"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy
On the 24th of January before dawn, the communities of Chococoma and Chirodzi N’sanangue, in the province of Tete, woke up to the fury of the waters from the Zambezi River. According to the testimonies of the communities, and the evidence found
at the site, the Cahora Bassa Hydroelectric dam (HCB) had opened its floodgates without any warning that would have allowed them to protect themselves and their belongings. At least 51 families in these two communities have lost their machambas (vegetable fields), probably many more. Fisherfolk lost their fishing nets and even some boats.
If HCB really opened its floodgates without having the decency to warn people who live downstream, this is a huge irresponsibility to say the least.
What will happen to these families that have lost their livelihoods? During last year’s rainy season, 2020, there was a similar incident and several families lost their fields. Until when will this irresponsibility and impunity last?
Before HCB was “ours”, unannounced releases were blamed on the Portuguese, who did not care for the people. And now, what’s the excuse?
For those who still have the illusion that mega dams protect us from floods, may the recurrent examples from HCB serve as a lesson. Mega dams, in order to produce hydroelectric energy and be profitable, have to store as much water as possible. Therefore, when it rains upstream of the dam site, instead of making small discharges so as to not accumulate too much water, they only think about profit, and keep the floodgates closed. When the water becomes really too much, they are forced to make urgent discharges, and often without notice.
Everyone needs energy, but we can no longer cover our eyes in front of these and so many other impacts of mega dams – directly related to their intrinsic characteristics, the objectives for which they are built, and the priorities of those who manage them.
There are enough alternatives to mega dams to abandon them once and for all. Clean, safe, decentralized, and community-owned energy solutions not only have the potential to solve the country’s energy poverty, but are also solutions to many of the other crises we face today – climate, inequality, unemployment, democracy. Irresponsibility and impunity must end, peoples’ needs must be above profit!
Dear managers of the HCB dam, the Mozambican State, other shareholders, it is your responsibility to investigate this case in detail and compensate the communities for the damages caused by your irresponsible discharges and without sufficient and prior notice!
JA! will continue to do everything in our power so that communities are compensated for what they have lost. The videos and photos that follow are testimonies of the disgrace and injustice that these communities have been suffering.
The struggle continues to protect the Zambezi River, the riverine people and important ecosystems.
NO more dams in the Zambezi! NO to Mphanda Nkuwa! #MphandaNkuwaNao
The Zambezi River is the 4th largest river in Africa, and an estimated 32 million people live on its banks, of which 80% depend directly on the river for their livelihood, through agriculture and fishing and other related activities1,2.
The Zambezi River already has two mega-dams, Cahora Bassa in Mozambique and Kariba in Zimbabwe, which have been causing significant damage to ecosystems and to the lives of local downstream communities. To worsen this scenario, the Mozambican government recently announced, as a priority, the construction of yet another hydroelectric mega-dam on the Zambezi River, the Mphanda Nkuwa dam.
The site chosen for the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam is only 70km downstream from the Cahora Bassa dam. If built, Mphanda Nkuwa will probably be the last “nail in the coffin” of the Zambezi River, and will result in the destruction of the river’s ecosystem and its delta, negatively affecting the lives of thousands of families living on the site and downstream from the dam. In addition to the high social and environmental impacts, it is estimated that the construction of the dam will cost about US $ 4 billion3. The dam is also expected to have an installed capacity of around 1300MW, however Eskom, which will be the main buyer of this energy, is one of the companies that buys energy from the Cahora Bassa dam at one of the lowest prices in the world. On the other hand, in Mozambique we pay one of the highest energy rates in Africa, even though we produce more energy than we demand internally and that the Cahora Bassa dam is “ours”.
The terms in which the Mphanda Nkuwa hydroelectric project was conceived is not in accordance with the fundamental objectives of the Mozambican State enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution of the Republic, especially with regard to human rights and balanced development.
The matters relating to access to information and effective public participation in the decision-making process on the Mphanda Nkuwa project have not been respected, thus relevant and detailed information that gives room for understanding and participation in the project is not in the public domain.
The Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights enshrines the right to the development of local communities and the use of natural resources for the benefit of the people, which may be compromised with the materialisation of the Mphanda Nkuwa project.
In turn, the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources defends
that development programs and/or projects are required to be ecologically rational, economically capable and socially acceptable, in addition to the concern of sustainable use of natural resources. This is not envisioned in the Mphanda Nkuwa project, as explained below.
How did we get here?
In the 90s, the UTIP (Hydroelectric Projects Implementation Unit for its acronym in Portuguese) was created with the mandate to implement the project proposal of Mphanda Nkuwa. Thousands of dollars were spent on feasibility studies (obviously, it was never made known to the public how many there were), environmental impact assessment, and others, mostly of poor scientific quality.
In the 2000s, the Mphanda Nkwua consortium was established, in which EDM held 20%, Grupo Insitec held 40% and Camargo Corrêa the remaining 40%. More studies were done at this time, thousands more dollars were spent. The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was approved in 2011, with huge and serious gaps and unanswered questions and concerns from civil society. This consortium was also dissolved.
In late 2018, the Mphanda Nkwua project was again removed from the dusty drawer and relaunched as a government priority. In February 2019 the Mphanda Nkuwa Hydroelectric Project Implementation Office (called GMNK in its Portuguese acronym) was created, and in September the consortium was selected, which will then assist the government in this new phase of the project. Once again, thousands of dollars of public money will be spent on consulting and studies that, if they follow the previous examples, will remain in the category of “only God knows”!
Development for whom?
There is no doubt that energy is a fundamental and indispensable asset for the development of a nation. However, in order to guarantee sustainable development, the government must study and analyse the different sources of energy available and choose clean and renewable sources, guaranteeing the lowest social, environmental and economic impacts.
For a number of reasons, some of which are listed below, it is difficult to see what kind of development and benefits can be expected from a project like the Mphanda Nkuwa dam. According to projections of the EIS approved in 2011, about 80% of the energy produced will be for export, and the remaining 20% will allegedly be for internal use, to feed the energy-intensive industries that will be installed in that region. Despite the high financial costs, and the harmful social and environmental impacts that will result from the construction of this dam, the vast majority of Mozambicans will remain without access to electricity.
Mozambique needs to invest in decentralised clean energy systems – solar, wind, among others. Decentralisation and the diversity of energy sources are essential to guarantee a just, inclusive, and affordable energy revolution that guarantees access to energy for all citizens of the country.
The serious problems of the latest EIS
The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Mphanda Nkuwa dam was approved in 2011, but the questions and concerns raised by various organisations and individuals remain unanswered4. Below are some of these concerns, which have also been raised on numerous occasions in recent years, including during the Environmental Pre-Feasibility and Scope Definition Study (EPDA – initials in Portuguese) and in the process of drafting the previous EIS Terms of Reference.
1. Cumulative impacts.
There was a weak framing of this project in terms of its cumulative impacts, not only taking into account the existing projects in the Zambezi basin, but also those planned and predicted, which somehow compete for the same resources or interfere with each other in its use. For a project of this scope, the most appropriate would be to frame the studies in the dynamics of the hydrographic basin, considering social, environmental and economic aspects, contrary to what has been the norm, that is, the separate and individual analysis of projects without any consideration of the cumulative impacts in the basin. It is necessary to take into account that the socio-environmental effects and impacts are synergistic, not limited to the place where the dam is built. In this case, the impacts of the various dams already existing in this River, such as Kariba, Kafue, Itezhi-Tezhi, Cahora Bassa and others, must be accounted for.
2. Seismicity analysis.
Mphanda Nkwua is located in the Chitima-Tchareca seismic zone. The EIS determines that the largest magnitude earthquake in the proposed dam area is only 6.4 on the Richter scale, relying excessively on one of the studies that analyses the faults in the area. However, there are several other studies that identify major flaws that have not been properly considered and that indicate the occurrence of earthquakes of magnitude more than 10 times greater than that mentioned in the EIS. There are several cases, such as in Japan and even in Mozambique in 2006, in which the magnitude of the earthquakes that occurred was much higher than what had been predicted using methods similar to the one used in the present EIS.
The work team did not properly consult the seismology specialists who have dedicated themselves to studying the area under analysis. Some of these experts raised concerns about the EIS’ conclusions, and a renowned expert with proven experience in the field (Chris J.H. Hartnady) even sent an analysis of the seismic risks of the project, in which he presents concerns, recommendations and conclusions that were not considered by the work team5.
3. Climate change.
The EIS considers that there will be no significant impacts of climate change on the Zambezi River. This observation goes against the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that “the Zambezi basin will potentially face the worst effects of climate change. This will probably suffer a substantial reduction in rainfall of around 10-15%”.
In line with the results mentioned above, a 2010 scientific article written by Beck and Bernauer (using SRES data), on water scenarios for the Zambezi River basin from 2000 – 2050, predicts flow reduction in the Zambezi Delta (without the construction of Mphanda Nkuwa) between 5% and 43%, depending on the scenario used.
In 2012, scientist Richard Beilfuss, in his study on climate change and dams in Southern Africa, warns that “The dams that are currently being proposed and built may result in economically unviable dams, with underwhelming performance in case of more extreme droughts, and they can also be a danger, as they were not designed to deal with increasingly destructive floods ”.
We cannot ignore the warnings of internationally recognized scientists and lightly decide to build another dam in this very important ecosystem.
With a total basin area of 1,570,000 km2, the Zambezi gathers water, nutrients and sediments from 7 countries. Currently, almost 90% of the Zambezi River is regulated by large dams. This has devastating impacts along the lower Zambezi. The amount of sediment determines the shape and pattern of the riverbed, and the sediment nutrients influence the productivity of floodplains and soil and the health of vegetation.
The few remaining unregulated tributaries are believed to be vital to the ecological maintenance of the system. The proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam will block the Luia River, which is believed to be a major source of sediment for the Zambezi, particularly during the flood season. This has been a concern of civil society and several experts, who have been asking that Luia’s contribution in terms of sediment and nutrients be properly analysed, which would allow a better understanding of the impacts of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the system as a whole. Unfortunately, the EIS did not analyse the importance of capturing Luia in the sediment dynamics of the lower Zambezi in a scientifically valid method. The sample size was the minimum allowed for statistical analysis (only 3 samples), and the EIS team itself admitted that this analysis was statistically weak. The types of methods used for sampling did not cover the required range to allow reliable results, and the samples did not cover the variety of flows throughout the river system. In highly variable river systems such as Zambezi, up to 80% of sediments can be transported during the flood season, so it is crucial to collect samples during this period, which was not done in the referred EIS.
5. Local Communities
There has not yet been a decision regarding the flow regime in which the dam will operate (base-load or mid-merit), and the study does not present a plan for the resettlement of local communities, making it impossible to assess or predict which are the real risks and impacts for those who will be most directly affected.
As for possible resettlement sites for local communities, sites both in unexplored areas and in the areas of the Marara district (at the time of the EIS, Changara district) are said to be considered. Apart from being unacceptable to plan a large construction project like this without the proper resettlement plans, many of the proposed resettlement areas already have other communities living there.
The study also pays very little attention to impacts for communities living downstream. There is no explanation of how they might be affected, except for a few vague statements. Furthermore, a compensation for these people is not mentioned, regarding the losses that they may suffer. This is in contradiction with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams (WCD).
Other problems related to this matter concern the rhetoric and biased assumptions used in the study, which considers the downstream communities only as population density. There is no mention of the total number of people living in this watershed, and therefore, the reader is left with no real sense of the level of interference that the construction of the dam may have on rural livelihoods.
It is also expected that the project will create some permanent jobs, but it will displace hundreds of people and affect thousands more downstream. However, the EIS only mentioned the jobs generated during the peak construction period, creating a false notion that it would generate a lot of jobs – however, most of these jobs are temporary. Residents in the Zambezi River basin will bear the serious impacts of the project, but the benefits will be for large transnational companies and for national political and economic elites.
6. EIS’ conclusions.
The conclusions in the EIS are presented as being valid and of high scientific confidence, the report does not present its limitations, it does not mention the weakness of the data that enabled the analysis and the level of confidence of the results obtained. Only when confronted with the numerous questions presented above did the experts acknowledge the limitation of their data, which was then justified by the limited time and funds available for sampling (as in the case of the sediment and seismicity sections). However, these issues have become central to the concerns of civil society and experts for many years, more than enough time to collect the necessary information.
The concerns raised and, until today, unanswered lead us to question the feasibility and confidence of the studies conducted so far, and the real motivations behind this project. We reiterate that the social, environmental, economic and climatic risks of Mphanda Nkuwa have not yet been fully studied and the construction of this dam could have devastating consequences for the Zambezi River, for the people who are most dependent on this ecosystem, and for all Mozambicans.
Why do we say NO to the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam?
The concerns raised over the past few years and not yet answered, as well as the lack of transparency and openness that have characterized the different moments of this project until today, inevitably lead to questions about the confidence of the studies conducted so far;
The real motivations behind this project; and its viability. The social, environmental, economic and climatic risks of Mphanda Nkuwa have not yet been thoroughly analysed, and studies carried out so far indicate that the construction of this dam could have devastating consequences for the Zambezi River; for the people who are most dependent on this ecosystem; and for the country as a whole.
In addition to the issues raised so far, a mega-dam such as this represents an enormous financial risk in the current context – taking into account the volatility of the global energy and commodities markets; the climate crisis that will demand an energy transition from States; and the challenges of governance, corruption and transparency that the country has been facing.
Thus, the undersigned individuals and organisations demand that the government of Mozambique fully clarify the outlines, objectives and rationale behind this “priority” project, including:
Where does the investment come from and what is the payoff?
Why is this project a priority for the country, taking into account our levels of poverty and inequality; that thousands of children have no place in school, and that there is still no adequate health care for everyone?
What is the reason for insisting on this project, which has been abandoned so many times? What other interests are there behind a project of this magnitude?
Have other energy alternatives been considered? If so, which ones?
Who will be responsible for compensating communities that have lived with their mortgaged future for 20 years, without being able to invest in their community and in the necessary infrastructure, for fear of losing their investments, since in 2000 they were advised by the government not to build any new infrastructure?
What is the real purpose of the dam and what hypothetical gains do the government think it would bring to the country in the short and long term, including how does it plan to make the project profitable?
We also demand that there is an open and inclusive dialogue between the government, civil society and specialists from different areas related to this project, where decisions can be made regarding the required studies to answer the various questions of concern, which include:
The uncertainty about the flow regime in which the dam will operate (base-load or mid-merit);
The uncertainty about the area chosen for the resettlement of the communities directly affected;
The poor sediment analysis developed with insufficient data, which does not allow a valid scientific analysis;
The weak seismological analysis, without concrete data and with results and conclusions that contradict other studies conducted by renowned experts;
The weak analysis of the potential impacts of climate change and modification in water demand upstream of the dam, which will affect the economic viability of the project;
The fact that the guidelines of the World Commission on Dams were not considered or followed, particularly with regard to social and environmental rights and justice, among others;
Viable energy alternatives for the country, comparing and analysing the benefits and impacts of each;
The way in which the project will ensure that the benefits generated will not be appropriated by a small national political and economic elite, and by large transnational companies.
Without the elaboration of scientifically valid and impartial studies that answer all these questions and others that may arise, we, the undersigned, demand that the project be stopped. We also demand that an open, inclusive and profound dialogue be promoted around clean, fair and accessible energy solutions for all Mozambicans, in order to embark on sustainable development that guarantees the protection of the important ecosystems that guarantee life on the planet.
Lawyers, specialists and activists from Mozambique, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Brazil and the United States of America make strong criticisms of dominant powers and systems and share strategies to curb the power and impunity of large corporations *
Transnational corporations, international organisations and global trade architecture: guardians of neocolonialism?
In the last few decades, large transnational corporations have become incredibly powerful, even more powerful than many States, especially in the Global South, due to the advent of globalisation and the consequent expansion of neoliberal capitalism. In several southern countries, there has been a phenomenon of liberalisation of national and regional markets and a relaxation of the legal and institutional framework, mainly in the environmental and labour sectors, as well as conditioning social and economic policies in favor of the private sector. Associated with this, the corporate power lobby has led to the privatisation of democracy and the usurpation of public sectors, making transnational corporations profit even from the provision of services that should be the responsibility of States, such as health and education, with high costs for most citizens.
Mozambique: World Bank Neoliberal Policies and the Collapse of the Cashew Industry
Máriam Abbas, a researcher at the Observatório do Meio Rural in Mozambique, spoke of the collapse of the cashew industry in the country, a very vibrant sector between 1960 and the early 1970s, a period in which Mozambique became the largest producer of cashew nuts in the world. With the nationalisation of some factories, many owners left the country, ceasing their investments. Associated with this, the civil war contributed significantly to the destruction of the cajual. However, the most important reason for the sharp decline of the Mozambican cashew industry has to do with the imposition, by the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – since the country was forced to implement the structural adjustment programme from the 1980s – that Mozambique liberalised and privatised the cashew sector. This was a condition for the country to access financing of US $ 400 million.
Neocolonialism, transnational corporations and the global trade architecture
According to Nnimmo Bassey of the organisation HOMEF, Nigeria, neocolonial extractivism thrives on the irresponsible exploitation of nature and work. The theft of Africa’s natural resources by large companies and domestic elites is an open secret. It is believed that around $ 50 billion has been lost annually over the past 50 years through illicit financial flows. This sum exceeds the economic aid that the continent receives annually.
Bassey stressed that “transnational corporations and international financial institutions are the main guardians of neocolonialism, and that foreign direct investment (FDI) remains one of the fundamental instruments of‘ benign ’neocolonialism”. Nations compete for foreign investment and, in doing so, lower norms and regulatory barriers to ensure ease of doing business. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other institutions of globalisation have systematically imposed economic conditionalities on the former colonies and thus guaranteed the perpetuation of North-South exploitation.
Agrarian capital and global food systems
Timothy A. Wise of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), United States of America, looked at the agricultural ‘modernisation’ agenda to be imposed by major world powers in the Global South, such as the so-called Green Revolution in Africa – which practically translates into the usurpation of community lands, imposing large-scale plantations and monocultures. However, these initiatives have been failing, such as the case of ProSAVANA in Mozambique, which has largely failed due to the resistance of Mozambican civil society.
The corporate narrative insists that peasant seeds are unproductive, and their agricultural systems and practices are backward. They then argue that farmers need support with fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, pesticides and other inputs which production and markets are controlled and dominated by transnational companies. Transnational companies like Monsanto then press for the adoption of new seed laws (and their patents), making the collection, treatment and exchange of native seeds among peasants illegal. The Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, for example, has received about $ 1 billion in funding over the past 14 years, and has instituted an input subsidy programme, giving coupons to farmers to buy commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers and other agricultural inputs to companies. This is, in fact, a great scheme to divert important public funds to these corporations
Review of land policy in Mozambique
The issue of revision of land policy in Mozambique was also the subject of heated debate during the webinar. The lack of transparency that has characterised the beginning of this process seems to confirm that what is behind this review are harmful interests. Speakers and some webinar participants reiterated that greater involvement of peasants and civil society is needed to strengthen resistance, maintain vigilance, and monitor and report attempts to commercialize land and natural resources as a whole.
Megaprojects in Africa: engines for the development or enrichment of elites?
Megaprojects across the African continent represent utopian visions of development, progress and growth anchored in colonial and extractive ideas. As explained by Ruth Nyambura, an ecofeminist activist from Kenya, megaprojects bring a very hierarchical and top-down approach, and are intrinsically masculinist, where the State or companies impose on the local population the projects that were previously decided without any involvement of these populations.
Megaprojects penetrate national development plans, where the State decides to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure that benefits the country’s elites and large corporations. Given that the majority of peasants in Africa are women, it is quite worrying that agricultural megaprojects are highly harmful to women, and invariably exclude them from real participation. The only space that seems to exist for women in this type of projects is the space for women entrepreneurs, bringing a naive conception that African women can emancipate themselves through entrepreneurship, and Nyambura reiterated that this narrative ignores the structures and structurally patriarchal dynamics of our societies.
Natural resources, hydrocarbons and the mining sector in Mozambique
Natural resources, hydrocarbons and the mining sector present themselves as sectors that will bring large investments to countries, with promises of high revenues for the State and leverage of the economy. However, megaprojects in this area have not been bringing satisfactory results to the country, explained Inocência Mapisse, a researcher at the Center for Public Integrity (Centro de Integridade Pública – CIP).
In Mozambique, as in other places, the extractive sector has a low capacity for hiring labor, since – by their nature – these projects are capital intensive but absorb very few human resources. A CIP study in 2017 shows that the extractive sector in Mozambique contributed only 1% to job creation. In terms of tax revenue, 42% of what is exported in Mozambique comes from the extractive sector, however, for example, in 2014, mega projects in the extractive sector contributed only 5% of total tax revenue – and this scenario is common across the region Southern Africa.
Political economy of natural resources: impacts and implications of megaprojects and extractivism
Mozambique is not a rare case – across the continent the scenario repeats itself. To date, the extractive industry has not lifted any African country out of poverty. On the contrary, there is a tendency to exacerbate conflicts and the indebtedness of countries highly dependent on the extractive sector. On this topic, Daniel Ribeiro, from Justiça Ambiental (JA!), warned that Mozambique is betting on natural gas, a resource whose price fluctuates a lot. Projections are made with optimistic market values – there is a lot of pressure to do so – and therefore they entice States with the revenue potential of these projects, but they ignore several factors including the drop in global prices, which is more and more frequent. “This decline has a very strong impact on the economy and destroy what may have been achieved during the period of high prices,” explained Ribeiro. In addition, with more optimistic projections, loan facilities increase, encouraging a propensity to contract debts (as happened in Mozambique); more expectations are created in local and national populations regarding the alleged benefits of the project, and consequently the levels of frustration, social tension and instability increase when these promises or expectations are not fulfilled.
Finally, Ribeiro stressed that the fundamental structure of investments in the extractive industry, combined with the lack of transparency that characterises the sector, make us very susceptible to corruption. This further reduces the already slim chances that these projects will contribute to improving the living conditions of the population.
Justice and human rights in Mozambique and in the world: from the implementation challenges to the perpetuation of impunity. What alternatives and resistance are being built?
Human rights lawyer and defender João Nhampossa argued that Mozambique is in a terrible situation with regard to the violation of human rights of local communities due to the exploitation of natural resources by several companies. He also stated that a culture of impunity prevails in the country. Focusing on some emblematic cases such as mining companies in Tete and gas companies in Cabo Delgado, Nhampossa spoke about the human rights violations associated with land loss, a common feature of all these megaprojects. Local communities end up being marginalised and left in a precarious situation after resettlement processes that do not comply with national legislation – which clearly stipulates that the living conditions of resettled populations must be equivalent or better than before resettlement. These people have been trying to use democratic spaces to demand justice and dignity, but when they appeal to the government, it refers the responsibility of restoring land, livelihoods, or access to water to the company, but when the company is approached, it refrains from any responsibility and sends communities back to the government.
Unfortunately, judicial processes on human rights violations in the courts are not treated as an urgent and priority matter, and when dealing with politically sensitive cases, the courts use artifices to avoid adjudicating in favor of the communities. The injustices inherent to processes of land loss and inadequate resettlement lead to social upheavals and protests, which are invariably answered with police repression and violence.
North-South asymmetries and architecture of impunity
The academic Giverage Amaral defended that, around the world, the definition of an ideal or exemplary human being is very much linked to Western conceptions that do not dialogue much with local narratives in countries like Mozambique. He also argued that globalisation has become an asphyxiating process of domination over local logic, and that it has brought ecological, political and economic risks, instead of the social benefits it had promised. The colonisation logic comes with neocolonial corporate names, between donors and investors. States are threatened, sanctioned or prosecuted for standing against the interests of global capital, such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ecuador, and so many others.
Nowadays, we have witnessed an increase in various forms of violence, with a particular incidence in areas of extractive exploitation. Alongside this, companies find new ways to remain in impunity and to capture our States – which become accomplices and active parties in these crimes.
Limitations to the protection of human rights in Africa
The structure for the protection of human rights in Africa is at three levels, the national, the sub-regional or pan-African, and the universal, which is based on the United Nations system. When we analyse all these steps, the most important level of protection for human rights is the national level. For Apollin Koagne, a Cameroonian international law researcher based in Geneva, the national level is the only level where you can have a truly conciliatory approach, where you can have a system in in which the judge can at the same time apply human rights laws, and investment laws, for example. When reaching to the pan-African level of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Commission will only apply the African charter and other human rights instruments, and will not be able to say anything, for example, on investment treaties.
This situation poses a problem, because most of our states have to arbitrate between different types of laws and regulations, sometimes having to choose whether it is preferable to violate a human rights treaty or an investment treaty. “Since the rights holders in investment treaties are corporations and States – which are much more powerful than ordinary citizens, who are rights holders in human rights treaties – what we see is that, in most times, the State will end up considering it more profitable to violate human rights treaties, ”concluded Koagne.
Struggles against mining and dams in the world: the case of Brazil
Tchenna Maso, a peoples’ lawyer in Brazil, pointed out that mining is a historical activity in Brazil and it has left several social and environmental liabilities of violations that are interconnected. We had the most serious and emblematic cases of the collapse of the Fundão dams, in 2015, in Mariana, and in 2019 in Brumadinho. The populations affected to this day are fighting for justice. Vale, for example, enjoys extensive State protection. At the level of the international human rights system, there are still many legal gaps that do not allow a transnational company to be placed on the dock, and it is essential that social movements fight to change this scenario.
“In the regions where we find these mining projects, where these transnational companies enter, we realize that they act in a capillarity to capture all the local public authorities, and what should be public policies provided by States, become public policies provided by companies”, Maso reiterated.
Between speakers and participants, the lively debate revolved around several lessons learned and recommendations, which should guide our social movements for rights and justice. We highlight the following:
There is an urgent need to break with the belief that megaprojects (especially extractivist megaprojects) can bring about development, and to begin to build and demand radically opposed alternatives. The State needs to support inclusive and endogenous development models and systems that benefit and are managed by local communities;
It is necessary to establish synergies and join forces between peoples of various regions to stop the power and impunity of transnational companies, so that these companies are held responsible for their crimes and human rights violations;
It is essential to use existing national, regional and international legal mechanisms to seek access to justice, and to denounce and expose the gaps that still exist in the regulation of transnational companies;
The right to self-determination must be recognized and guaranteed to local communities, which includes the right to free, prior and informed consent and – necessarily – the possibility to say NO to a certain project planned for their territory that they consider harmful;
It is necessary to invest in family farming, especially agroecological, to build food sovereignty. This includes not only supporting peasants but also denouncing and resisting agribusiness projects, monoculture tree plantations, or planting genetically modified crops that have negative impacts on the environment and local peasants;
It is necessary to support and strengthen movements that seek to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights, such as the process under way at the United Nations to draft a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights;
There is an urgent need to rethink and redefine progress and development indicators. Purely economic indicators such as GDP do not reflect the quality of life of the population nor the levels of inequality, therefore they are misleading indicators of the success of the development policies of each country.
In conclusion, speakers and participants reinforced the need for civil society to organise and articulate in its plurality of actors and struggles, and with the due role of the most affected people, in order to demand systemic changes in our societies, which will have to be fundamentally feminists, anti-capitalists, anti-colonialists and anti-racists.
*During September 2020, Justiça Ambiental JA! held its usual Maputo workshop on corporate impunity and human rights, this time in virtual format through 3 Webinars. This article is a summary of the main points made by the speakers and participants throughout the workshop.
African Peoples Tribunal to Dismantle Power of industrial Plantation Corporations, Building People Power
LAGOS, NIGERIA, November 23, 2020
Friends of the Earth Africa through its Forest & Biodiversity Program organises the First session of the African Peoples Tribunal from 25-27th November 2020. The main event will take place in Lagos, Nigeria, and due to restrictions and security measures imposed by the current COVID-19 pandemic, several sessions and case presentations will be happening in parallel and simultaneously from Maputo, Accra, Dar-Es-Salaam, Kampala, and other African capitals.
Affected communities and civil society will bring testimonies on cases of human rights violations and environmental degradation connected with monoculture tree plantations expansion from ten countries across Africa.
The tribunal’s legitimacy is based on the principle of recognising human rights under natural, national, and international law, and reclaiming and restoring the rights of impacted peoples whose rights have been violated with impunity.
Rita Uwaka, coordinator of the African Friends of the Earth Forest and Biodiversity program says “Aggressive land-grabbing and deforestation for expansion of industrial tree plantations are causing a new wave of oppression and colonization in Africa, with devastating impacts on people, including differentiated and aggravated consequences for women.”
Kwami Kpondzo, Human Rights Defenders focal point for Friends of the Earth Africa continues to explain that “In the face of ongoing social, environmental and gender injustice in Africa, defending people’s rights is crucial to dismantling corporate power and challenging the capitalist neoliberal model of industrial plantation expansion.”
In all of the ten cases, international financiers, including development banks, private banks, investment funds and pension funds from all corners of the world, are found to be controlling and financing the controversial rubber, palm oil and timber plantation companies. Amongst the accused companies are Socfin, Green Resources AS, Golden Veroleum Liberia (controlled by Golden Agri-Resources), SIAT SA, OLAM and PZ Wilmar.
Five eminent jurors will be interrogating the case presenters and provide a verdict on day three of the Tribunal. They include Nnimmo Bassey, director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) from Nigeria, Ikal Angelei from Kenya who won the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa and is involved in campaigns against dams, and Prof. Alfred Apau Oteng-Yeboah – a Professor of Botany at the University of Ghana. The other two are Professor Hamudi Ismail Majamba, an Associate Professor of Law specialising in Natural Resources and Environmental Law and advocate of the High Court of Tanzania, and Ms. Makoma Lekalakala, a South African activist and Executive Director of Earthlife Africa who has long been active in social movements tackling issues from gender and women’s rights, social, economic, and environmental justice issues.
Friends of the Earth Africa is advancing the call for industrial plantation companies to stop their harmful activities across the whole continent. Friends of the Earth Africa urges public and private decision makers to work with civil society and communities to bolster the transition to community based agro-ecology and forest management land-use.
According to the network, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities including access to and control of their own commons and livelihoods must be respected and protected.
Friends of the Earth Africa will continue to fight alongside indigenous peoples and local communities affected by transnational corporation operations to stop any attempts to expand industrial tree plantations and dismantle corporate power across African region.
To attend the Tribunal with interpretation to English, French and Portuguese, please get in touch through the email: email@example.com
Despite Covid-19 limitations civil society drives momentum for the historic UN Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights.
3 November, Geneva
The sixth round of negotiations of the United Nations (UN) Open Ended Inter-governmental Working Group (OEIGWG) mandated to elaborate a legally binding instrument on “transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights”,1took place in Geneva from 26 -30 October 2020.
The continued presence each year since 2015 – the start of this process – of hundreds of representatives from affected communities, civil society organisations, trade unions and social movements makes it one of the most strongly supported in the history of the OEIGWG. This year, however, due to COVID19 restrictions, physical presence in Geneva was limited.
The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign)2contributed as ever with substantial and concrete proposals to the negotiated text, both from Geneva and via the UN online tools.
Earlier in September, the Global Campaign forewarned that the global corona virus pandemic, meant suitable conditions for a negotiation session and for ensuring its inclusiveness and participatory character were not possible. Although remote participation was enabled through various online platforms by the UN, repeated technical problems hampered remote intervention in the negotiations. The Global campaign’s statement on the last day of the negotiations confirmed that its “original assessment was correct, as the difficulties that everyone encountered in this sixth session resulted in a less than ideal process. We recall that this process should be an inter-governmental negotiation, with ample space for civil society participation according to ECOSOC rules.”
A number of states once again showed their commitment to the process and supported an ambitious Binding Treaty that respects resolution 26/9 and the focus on regulating transnational corporations, such as South Africa, Cuba, Egypt, Azerbaijan and Namibia.
This contrasts with countries whose economies rely heavily on transnational corporations with overseas operations who have always opposed this UN process, such as the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia, as well as the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Organisation of Employers – both of which hold consultative status at the UN.
As in previous negotiation rounds, the European Union – whose member states voted in block against resolution 26/9 – failed to contribute to the text negotiations. In fact the EU’s presence was limited to asking questions of clarification. This was despite 847,000 European citizens calling for the EU’s participation in the negotiations.3Mayors of European cities including
2A network of over 250 social movements, civil society organisations (CSOs), trade unions and communities affected by the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs), representing 260 million people globally
Barcelona, Marseille and Strasbourg last week called on local authorities around the world to support the UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights.4
Lilian Galan, Member of the Uruguay Parliament and part of the Global Interparliamentarian Network in support of the UN Binding Treaty5said:
“We would like once again to emphasize – as the majority of States have – the urgent need to respect the mandate of the OEIGWG established by Resolution 26/9. The purpose of the mandate is to regulate the activities of transnational corporations with regards to international human rights law. This is explicit and all parties must bear that in mind.”
Erika Mendes, from Justiça Ambiental JA! Mozambique and regional co-coordinator of Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism program for Friends of the Earth Africa, stated:
“Last Wednesday’s court hearing in France against oil giant Total has shown just how important it is to improve access to justice for affected communities, by granting jurisdiction to courts in the home countries of transnational corporations. Yet, gathering evidence in Uganda has been an uphill battle as community leaders and organisations face continuous threats and harassment. In Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, Total is also leading the gas boom that has come with increased conflict, violence, corruption, human rights violations and social inequality. The binding treaty must go further by reversing the burden of proof, guaranteeing communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and ensuring better protection for human rights defenders.”
Josua Mata, from the Asia Task Force on the Legally-Binding Instrument (ATF):
“We hear repeatedly that the crafting of a legally binding instrument will take years. Some say ten years. We’d like to remind those negotiating on our behalf that the longer they tarry, the longer our people, our land and our planet suffer from the ravages of unscrupulous transnational corporations!”
In a final summary statement delivered on the last day of negotiations negotiations the Global Campaign announced:
“In the context of major difficulties and challenges, the Global Campaign reaffirms its faith in this process. Despite all the challenges we face, we have shown – through our commitment and numerous participation – that we remain fully convinced that this legally binding instrument is needed to bring justice to affected people and to put an end to the impunity of transnational corporations. The process is at a critical stage, with many threats looming on the horizon.
Therefore, we provide our proposals and opinions to restore the vitality of this historic process and renew the commitment of delegations and civil society alike to achieving a successful, long- lasting treaty to finally address corporate impunity.”
Historic process continues at the UN: States resume substantive negotiations on the text for a binding treaty on transnational corporations with respect to human rights
28 October 2020, Geneva:
Amidst the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations (UN) Open Ended Inter-governmental Working Group (OEIGWG) enters its sixth round of negotiations on a treaty on “transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights,”1 from 26 -30 October. UN member states will negotiate a second revised draft of this groundbreaking treaty, which aims to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations.
Interest in the process continues to grow as evidenced by the significant presence of UN member state delegates taking part in negotiations.
The Global Interparliamentarian Network (GIN) has issued a statement in support of the UN Binding Treaty urging “states to actively engage in this UN process and to work towards an effective and legally binding instrument, to ensure that people´s dignity enshrined by universal political, economic, social and cultural rights, is prioritised and guaranteed worldwide over private profits.”2
Mayors and City Council Members of cities including Barcelona, Strasbourg and, Paris have issued a call to local authorities around the world to support the UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights.3
The continued presence each year since 2015 – the start of this process – of hundreds of representatives from affected communities, civil society organisations, trade unions and social movements makes it one of the most strongly supported in the story of the OEIGWG. This year, however, due to COVID19 restrictions, physical presence in Geneva is limited, although remote participation has been enabled through various online platforms. In this context, the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign)4 together with the GIN hosted a virtual Press Conference (full recording here) with high level political and civil society actors.
Leïla Chaibi, Member of the European Parliament, France insoumise (GUE/NGL) remarked :
“Today there is no Binding International Treaty that protects people, but there are treaties that protect the investments of large corporations. Thanks to initiatives such as the Toxic Tour, I was able to see how these companies destroy health and communities in Mexico. The EU has had no problem signing free trade agreements with third countries and this is deeply unfair. Along with many of my deputies, we continue to ask that we cannot put ourselves in the sidelines in the face of these human rights violations by transnational corporations.”
Charles Santiago.Member of the Malaysian Parliament. Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights stated:
“At present, 43 million people have been infected by the Corona virus and more than one million have died. It is a catastrophe. Developing a Covid-19 vaccine is critical and has to be a global public good. Prices and profits need to be regulated. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) provisions in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement need to be suspended to allow patent production of generic and bio similar products.
Transnational corporations (TNCs) and rich countries are refusing to suspend IPR provisions because, they claim, it would undermine patent protection. A global mechanism must be developed to regulate big pharmaceuticals on prices, profits and IPR. Transnational corporations’ ‘business as usual approach’ which prioritises profit during a global pandemic is not politically sustainable. The UN Binding Treaty is the best place to reset and enhance accountability of TNCs.”
Dr. Manoela Carneiro Roland. HOMA’s Coordinator (Human Rights and Business Center) Prof Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil stated:
“We must regulate transnational corporations. This implies establishing direct obligations for them. Transnational companies already have rights established in the 3,000 plus signed investment agreements. We need to transform the paradigm of due diligence because it is a framework that erroneously leaves the task of self-monitoring to companies. We must establish effective control mechanisms, such as an International Court that has competence to judge transnational companies.”
Keamogetswe Seipato.Coordinator of the Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Alternative Information & Development Center (AIDC), South Africa. claimed:
“We have to reduce or limit the power of companies. The African continent is a breeding ground for human rights violations. The primacy of human rights must be respected. It is a question of underlining the need for companies to be accountable because they cannot come to our countries to expand and neglect the main Human Rights Conventions. We must remember that the UN Binding Treaty must be a mechanism to help communities access redress for human rights violations – one that provides both the assistance and support affected people need.”
(1) This mandate is a result of resolution 26/9 adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014. Official page: https://www.ohchr.org/en/
(2) Global Interparliamentarian Network in support of the UN Binding Treaty is formed by more than 300 members of parliaments from all over the world. https://bindingtreaty.org
In June 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 26/9, by which it agreed to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group OE(IGWG), in order to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.
The sixth session of the OEIGWG will take place from 26 to 30 October 2020 to discuss the Second Revised Draft of the Binding Treaty. In anticipation of the upcoming session, African civil society organisations are calling for a Treaty that reflects African perspectives and effectively addresses
Over the last few decades, the continent has witnessed an increase in foreign direct and local investments—which under the disguise of spurring economic development and in certain cases complicit with State agencies, have been at the helm of massive human rights abuses and violations. These investments, often by large and economically powerful Transnational Corporations, have a long history of profiting from human rights abuses and environmental destruction.
Unfortunately, it remains difficult to hold them accountable for their actions, due to the huge power imbalances that exist between states, corporations and communities. The few attempts to address this, like the U.N. Guiding Principles on business and human rights, are voluntary and ineffective. The current proposed Binding Treaty on TNCs and human rights has the potential to strengthen accountability mechanisms. Many African countries have expressed continuous support for the Treaty. This is an important step for gender justice, environmental rights and peoples’ movements struggles to curb corporate impunity.
The 2020 negotiating session presents an opportunity for African governments, who have often decried international instruments as tools of neocolonialism, to shape a strong framework that could put an end to corporate impunity and provide remedies for victims. We hope to help facilitate this and bolster regional collaboration on the Treaty. A strong, unified African position is a powerful message to the international community, to transnational corporations and importantly to those bearing the brunt of harmful corporate conduct.
As such, today, on 20 October, trade unions, civil society organisations and affected communities will be hosting an interactive workshop on the Second Revised Draft from 10:00 – 15:00 SAST. We will reflect on the key demands that have formed the African perspective on the treaty process and to what extent, if any, these demands have been articulated in the Second Revised Draft.
Meeting ID: 960 2379 5131
Then, on Wednesday 21 October from 14:00 – 17:00 SAST , African state representatives and Human Rights Commissions are invited to join an online African consultation to discuss with affected people, civil society and experts, the impacts of transnational corporations’ activities in the region and how an effective UN treaty could improve access to justice.
Condemnation of the oppression and violence against
journalists and activists in Mozambique
On Sunday night, 23rd of August, 2020, the office of the newspaper Canal de Moçambique was set on fire with homemade bombs (Molotov cocktail) by allegedly unidentified individuals.
Canal de Moçambique is a serious, professional and highly reputable newspaper that serves a fundamental role in our society, disseminating news and articles on various issues that are important to the country, including but not limited to governance, corruption, lack of transparency, human rights violations, and others. A free, open and inclusive dialogue is a fundamental condition in the construction of fairer and more equitable societies.
Mere hours before the destruction of Canal de Moçambique’s office, the journalist and activist Armando Nenane, who has been criticizing the structural corruption of the state and the private appropriation of funds granted by transnational gas companies, was arrested near his residence. Although the reason given for the arrest was allegedly violating the state of emergency, it is known that the regime has been trying to silence Armando Nenane for a long time, he was even beaten by the police and threatened with a legal process.
So a clear message has been sent: there cannot be space for critical voices in Mozambique. There cannot be space to stand against injustices, corruption schemes or even frauds. There cannot be space for debate – which is urgently necessary – about a better social project for the country. Anyone that tries to do this risks feeling the long and powerful tentacles of a system that governs through oppression and fear.
These events that unfolded in the last 24 hours, are not only bitter but also have a very familiar taste. Journalists, academics, activists and civil society organizations that do not echo the system’s mantra, have been systematically persecuted, threatened, repressed, silenced, beaten or murdered.
Here we remember Carlos Cardoso, a journalist murdered in 2000, while he was investigating the corruption linked to the privatization of Banco de Moçambique.
Here we remember António Siba-Siba Macuácua, an economist murdered in 2001, while he was investigating the corruption in Banco Austral.
Here we remember Gilles Cistac, constitutionalist and professor, a fierce critic of the state’s corruption, murdered in 2015. He was shot dead after making an argument in favour of a reform of decentraliation of the country.
Here we remember Anastácio Matavele, activist and election observer, murdered by the police in 2019, on the eve of our country’s presidential election.
We also remember hundreds of other cases of activists, journalists and academics, that individually or collectively, have been working on the consolidation of democracy, on the defense of human rights, of protection of nature, and are constantly persecuted, threatened, attacked or pursued due to their role and importance of what they share and debate.
Here we remember every Fátima Mimbire, Anabela Lemos, José Jaime Macuane, Izdine Achá, Estácio Valói, David Matsinhe, Matias Guente, Ericino de Salema, Jeremias Vunjanhe, Daniel Ribeiro, Amade Aboobacar, Omardine Omar and Ibrahimo Mbaruco (who is still missing!). And so many others.
And we also remember the thousands of people that are silenced and made to bow down daily due to fear, people who are oppressed by the system of structural violence that was imposed in our society, which robs more lives and rights every day.
Today we stand against the repeated attacks on the right to life and to the physical and moral integrity of so many Mozambicans, even though it is allegedly guaranteed by Article 40 of our Constitution. We stand in defence of our freedom of speech, press and right to information, allegedly protected by Article 48 of our Constitution. Today we stand against the repeated and systematic attacks on journalism and activism in Mozambique.
We demand that Ibrahimo Mbaruco be located, alive and well, and that those involved in his disappearance be held accountable!
We demand a deep investigation of who is responsible for the attack on the office of Canal de Moçambique, including those who aid and abet, and that the convicted are held accountable.
We reiterate our solidarity to everyone who raises their voice against injustice!
“It is forbidden to put handcuffs in words” _Carlos Cardoso
Maputo, 25th of August, 2020
Acção Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais (ADECRU)
Gas in Mozambique: A Windfall for the Industry, a Curse for the Country
Today JA!, Friends of the Earth France and Friends of the Earth International have released a report which exposes deep French involvement in the gas industry in Mozambique. The report, entitled Gas in Mozambique: A Windfall for the Industry, a Curse for the Country, details how the French government, its banks and corporations are part of a web of state corruption, arms deals, human rights violations and economic diplomacy, all in the interests of a $60 billion industry that has left destruction in its wake before a single drop of liquid natural gas has even been extracted.
The report shows how the French State, major private banks including BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Crédit Agricole, and fossil fuel giant Total, are some of the greatest beneficiaries of the devastating impacts of the industry in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
JA! works closely with local communities directly facing these impacts on a daily basis. We have seen entire villages uprooted from their homes, fisherpeople moved many kilometres from the coast, and their struggle and heartbreak at losing the land and sea that has been their livelihood for generations.
We have been present with them as they try to speak up in meetings where Total brings the news of their coming difficulties and losses, but have their voices suppressed. They have told us of their nightmarish fear of insurgents who have terrorised the region with violent and fatal attacks, and of the heavy-handedness of the military that has been deployed to protect the industry.
The report includes detailed and up-to-date information from the ground, and divulges the depths to which the French public authorities have gone to ensure their economy, bankers, fossil fuel and arms industry are the greatest profiteers of the gas exploitation, even it it means devastation of the local environment, lives, economy and climate.
With this report, JA!, Friends of the Earth France and Friends of the Earth International call for the French state, banks and fossil fuel companies to withdraw from their involvement in Mozambique, stop the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and cease corrupt diplomatic dealings which are leaving the Mozambican people, and the planet, in a state of hardship and chaos.
“France is determined to ensure that this gas windfall benefits first and foremost its own transnational corporations, even if this means sowing chaos for Mozambique and setting off a climate bomb equivalent to seven times France’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Neither the French government, nor Total and its bankers, seem concerned about the impacts this will have in fuelling climate crisis, local conflict, corruption and human rights violations.”— Cécile Marchand, Climate and Corporate Justice Campaigner at Friends of the Earth France
“The fossil fuel industry is peddling a lie that gas can be part of the clean energy transition. In reality, this so-called transition in Mozambique has meant a shift from freedom to human rights violations, from peace to conflict, from communities living well through farming and fishing to starving populations deprived of their livelihoods. The gas rush, which is exacerbating the climate crisis and benefiting only transnational corporations and corrupt elites, must stop.”— Anabela Lemos, Director of Justiça Ambiental (JA!)/Friends of the Earth Mozambique
JA!’s friends in Portugal contest the AGM of Galp Energia, part of the destructive gas industry in Cabo Delgado
Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique is being ripped apart by the gas industry. Companies like Galp, who are part of the industry are taking homes, land and livelihoods from people who have lived, farmed and fished there for generations. And now, the gas industry has brought the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic to Cabo Delgado province, in Mozambique, and it is the people, and surrounding communities who will suffer.
Last week, Portuguese company Galp Energia held its Annual General Meeting (AGM), and JA!’s friends in Portugal created a tremendous online direct action that brought over 400 people together. This is just the beginning of what will clearly be a fierce and powerful fight: Galp Must Fall!
JA! is part of the No to Gas campaign! in Mozambique campaign that is targeting Galp as one of the companies involved in the devastating liquid natural gas industry in Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique, where multinational fossil fuel giants like Eni, Exxon and Total are committing human rights and environmental violations, and irreversibly damaging the climate to extract gas. Galp owns 10% of Coral LNG, one of these projects.
The action was created by Climaximo, a Lisbon-based organisation working on climate justice, just transition and energy democracy; 2degrees artivism, a Lisbon-based artivist collective; and Greve Climática Estudantil, Portugal’s Fridays for Future hub. JA! Has been working closely with Climaximo leading up to this action.
As part of Galp Must Fall, three Climaximo activists took part in the AGM and asked questions directly to the board of executives. And while this was happening, more than 400 people were watching a live show with real-time concerts, talks and an online demonstration.
Sinan Eden, a Climaximo activist and one organiser of the action, said “Galp Must Fall is an action that had various elements. It was online and offline, inside and outside the AGM, in connection with national and international struggles, with activist and artivist elements.
We consider Galp’s AGM as a crime scene and the global fossil fuel industry as international organized crime against humanity. So our approach was to denounce the social and climate injustices of Galp in all spaces available.”
This year, like most AGM’s around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown meant that the AGM was virtual, and shareholders had to stream in. This meant that the CEO or Chairman could cut off a shareholder with a click of a button, so the activists had to ask very succinct questions. The three activists who attended had to submit questions in writing, which the board then screened before asking it to the CEO.
Sinan points out that, “In Portugal, the tactics of entering in AGMs was nonexistent so far in the social movements in general. Climáximo’s theory of change informs us that a dialogue with the industry would not produce real solutions, so our approach inside the AGM was more contesting and denouncing than debating.”
Activists inside the AGM:
The Climaximo activists asked questions (they should have been four, but Galp blocked the fourth at the last minute claiming some administrative issues). They submitted 15 questions, mostly about Mozambique, which JA! Had worked with them on. They received 5 responses from the board, which were very evasive and vague, repeating the usual rhetoric about Galp’s commitment to economic development in Mozambique, as they claim to do in every country in the global South where they have projects.
One of the activists who was part of the AGM, Manuel Araujo, described his experience at the AGM: “We asked about the ongoing climate crisis and their criminal business model of resource and social extractivism, which they answered by repeating their commitment to natural gas as a transition fuel, even though it is known to be a major source of GHG emissions. Predictably, they had no comment on the compatibility of their planned 50% increase in fossil fuel extraction over the next ten years with the emissions goals set in the Paris agreement.”
Manuel says the CEO, Carlos Gomes da Silva, made a particularly absurd argument, comparing the hypothetical emissions cuts obtained by replacing every car by an electric car (3.5%) with those obtained by replacing coal with gas in electricity generation (15%), as if these were the only two alternatives on the table.
They also asked what is usually the most uncomfortable question for executives – Why does the board and other top level executives earn absurdly high salaries and why do shareholders receive a ridiculous € 580 million, when this money could be better spent on a program of just transition for the company’s workers.
In 2019, da Silva received € 1.8 million in remuneration. The salaries to the board in total was € 6.6 million, half of which were bonuses.
Manuel says: “We got only evasive answers, but it was worth it to hear the President of the GM Board ask the Company Secretary what makes it legitimate for the CEO of Galp to earn 197 times the minimum wage.”
Ines Teles, who also asked a question, took this away from her experience: “During the AGM, the management of Galp revealed once again their profound disregard for questions related to climate and social justice. They are unable to see past the profits they reap from the sea of destruction they cause, proudly distributing their dividends amongst themselves.”
Galp Must Fall Live
While this was happening, “outside” the AGM, 400 people took part in the other component of the Galp Must Fall direct action, which included a twitter storm, live interviews with activists, including from JA!, an online demonstration, and the shareholder questions also streamed live.
Part of this action was Galp Must Fall Live – a live show, via instagram, convening emergent artists and long-standing activists from countries that Galp is co2lonizing: Mozambique, Brazil, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.
The organization of this live event was made possible by 2degrees artivism, and Greve Climática Estudantil.
Diogo Silva, one of the organisers of the action from 2degrees artivism, and believes that art is crucial for revolution says: “This event marked a lot of firsts in Portugal: the first time Portuguese activists stormed Galp shareholder meeting; the first direct action involving mostly online means; the first fully-online live artivist action; and the first online demonstration.”
From here on, our goal as an artivist community based in Portugal is to build stronger links, to empower each-other and to mobilize a new generation of artivism for climate justice. Another world is possible and it’s not our revolution if art is not involved”.
This action and this year’s AGM was the first that the No to Gas! Campaign and JA! Has confronted Galp and built awareness specifically about this company. The amount of attention and support that Galp Must Fall received was very inspiring, the social media following was great, this was is a strong beginning to what is clearly going to be a powerful collective campaign. Next year will be even stronger.
We will certainly be updating all of you, our friends on what comes next in the Galp Must Fall campaign.
Sinan says: “I’d like to be clear about one thing: We must dismantle Galp, because if it instead collapses, we all will be underneath its ruins. Galp must be dismantled by a democratic, planned and deliberate process. A rapid and just transition and climate justice based on global solidarity are only possible through a publicly owned, democratically controlled, 100% renewable energy sector.”
And lastly, some words from Daniel Ribeiro, of JA!:
“Galp is planning to make millions in Mozambique, at the cost of grabbing land from peasant communities and sea access of fisherfolk, loss of their livelihoods, human rights abuses and conflict. Galp’s investment is also serving as an amplifier of the country’s corruption, injustices and even assassinations of activists and journalists. Galp must stop, Galp must fall, if they do not want the blood of those crimes on their hands. They must start putting people before profits.”