Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Reflections on the international conference to save Lake Chad
File

The international conference on saving the Lake Chad was held in Abuja, Nigeria on 25-28 February 2018. The theme of the meeting was “Saving the Lake Chad to revitalise the Basin’s ecosystem for sustainable livelihood, security and development.” With over 1600 participants and presenters attending, this meeting grappled with the issues of how to go about saving Lake Chad. It was concluded that the Transaqua project, which would take water from the right tributary of inter-lacustrine region, and the River Congo, conveying the 2,000km water channel to Chari River is the preferred feasible option to save the Lake. 

The author of this article participated in the conference and proposed that the task of saving Lake Chad was multifaceted but required above all; social peace, political will, political mobilisation and the harnessing of the financial and material resources of Africa to reverse global warming and to stop the drying up of the Lake. There were three main lines of debates in the meeting: the first of the youth and intellectuals from Borno State and Northeastern Nigeria who wanted action right way to restore Lake Chad. The second was that of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), launching BIOPALT – Man and the Biosphere Programme – (MAB) and the third, that of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) that there must be an inter-basin water transfer to replenish Lake Chad and that this must be done as a matter of urgency.

In this analysis, there will be a short background and then some commentary of the differing lines that developed within the context of the debates on the paths forward. This author was clear in his presentation that the discourses on “financial partners and donors” was an abdication of responsibility by the people of Africa in the face of the disappearing lake and the social and environmental challenges that now plague the region of the Lake Chad basin. There was a final roadmap that accepted seven principal recommendations that:

  • The African Union should endorse the Inter-Basin Water Transfer (IBWT) initiative as a pan-African project to restore the Lake toward peace and security in the Lake Chad region and to promote navigation, industrial and economic development in the whole Congo basin.
  • The international technical and financial partners and donors to support this Lake Chad basin initiative through the financing of LCBC development programmes aimed at addressing the problems caused by the shrinking of the Lake.
  • The African Development Bank (AfDB) to facilitate the creation of the Lake Chad Fund of US $50 billion, to be sourced from African states and donations by Africa’s development partners to fund the Lake Chad IBWT and infrastructure projects.
  • Strengthen and build capacity of LCBC to handle the complex environmental and engineering challenges facing the project.
  • Strengthen security apparatus along the shores of the Lake to ensure commencement of studies and developmental activities.
  • Develop database of the genetic resources and biodiversity within the Lake Chad basin.
  • Undertake studies to establish the hydraulic conductivity of the Nubian sandstone aquifer with the basin.

This author is partial to the initiative to push for the reconstruction of the major system of canals, afforestation and polyfunctional areas in order to establish centres of regenerative agriculture to reverse the present direction of African economies.  In the conclusion we will state unequivocally that the present leadership is incapable of carrying forward the historic task of unifying Africa and the key requirement of the moment of saving Lake Chad.

The urgency of saving Lake Chad

Most of the dominant evidence point to the catastrophic outcomes of the drying up of Lake Chad. [[1]] Over the last 60 years, the Lake’s size has decreased by 95 percent as a result of extended drought, the impacts of the climate crisis and lower levels of rainfall in the region. In the presentation of Professor Charles Ichoku, satellite pictures from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) graphically presented what is known on the ground that the surface area of the lake has plummeted from 26,000 square kilometres in 1963 to less than 1,500 square kilometres. The reduction, which has been called an ecological disaster, has not only destroyed livelihoods but also led to the loss of invaluable biodiversity. Projections from satellite images indicated that by the end of this century without massive intervention the Kalahari Desert and the Sahara Desert would meet deepening the trends of the desertification of Africa.

The Lake Chad basin is about eight percent of the size of Africa and is shared by Algeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Nigeria, Niger and Sudan. These eight countries have an estimated population of 373.6 million with 12 percent estimated in 2013 living around the Lake Chad region. Together with the Congo River basin, these two basins constitute more than 21 percent of the size of Africa and have become crucial to the project of reversing global warming and its disastrous effects. The deliberations pointed to one unspoken fact, there could be no saving of Lake Chad without the unification of the water resources of the inter-lacustrine region with the underground water resources in the aquifers in the present regions of Central and North Africa.

An estimated population of 40 million depends on Lake Chad for crop and livestock farming, fishing, commerce and trade. Most of the countries located in this region are among the most exploited in Africa with the state of France doggedly holding on to control of those states (where the official language is French) through currency manipulation, lopsided trade arrangements, installation of occupiers (called experts), military occupation, cultural arrogance and intellectual bullying. The Lake is also a source of water for the spirits of the region, water for drinking, sanitation and all aspects of keeping life and limb together. Lake Chad and its islands in the past also offered a unique social and cultural environment contributing to the rich diversity of the region cementing those characteristics that Cheikh Anta Diop had identified in what he outlined in the cultural unity of Africa. The values of fractal optimism and harmony with the water and environment have been shattered by the loss of over 95 percent of the water along with the economic retrogression that has followed.

In the 1960s, the lake hosted about 135 species of fish and fishermen captured 200,000 metric tonnes of fish every year, providing an important source of food security and income to the basin’s populace and beyond. During this period, it is estimated that there were about 20,000 commercial fish sellers in Chad alone. It is agreed by most progressive policy makers that with the emergence of the era of neo-liberalism where the international financial institutions pressured the governments to abandon social services, there has been mass migration of people and animals from place to place in search of water and greener pasture. Consequently unemployed youths who wander from this region fall prey to extremists who offer life now and in the hereafter with promises. Nomadic pastoralists and the youths recruited into the phenomenon called Boko Haram are two of the clear consequences of the impacts of drought and climate breakdown in the Lake Chad region. This reality has meant that the intergovernmental body called LCBC is also the coordinator of the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), the militarised force to diminish Boko Haram.

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria in his delivery to the conference captured the urgency of saving Lake Chad when he stated, “The time to act is now. The time to bail out the region is now. The time to show our humanity is now.”

The deliberations

The conference was opened with the usual cultural performances and the ritual of salutations to government officials, diplomats, notables, UN agencies (UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations—FAO, the United Nations Development Programme—UNDP, and the United Nations Environment Programme—UNEP and important personages in the meeting. The Vice President of Nigeria carried out the official opening. Nigeria was the host of the meeting through the Ministry of Water acting with the LCBC. The third working day of the conference doubled as a meeting of the heads of state of the LCBC.

Five plenary sessions were held; the first four sessions held on 26 February 2018 and the fifth session was held the following morning. A lead paper was presented in each session by an expert that spoke to the five sub themes of the conference. The sub themes were (i). Restoration of Lake Chad: Scientific and technical innovations; (ii). Lake Chad water transfer: Prospects, challenges, and solutions; (iii). Social, environmental, cultural, and educational aspects in the current context; (iv). Security and regional cooperation aspects with a view to restoring peace in the Lake Chad basin; and (v). Funding of approved options.

The titles of the lead papers were according to the following topics: (1) Environment and Security; (2) Dynamics of the Water Resources within the Lake Chad Basin; (3) Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and Importance of Data: Case Study of the Lake Chad Basin; (4) LCBC/CIMA International - Feasibility Study of Ubangi Water Transfer; and (5) Ubangi to Lake Chad Inter Basin Water Transfer and International Diplomacy. Along with the lead papers there were five syndicated technical or thematic sessions (sometimes called breakout sessions). A facilitator anchored each session and the paper presented was discussed by a panel of discussants before a general discussion by the delegates. Both the facilitators and discussants were experts in various aspects of water resources development and management. The full version of the organisation of the conference can be grasped from the web platform of the conference, https://lcbconference2017.ng/english/admin/media/5a686cdcc05321.51200650.pdf

For this writer, one of the most impressive aspects of the conference was the technical expertise of the Nigerian water engineers, hydrologists and climate scientists who have been studying the questions of the drying up of Lake Chad for decades. The linguistic and academic differences between Nigeria and the other member states of the LCBC were apparent throughout the meeting. The low levels of participation of academic and other researchers from French-speaking states of Central Africa Republic, Chad, Niger, or Cameroon was evident. The other limitation in the discussion was the sparse representation of participants and presenters from International Commission of the Congo-Ubangi-Sangha basin (CICOS).

Those who wanted action now

Although the general urgency of the question of saving Lake Chad was echoed by nearly every important speaker, it was the scholars and engineers from the North Eastern region of Nigeria who were the most forceful of the need for action right away. It was obvious from their representation in the meeting that some had followed the varying proposals that had been put forward. Slides showing the impact of the lowering of the water table in the North Eastern region graphically showed the impact on agriculture, fishing and livestock. Figures on the numbers of internally displaced persons inside Borno State was supposed to be over two million. There were an estimated seven million displaced in the metropolitan areas of Maiduguri, Ndjamena and surrounding urban areas in the past five years.

In the past year, the government of Nigeria worked to establish the North East Development Commission with the clear understanding that the problems of insecurity in that region were not simply a security/military question. One limitation of this new direction was the opening up of North Eastern Nigeria to a plethora of international non-governmental organisations that remain unaccountable to any form of supervision.

The participants from the regions most directly affected by the drying up of Lake Chad were righteously impatient because some had followed the decision making arrangements since 1985 where “The African Ministers’ Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in 1985 agreed to support the Lake Chad Basin Commission for an integrated development of the basin with the aim of halting the shrinking of the Lake and effective use of its natural resources.” In July 2000, The heads of state and government of the Lake Chad basin at the 10th summit held in N’djamena, Chad had agreed to mobilise US $ 6 million for the feasibility study of inter basin water transfer from Ubangi River in the Central African Republic to the Lake Chad. A five-year investment plan (FYIP 2013-2017) aimed at safeguarding the ecosystem of the basin was adopted at the 14th summit of LCBC heads of state and government held in N’Djamena, Chad on 30 April 2012. Among other aspects of the five-year investment plan was the water transfer project from Ubangi River to Lake Chad.

“ A donor conference with the aim of raising funds for the implementation   of   the   five-year   investment   plan   and   the national action plan was held in April 2014 in Bologna, Italy.”

These activists from principally Maiduguri University were clear. When will the meetings and planning stop and when will action start? What were the initiatives that could be undertaken by the governments of the basin countries prior to any grand scheme of water transfer? Some younger ones took the view that given the gestation period for the transfer of water from the inter-lacustrine region and the Congo River; there should be water transfer from the Benue River. Calmer heads who had studied this possibility elaborated on the consequences of this option and pointed to the studies that spelt out the differing implication of this option. One unscheduled presenter declared that there was a billionaire ready to spend US $10 billion to initiate a project that would start right away to save the lake and that there should be an examination of doing the job without going outside of Nigeria. The anti-regional and pan-African spirit embedded in the arguments was patently clear.

UNESCO and rolling out of BIOPALT – Man and the Biosphere

The second position that sought to gain a footing in this international meeting was that of UNESCO (which was supposed to be a co-sponsor of the conference). This position was articulated by the UNESCO Deputy Director-General, Getachew Engida, who officially launched the BIOsphere and Heritage of Lake Chad (BIOPALT) project on the opening day 26 February 2018. According to UNESCO, the BIOPALT project aims to increase knowledge of Lake Chad, restore wetlands, rehabilitate wildlife migration corridors and promote sustainable income-generating activities (https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1792)

The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO offered the olive branch of declaring that UNESCO would work with LCBC to establish two biosphere reserves and heritage sites.  Engida said,

“BIOPALT will help countries bordering the lake to work together to meet the management and preservation standards required for trans-boundary sites in the Lake Chad basin to Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage sites. Two biosphere reserves are currently established in the Lake Chad basin—Waza by Cameroon and Bamingui Bangoran by Central African Republic.  Also, two world heritage sites are established, which are Manovo-Gounda, Saint Floris National Park in Central African Republic and Lakes of Ounianga in Chad.”

When stripped bare of the call to “mobilise recent advances in science and international efforts to reverse environmental degradation” the position of UNESCO sounded similar to the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) experts who wanted nothing to be done to hurt wild game in the region.  It was clear that the position of UNESCO was that some of the statements about the future of Lake Chad were “alarmist.” According to the speech the project BIOPALT “involves a wide range of activities ranging from the establishment of an early warning system for droughts and floods, to the restoration of degraded ecosystems such as the habitats of elephant and Kouri cattle (Bos taurus longifrons) – the latter being an emblematic endemic species that plays an important role in social cohesion. The project also focuses attention on income-generating activities through the promotion of a green economy and the development of the basin’s natural resources. In particular, the project will help states prepare their application files for the creation of a trans-boundary biosphere reserve in the basin and nomination files for the designation of Lake Chad as a world heritage site. The three-year project is financed by the AfDB to the amount of US $ 6,456,000 and is implemented via a multi-sectoral approach involving all UNESCO sectors at headquarters and in the field.”

If this language obfuscated the real position of UNESCO, then it became clear in the other plenary presentation by the chief of section on Hydrological Systems and Water Scarcity, UNESCO, Paris. He made a presentation on integrated water resources management. At the plenary discussion I intervened and asked why UNESCO was presenting the World Bank position of water as a commodity with a price. What the hydrological systems section did not disclose was that when they were representing the Dublin statement on water and sustainable development, they were basically representing the World Bank argument that had been articulated in a paper by John Briscoe in 1996, “Water as an Economic Good: The Idea and What it Means in Practice.”[[2]] In a short discussion with the UNESCO officers I queried why there was not enough consideration given to the position of many in Africa that access to clean water should be a basic human right. This author is aware of the position adopted by UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. And adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements.

In his plenary presentation the hydrologist from UNESCO in Paris had sought refuge in placing heavy emphasis on sustainable development goals (SDGs) when there was a clear contradiction between the number six SDG that water and sanitation should be available to all and the World Bank neoliberal view that water has a price. The reality was that millions in Africa could not afford the pricing of water. There had been no reference by the presenter to the goals and aspirations of Agenda 2063 [of the African Union].

From PRODEBALT to PRESIBALT to BIOPALT

The position of UNESCO was a presentation of the French intellectuals of IRD that nothing should be done about the drying up of Lake Chad. The IRD had inspired the Lake Chad Basin Sustainable Development Programme (PRODEBALT), which had been rolled out by the AfDB in 2008. [[3]] This position of the French had been promoted in numerous studies over the past 30 years. The declared objective of PRODEBALT was to “Sustainably reduce poverty among the populations living on the resources of the Lake Chad basin.”

After the six years of this programme for sustainable development when the people of the region were clearly poorer, the AfDB in December 2014 launched the Programme to Rehabilitation and Strengthen the Resilience of Lake Chad Basin Systems (PRESIBALT). PRESIBALT was launched at a moment when the World Bank was representing itself as a knowledge bank and the AfDB mimicking its intellectual fountainhead promoted this initiative as the source of knowledge management.

“PRESIBALT will facilitate the rehabilitation of all hydrometeorological networks of the basin and the establishment of robust simulation tools for rational water resource management. Furthermore, the programme will build LCBC’s capacities to optimally use the regional database instituted by the water charter and finance basin water –resource - users fora for better information sharing.  In parallel, an early warning system and an agricultural information system will be set up to prevent the risk of natural disasters. Lastly, PRESIBALT will set up an integrated knowledge -sharing system on the programme activities which will be regularly disseminated via the LCBC website in order to build on and manage the knowledge and experiences.”[[4]]

If one should go by the results and consequences of the actions of the translation of knowledge management that PRESIBALT was to collect, this same posture was adopted at the conclusion of the plenary presentation on integrated water resources management by UNESCO. By the time PRESIBALT ended its information gathering, UNESCO assigned BIOPALT an additional task, that of promoting peace. This was the message that had been delivered months earlier by the Assistant Director-General for natural sciences at UNESCO, who had proclaimed in Ibadan, Nigeria that the “Lake Chad biosphere reserve will promote regional peace.” UNESCO officials in Paris seem to be unaware of the role of France in disturbing the peace in central Africa and the Sahel.

Basically BIOPALT through UNESCO will train 300 scientists, decision makers and community leaders in techniques of water resources management for the implementation of the BIOPALT project.

In the thinking of this author, saving Lake Chad will require a complete overhaul of the curriculum in Africa to train millions of hydrologists, engineers, climate scientists, social scientists and the intellectual cadres to meet the challenges of the drying up of Lake Chad. The UNESCO plan smacked of a minimalist interference to ensure that select schools were further integrated into the IRD intellectual networks that hid behind environmentalism to plan to do nothing about the drying up of Lake Chad.

Once the stark differences between the neo liberal line of UNESCO that water had a price was spelt out in the opening plenary session, young activists from diverse backgrounds came forward and said that the question of saving Lake Chad cannot be measured in monetary terms. The minister of Water Resources of Nigeria openly articulated respect for the participation of UNESCO and co-sponsoring this major international conference and stated that it was not the expectation of the Nigerian government for UNESCO to be involved in infrastructural projects because that was not their mandate.

The intellectual position of UNESCO on integrated water resource management had been embraced by the German technocrats of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) who carried out studies on the Lake Chad basin ecosystem. It seemed as if there had been an agreement on the division of labour on controlling information and studies. The French IRD would concentrate on the LCBC and the Germans through GIZ would concentrate on CICOS.

In any case after the first day, the conference ignored discussions on BIOPALT and there was simply a routine reference to this UNESCO plan in the final communiqué of the conference.

The Transaqua option to save Lake Chad

The third position was that of the transfer of water from the Congo to replenish Lake Chad. It was this option that carried the day and as stated earlier was stated in the road map for the future of Lake Chad that, “the inter-basin water transfer is no longer an option but a necessity.”

Mohammed Billa of LCBC gave the outline of the studies over the past 30 years, zeroing in on the CIMA consultancy that cost over US $5million. This money had been provided by the Nigerian state. The CIMA feasibility study declared that the water transfer was financially and technically feasible.

This option was rejected however, because the amount of water would not refill the Lake and 72 percent of the power at the proposed Palombo Dam would be used to pump the water from the Ubangi River to the Chari River, then to the Lake. One learnt that this option had been supported to get the government of the Central African Republic on board.

In light of the fact that so much power would be used to pump the water from the Ubangi River to Lake Chad, there were other proposals that were presented at the conference, such as the water transfer through the Ubangi using the solar option to power the pumps instead of hydroelectric dams. There was also the presentation of the Canadian group that proffered the plan of the TransAfrica Pipeline that would bring water from East to West Africa through an 8,000km pipeline crossing the north of Lake Chad as a supplement to the Great Green wall.

What was accepted for the conference and reflected in the Abuja declaration of the conference and of the meeting of the heads of state and government was the old plan of the Italian company Bonfica - Transaqua - that would tap the water from the lower reaches of the Congo River and build a series of polyfunctional areas along a 2400 km canal and water transfer system from the inter-lacustrine base of the Congo River to Lake Chad. The idea of Bonfica is to transfer about 100 million cubic meters of water per year from the Congo River basin to the Lake Chad and Sahel district. This represents three-four percent of the water that flows from the Congo River into the Atlantic Ocean. Marcelllo Vichi of the Bonfica Group in Italy had for many years been the main promoter of this Transaqua proposal, but even before Vichi, the German engineer Herman Sogel had proposed a broader scheme incorporating the water transfer and Willy Ley had outlined the possible multiplier effects of the inter-basin water transfer in the book, Engineers’ Dream.

Transaqua means across waters and from the maps and write up of this Italian company the complete 2400km canal system would tap waters from the Great Lakes region and others that feed into the first tributaries of the Congo River. The idea will be to transfer water across the lakes, rivers, tributaries and wetlands of Eastern Africa to join up with water resources of those regions now classified as Central Africa and West Africa. By its non-engagement with the Bonfica plan that has been around for over 30 years, UNESCO missed the opportunity to mobilise scientists to fully study the implications of such a massive integrated water transfer scheme.

The agreed water transfer option will include an inter–African polyfunctional trading area (IPTA) (equipped for the containers exchange in order to allow connection of Mombasa, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria to the oceanic ports). The Mombasa to Lagos highway would be part of the New Silk Road of the :One Belt One Road” plan that had been outlined by the Chinese government.

There would also be regulation of the water flow regime on the affected rivers in order to make them navigable. This canal system would intersect with the construction of a major inland port in the country now called Central African Republic. There would be a road system beside the canal.

The Italian ambassador announced in the conference that the Italian government would donate € 1.8 million for the environmental and engineering study. The plan was that this would be a US $70 billion over 30 years. One of the discussants reminded the Italians that in 1994 they had stated that the environmental assessment plan would cost over US $ 10 million.  Why was € 1.8 million been offered more than 24 years later?

The Chinese company, Power Africa, had signed a memorandum of understanding with the LCBC and are, or will be doing a feasibility study. It was the expectation that they would have reported on where they had reached since signing the memorandum of understanding with the LCBC in December 2016. Instead the Chinese made a presentation on the water transfer from South China to North China.

Cooperation between “development partners”

The language of the conference carried forward the idea that western European states were “development” partners of Africa. Hence, the usual discourses on public private partnerships and accountable governance abounded in the meeting. Within the syndicated session where the Italians were presenting, after the rollout of the maps of Transaqua, the Bonfica representatives called for cooperation between the African Union, China and the European Union. The question was raised to the Italians whether they could bring along the French to share their enthusiasm of the inter-basin water transfer scheme.

Many Africans are still unaware that French multinational companies such as Suez-Ondeo, Vivendi-Veolia, and Bouygues-SAUR are competing with other major European water companies such as RWE-Thames Water (Germany) and AWG- Anglian (Great Britain) in the water business. The unspoken question of the meeting was the influence of large water privatisation companies such as Veolia in discussions on the future of water resources in Africa. The water activists around the world have been able to reveal consistent prioritisation of private profit at the expense of the environment and public interest. Hence, when the LCBC promotes the idea of public private partnerships to save Lake Chad, it is not clear that the scholars in N’djamena have followed the controversies surrounding French water companies around the world. The dominance of French institutions in the French speaking countries ensures that there is no comparable study such as “Money down the drain: How private control of water waste public resources”. [[5]]

Debates within the academy about the future of water wars all start from the position that water is a scarce commodity with the figures from international organisations of the millions of persons in Africa facing water stress. The ideals of sharing, cooperation and cleanliness have been jettisoned in the era of neoliberalism so that the idea that access to water is a human right is now as alien as the idea that food, clothing and shelter were basic rights for humans.

There was the query of whether the Germans would cease sitting on the fence about water transfer schemes and make their position clear. Through the German organisation, the GIZ, there had been the publication of glossy texts on the “Report in the State of the Lake Chad Ecosystem”. In 2017, the German Chancellor had travelled around Africa calling for a “Marshall Plan for Africa”.

There was more than one statement from the plenary floor that the Africans should focus on stemming illicit capital flows and drop the constant babble about public private partnership and cooperation with “development partners”. It was hammered home that the so-called “donors” could not be the basis for the financing of such an important pan-African venture as replenishing Lake Chad. In the end there was the call for the AfDB to establish the US $50 billion fund to finance the inter-basin water transfer scheme. The communiqué of the conference states in part that,

“The African Development Bank to facilitate the creation of the Lake Chad Fund of US $50 billion, to be sourced from African states and donations by Africa’s development partners to fund the Lake Chad IBWT and infrastructure projects.”

What remains clear, however, was that the AfDB in its present conceptual persuasion could not be the vehicle for project of saving Lake Chad. In January 2018, a branch of the AfDB was opened in Abuja, Nigeria and in the medium term the intellectual and social ferment that is raging in Nigeria cannot be kept out of the decision-making frameworks of the bank.

Responsibility of the African Union

In the past, the leaders of the Lake Chad basin had treated the drying up of the lake as a regional issue. The projections that by 2050 average temperatures will have increased by approximately 2 to 3° C with dire consequences for the entire planet has focused attention that the challenges involved with the drying up of the Lake were not only a regional or pan-African matter, but a global question. It was thus quite noticeable that the African Union representation was at a very low level while there were clear and concise statements from the Secretary General of the United Nations and from the UN representative to Economic Community of West African States, Chambas.

The more the discussion veered toward the question of the waters of the Congo basin, the more it became clear that the planning for Lake Chad had to be done on a continental and pan-African scale.  More importantly, the conference pointed to the low level of understanding of the issues by many presenters. The principal parties had engaged in knowledge management to the point where many in the hall could not properly follow the disputations. What was evident was that the varying water companies were there to collect information, but the biggest water companies in the world could hide behind international organisations that supported the idea of the privatisation of water.

Representatives from the Congo and CICOS drew attention to the need for more studies and clear environmental studies. They also drew attention to the growing demands for water transfer to Southern Africa. The references to the current water crisis in Cape Town pointed to the fact that the Southern African Development Cooperation states were also looking to the Congo Basin for water transfer schemes to ameliorate the growing water shortage in the Southern Africa region.

Future of capitalism in Nigeria

The Nigerian society reflects all of the scourges of present day capitalism and the low regard for human life. The rush for profit in that society has given rise to the crudest forms of primitive accumulation. The Nigerian working people constitute the numerical force that can shake the foundations of Babylon in Africa. The Nigeria Labour Congress held its 40th congress and the evidence of a vibrant working class movement echoed all across the country even to those attending the Lake Chad meeting. Oppressed Nigerian women continue to claim spaces for dignity.

In the official documents on water there is the repetition of the mantra that “women play a key role for water resource management and that gender mainstreaming is essential”.  “Women of all classes are demanding their basic rights”, but it is the women from the producing classes who bear the brunt of capitalist exploitation who are at the forefront of demanding structural changes to the way life is organised. Boko Haram kidnap women but others promote religious dogma that seeks to remove women from public spaces and remove their voices in the struggles for dignity. Yet, it is from this society with close to 200 million souls where the contestation about the future of capitalism in Africa is fiercest. One could see this contestation in the conference and the outcome reflected the fact that there are still major struggles ongoing.

The leadership signed on to the following, even though their day to day political actions contradict the spirit of these resolutions:

  • The various studies carried out showing that there is no solution to the shrinking of Lake Chad that does not involve recharging the Lake by transfer of water from outside the basin.
  • That inter-basin water transfer is not an option; but a necessity.
  • That failure to take appropriate and timely action, will result in Lake Chad completely drying up soon and that would cause humanitarian crisis, pose serious security challenges, not only for the region, but for the entire African continent and the world.
  • The Transaqua project, which would take water from the right tributary of River Congo, conveying the water through a 2,000km channel to Chari River, is the preferred feasible option. [[6]]

The statements of the conference follow the position of the Kwame Nkrumah Chair that the question of the restoration of Lake Chad was a pan-African issue. The acceptance of this reality becomes even more important when the option considered most viable for saving Lake Chad is understood in terms of its connections with all the various parts of continental Africa.

Despite the fact that there were sessions that dealt with funding the project, the final position was that the AfDB should establish a US $50 billion infrastructure fund. This writer maintained that the money for the restoration of Lake Chad would be done when the Nigerian state repatriate the US $350 billion held by Nigerians overseas.

In my personal opinion, four factors will be needed

1. Social peace - biggest task;

2. Political will;

3. Use of African resources;

4. Mobilising the mass of the people on the meaning of global warming for Africa.

Only a concerted movement that is based on full mobilisation of the people all across Africa and the world can stop the drying up of Lake Chad. Thus far the focus has been on studies, on lobbying “development partners” and seeking resources for the feasibility studies, but the evidence from BIOPALT and the green alternatives from the AFDB point to the dead end of the UN/World Bank approaches of the past 25 years. Thus far, the question of saving Lake Chad has not sought to fully mobilise the climate justice activists in Africa and internationally. For example, one did not see the energies of the forces that produced the book, To Cook a Continent within the context of the discussion on saving Lake Chad. The activists of the progressive global pan-African movement believe that those vested in saving Lake Chad will have to unite with the progressive women’s movement across Africa, those struggling for regenerative agriculture, the peace and social justice movements, the environmental justice movements, students and poor farmers, labour movements and the international progressive movement to strengthen the alternative to the upside down world shaped by fossil fuels and corporate power

In observing the spectacle of the heads of states and the posturing of leaders such as Ali Bongo of Gabon promising satellite services to monitor the Lake, the fundamental question was that none of the present political class in the six states present could carry out the historical task of saving Lake Chad.

There will be the need for a massive social movement with social change of epic propositions to bring about the steps needed to restore Lake Chad. Of course, this will mean a fundamental challenge to capitalism in Africa.

It was based on this analysis why I felt that UNESCO in taking the position of the French water companies and IRD was lining up with the neoliberal blather of water as a commodity. It was one thing to read this from Lemoalle and intellectuals from the IRD, but for Africans, to read and propose such ideas reflected the way that UN agencies have been captured by neoliberalism. It was important that in reaction to the intervention that UNESCO is following the lines of commodifying water one of its officials later opined to reassure participants that UNESCO does not align with the view that water has a price.

The youths are impatient. They understand the way the states of the region are organised.

France can seek to postpone the social upheaval by its counter terror offensive which is meant to save the franc de la communiqué financière de l’Afrique, but it cannot hold back the drive for cooperation in Africa especially in the case where pan-African waters are leading the way and the youths are increasing becoming aware of the French efforts to hinder transformation in Africa.

The most impressive aspect of the meeting was the degree of sophistication of the Nigerian scholars and technicians who have been labouring on these questions for over 40 years. I believe that African intellectuals in UNESCO do not have to read speeches given to them and not do what the Director-General did on the conference Monday [26 February 2018] in Abuja.

Progressive forces in all parts of the pan-African world will have to work hard for climate change and system change.

It is clear that saving Lake Chad cannot be undertaken within the context of the organisation of the present international economic and social system.

 

* Professor Horace G. Campbell is the distinguished Kwame Nkrumah Chair of African Studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana. He is the author of the book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney and most recently, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons For Africa in the Forging of African Unity

Endnotes

 

[1] The expert group of intellectuals mobilized by the French IRD (the Institut de Recherche pour le développement (IRD). This is a French public scientific and technological institution operating under the joint authority of the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They term the idea of the drying up of Lake Chad as Alarmist. See Lemoalle J., Magrin G. (dir.), 2014 – Development of Lake Chad: current situation and possible outcomes. Marseille, IRD Editions, Expert group review collection, bilingual French/English edition.

[2] John Briscoe, WATER AS AN ECONOMIC GOOD: THE IDEA AND WHAT IT MEANS IN PRACTICE, World Bank 1996, http://jzjz.tripod.com/icid16.html. See also Diana C. Gibbons. The Economic Value of Water. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 1986.

[5] Money Down the Drain: How Private Control of Water Waste Public Resources, Food andwater watch, 2009, https://www.inthepublicinterest.org/wp-content/uploads/MoneyDownDrain.pdf. See also Prud'homme, Alex (2011). The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century (1st ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p

Tags: