warming, followed by Europe and
emerging powers such as India, Brazil, and Russia. Africa's
leverage in the negotiations is limited.
Whatever is decided in global talks, the crucial test will be what
happens on the ground. When it comes to Africa's natural resources,
the prospects for change depend squarely on African governments, on
foreign companies and their home-country governments, and on the
pressures that can be mobilized by national and international civil
Two sectors well illustrate the point: oil production with its
by-product of gas flaring, and deforestation, the result both of
local land-use pressures and the export of tropical woods.
When crude oil is extracted, it comes with natural gas which must
be separated. If this gas is not captured for fuel, or reinjected
into the earth, it is vented into the air or burned. Venting and
flaring produce methane and CO2, both greenhouse gases. Gas flaring
is one of the two largest sources of CO2 emissions in sub-Saharan
Africa, second only to coal-fired power generation in South Africa.
Recent satellite studies show that Russia is by far the largest gas
flaring country, with an estimated 40.6 billion cubic meters (BCM)
in 2008. But Nigeria ranks second, with 15.1 BCM. Algeria, Libya,
and Angola rank 5th, 7th, and 9th (see http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/dmsp/interest/gas_flares.html for data and
satellite images). Nigeria now exports liquefied natural gas to
Europe, as well as to Togo, Benin, and Ghana. But about a third of
the gas is still flared. If all the gas instead used to produce
energy, the country could gain as much as $2.5 billion a year in
revenues, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and toxic
effects on the local environment..
Stopping gas flaring, it would seem, would be a win-win
proposition. Indeed the Nigerian government and even the oil
companies have joined critics in recognizing this. The Nigerian
government first outlawed routine gas flaring in 1979, imposing
fines and setting a target to end flaring by 1984.
All the major oil companies in Nigeria, principally the
Dutch-British Shell Oil, and American companies Chevron and
ExxonMobil, are members of the World Bank-sponsored Global Gas
Flaring Reduction Public-Private Partnership, as are Nigeria and
the United States. The World Bank notes that "Capture and use of
the flared gas is ... a so-called low-hanging fruit relative to
other carbon emissions reductions."
But as Nnimo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action testified to
Nigeria's National Environmental Consultation in December 2008,
both the oil companies and the government (which has majority
shares in the major oil concessions) have again and again found
excuses for delay.
Most recently, despite some reductions, deadlines to end flaring
were missed in 2007 and 2008. A new deadline for the end of 2009
will also not be met. Meanwhile, fines for non-compliance are so
low that the companies easily include them in the cost of
production. In 2005, the Nigerian High Court, judging a case
brought by the Iwerekan community in Delta State, declared gas
flaring to be an unconstitutional threat to human welfare. It
ordered Shell to stop gas flaring there, and mandated the
government to impose meaningful penalties to stop the practice. The
judgment has not been enforced.
Opportunities and Obstacles
The effects of gas flaring on global warming are, of course, only
part of the damages from Niger Delta oil. Analysts have repeatedly
documented corruption and distortion of the national economy, toxic
effects on the local environment, marginalization of local
communities, and militarization of repression, all with the
complicity of international oil companies. (For a dramatic visual
record and sharp analysis, see The Curse of the Black Gold, by
photographer Ed Kashi and political scientist Michael Watts).
There is also an enormous opportunity cost in failing to convert
gas to reliable electricity. More than half of Nigerians have no
electric power. Power outages plague Nigeria's businesses, leading
those who can afford them to rely on fossil-fuel-burning
generators. The gas lost through flaring could more than fill
Nigeria's electricity needs. In one community in the Delta, Bonny
Kingdom, there is a local small-scale gas distribution system that
provides power, in addition to the LNG export facility there. But
many if not most of the oil-producing communities have no
electricity at all. Nationwide, serious power shortages are
predicted to continue at least through 2015. And expensive projects
to export natural gas are still given priority over those to
provide electricity within the country.
Local communities in the Delta have been involved in resistance for
decades. The non-violent campaign by the Ogoni people was met with
the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian military regime in
1995. But non-violent actions by environmental groups have
continued, as civilian governments since 1999 have also failed to
satisfy the grievances of people in the oil-producing areas. Since
2005, a guerrilla insurgency under the banner of the Movement for
the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has targeted oil
installations, causing as much as $4 billion a year in lost
International environmentalist and human rights groups have
documented the abuses, campaigned for accountability, and supported
legal actions such as a suit by Ogoni activists that won a $15.5
million settlement from Shell in mid-2009. Yet pledges to resolve
the conflict and clean up the environment in the Niger Delta have
repeatedly evaporated, just as have the deadlines to end gas
flaring. Vested interests have demonstrated their capacity to
Industry defenders argue that oil production must continue while
ways are found to solve the problems. Niger Delta activists are now
turning that argument on its head. "The truth is that indeed that
is the best option: leaving the oil in the ground," Bassey told the
National Environmental Consultation. Such an option is unlikely,
given the country's dependence on oil revenues. But unless action
is taken to reduce the damage, Bassey noted, the externalized costs
will continue to rise.
Open conflict in the Niger Delta may be temporarily abating, as
several key leaders of armed resistance have accepted a government
amnesty. But there is still little evidence that the Nigerian
government or foreign oil companies will confront the long-term
issues. And so the damage continues to mount up. As the effects of
global warming accelerate, it will not only be the marginalized
communities of the Niger Delta that suffer. Lagos and other coastal
cities around the world will face the dangers of rising sea levels
and catastrophic floods.
Africa's Carbon Sink
Africa's oil contributes to global warming both when produced and
when consumed. Africa's tropical forests, in contrast, are among
the most productive "carbon sinks." Tropical forests store much
more carbon than they produce, storing it in biomass or soil.
Globally, tropical forests absorb nearly a fifth of carbon
emissions released by fossil fuels each year (Nature, February
2009). They also cool the atmosphere by putting moisture into the
atmosphere through evapotranspiration (See the Annual State of the
World's Forests, at http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0350e/i0350e00.HTM).
The Congo Basin is home to the world's second largest rainforest,
second only to the Amazon. Africa's forests help regulate both
temperature and rainfall. But Africa is losing more than 4 million
hectares of forests a year, according to the UN Environment
Programme. This is more than three times the world's average rate,
equivalent to clearing an area the size of Switzerland every year.
As a result, according to UN estimates, by 2020, some African
countries may see a 50% reduction in rain-fed agricultural yields.
Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won world renown for
the Kenyan Greenbelt movement, becoming the first African women to
win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. "Protecting and restoring
forest ecosystems, and arresting global warming, are matters of
life and death," she stresses.
There is a clear international consensus that slowing deforestation
is one of the most cost-effective ways to slow the growth of
greenhouse gas emissions. Central African states have recognized
the critical role of their forests, establishing the Central
African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) in 1999 to coordinate forest
protection. COMIFAC works with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership,
which also includes donor governments, international organizations,
non-governmental organizations, scientific, and industry groups.
The U.S. Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, in a report
released this October, stressed that mitigating climate change by
preserving the forests of the developing world, especially the
Congo Basin, was "a vital national interest." Under pressure from
international and local NGOs, China and the EU have committed to
helping curb illegal logging in the Congo Basin. The May 2009
African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in
Nairobi also called for action against deforestation to be included
in the new global climate regime.
Implementation, however, is difficult. There are multiple threats
to Africa's forests. There is competition for land with local
farmers, rising demand for wood for fuel, and rising world demand
for tropical woods, with China replacing European countries as the
top importer of logs in recent years (see http://www.globaltimber.org.uk/africa.htm). Incentives for illegal
logging and for cutting corners in legally approved projects are
In Africa's second biggest wood exporter, Gabon, local civil
society has pushed the government and foreign companies towards
greater accountability in the timber industry, illustrating the
possibilities for constructive action. But, as in other countries,
there is still a large gap between policy and reality.
Chinese Companies and Gabon's Forests
Gabon's forests cover up to 85% of the country's land area. Gabon
was until recently relatively unaffected by deforestation because
of its sparse population and oil wealth. Yet now that its oil
reserves are diminishing, industrial logging by European and
Chinese companies is expanding.
The government has laid out clear policies to control forest use.
In 2002, President Omar Bongo declared 10% of Gabon's territory
national park land. Quotas were set to reduce the share of logs in
timber exports to 25% by 2012, in favor of processed products.
Companies must prepare "sustainable forest management plans." The
rate of deforestation, about 10,000 hectares a year, is still
relatively low, compared to neighboring countries such as Cameroon
and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Yet nearly half of the nation's forest is now under timber leases.
Demand for tropical timber is increasing, particularly from China,
where massive rural to urban migration has driven a surge in
construction. Gabon has become the leading African supplier of
timber to China, and China the leading importer of Gabon's timber.
In this regard, greater environmental sensitivity in China has had
contradictory effects. Domestic environmental activists, working
with sympathetic scientists and government officials, have had some
impact. Chinese banks have explicitly adopted environmental
guidelines. China imposed strict laws banning logging in virgin
forests a decade ago, winning praise from environmental groups. But
the ban on domestic logging spurred imports linked to excessive
logging in Southeast Asia as well as Africa. China thus stands
accused of supporting policies abroad that it rejects at home.
News coverage of China's rapid economic expansion into Africa, such
as the reported deal with the military regime in Guinea, has
stressed China's willingness to disregard human rights concerns.
But China is more sensitive to international and African criticism
than generally acknowledged. The Chinese government wants to
deflect criticism, especially on issues that garner international
attention. This is particularly so in the environmental arena.
Thus the Chinese government has encouraged companies working in the
Congo Basin to abide by local forest use laws In 2008, Chinese
government and timber industry representatives visited with the
government, private sector and civil society in Ghana, Liberia, DRC
and Gabon, reiterating commitment to Sustainable Forest Management.
As in Western countries, the gap between national policy guidelines
and the practice of specific companies can be very wide. In
practice, in Gabon, Chinese as well as European companies are
operating a significant proportion of timber concessions illegally.
The burden is on Gabon's government to enforce the laws. But the
fact that the laws are in place does give environmental activists
One recent case demonstrates the potential, even in a context where
neither the host country nor foreign interests are inclined to
transparency and democratic accountability. That is the case
involving the Ivindo National Park, which includes 3,000 square
meters of forest rich in biodiversity. In 2006, the Gabon
government and Chinese-owned CMEC entered into secret negotiations
on the Belinga Iron Ore Project in Ivindo, a violation of Gabon's
environmental protection laws.
Marc Ona Essangui, who leads the environmental NGO Brainforest,
successfully pressured the Gabon government, CMEC and China's Exim
Bank to conduct an environmental assessment of the project.
In late 2008, Essangui was temporarily detained by police for his
activism. But the Gabonese government and China's Exim Bank have
put the project on hold to reassess its environmental impact.
Gabon, where 47 years of rule by strongman Omar Bongo has been
followed this year by his son's victory in a disputed election, may
seem an unlikely place for such pressure to have much effect. And
the outcome is still uncertain. Essangui notes that forestry laws
are still vulnerable to "well-oiled networks of corruption."
Nevertheless, he told journalists after winning the Goldman
Environmental Prize in April, "We have to protect our forests. It
is our country, it is our duty."
The Bottom Line
Decisions in Copenhagen will matter for Afruca—what commitments the
United States, China, and other countries are willing to make to
firm targets on reducing carbon emissions, for example, and who
will pay how much for mitigation of global warming and adaptation
to changes already well under way.
It will make a difference to what extent international agreements
mandate direct action or rely instead on complex "offset" schemes
that fund climate action in one place by allowing pollution to
continue elsewhere (examples include the international "Clean
Development Mechanism" or "CDM" and the "cap-and-trade" provisions
in the proposed U.S. climate bill). Depending on the details, the
UN's REDD ("Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation")
may end up as one way to pay poor people and countries to preserve
the environment, or as another offset mechanism vulnerable to fraud
and deceptive calculations.
Whatever the results from Copenhagen, the bottom line on climate
mitigation is how to actually decrease carbon emissions. Priority
measures include increasing efficiency and cutting back the
dirtiest fuel sources, particularly in the countries most
responsible for emissions. But "low-hanging fruit" such as curbing
gas flaring and tropical deforestation must also be on the list for
African governments can and should take action now. Foreign
companies and governments can help or hinder. But overcoming
resistance from vested short-term interests will not be easy. Local
environmental activists have already taken the lead by actions such
as targeting gas flaring in the Niger Delta and deforestation in
Gabon. Global climate change activists must follow suit, using
international platforms to connect local and global issues and
demanding that change be measured against realities on the ground.