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African Peasants Highlight Interconnected Struggles at Via Campesina Global Conference

By Boaventura Monjane - Pambazuka, July 27, 2017

“It is amazing to see how linked our struggles are”. With a countenance showing enthusiasm and eagerness, Nicolette Cupido could not conceal her emotions. There are two main reasons for her excitement. It was the first time she attended a global conference of peasants’ movements starting July 16 in Derio, in the outskirts of Bilbao, Basque Country. Her movement, the Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC), South Africa, was among the new organizations accepted into membership of Via Campesina.

A community organizer and a member of the FSC, Nicolette engages in food production at home and community gardens in Moorreesburg, a village in Western Cape, 120Km away from Cape Town.

She grows a variety of vegetables, that is the way she contributes in building food sovereignty. “I plant tomato, unions, beetroot, cabbage and carrots. The struggle for food sovereignty has to be practical, too”, she said.

Like Nicolette, about 20 other African peasants representing movements from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Niger, Mali, Senegal and Ghana attended the conference.

This conference happens at a time when Africa is undergoing a harsh moment, as indicated by Ibrahima Coulibaly from the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations (CNOP) in Mali. Almost everywhere in Africa the elite and corporations are undertaking efforts to capture and control people’s basic means of production, such as land, mineral resources, seeds and water. These resources are increasingly being privatized due to the myriad of investment agreements and policies driven by new institutional approaches, imposed on the continent by western powers and Bretton Woods institutions.

“Democracy is under attack. Repression of protests and murder of political leaders is escalating, but we have to continue to build alternatives”, said Coulibaly.

Elizabeth Mpofu, from the Zimbabwe Smallholder Farmers Forum, is a small-scale farmer who had access to land after she took part in the radical land occupation that resulted in the fasttrack land reform in the early 2000s. According to her, building alternatives is to take direct action.

“I was a landless woman. Through our courage and determination we stood up and took action. Now I have land and I do agroecology farming”, she said.

Relations between the state, corporate power and the peasantry have always been exploitative. This characterizes the agrarian question in Africa. As some academics have argued, these relations have been coercive.

The perception that Africa is  a vast  “underutilized” area and, therefore, available  for large-scale agricultural investment, continues even today particularly among some western governments and foreign investors.

The African peasantry has, however, always resisted capital penetration in the countryside. “Africa has taught us many centuries of struggle and resistance”, remarked Eberto Diaz, a peasant leader from Colombia during the opening session of the 7th Conference of La Via Campesina. Elizabeth Mpofu shares the belief: “I think that our historical and present struggle experiences in Africa could inspire comrades from other countries”.

Domingos Buramo, from the Mozambique Peasants Union (UNAC), brought to the conference the experience of the Mozambican peasants and other civil society organizations against land grabbing and large-scale investment projects in Mozambique. He mentioned that the resistance to ProSavana, a large-scale agricultural project proposed for Mozambique, is an example of how transformative articulated struggles could be. “Now the government is changing its vision as a result of our work. We can change our societies”, he said.

In South Africa, landless black people are engaging in various forms of protest to access to land, water and development resources. “We do various social actions such as protest marches, pickets, sit-ins and even land occupations”, said Tieho Mofokeng, from the Landless Peoples Movement in Free State, South Africa.

Africa - including the Maghreb region - was the last continent to be part of Via Campesina. Since 2004 the number of African peasant movements joining La Via Campesina has been increasing. African movements consider their membership to the peasant movement as a strategic process of amplifying their struggles and reinforcing internationalism.

Via Campesina International Conference is the highest and most significant decision-making space of the movement.

Southern Africa Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) on Transnational Corporations

By staff - La Via Campesina, August 16, 2016

For the Economic, Political, Cultural and Environmental Sovereignty of Our Peoples End the Impunity of Transnational Corporations NOW!

The time has come to unite our struggles in Southern Africa - the campaigns, networks, movements and organizations that are combating transnational corporations - the way they are exploiting our destinies, natural heritage and human rights, dismantling public services, destroying the commons, fomenting violence and endangering food sovereignty in every corner of the continent. 

The Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power invites you to participate in the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations. The Tribunal will bring affected peoples from Southern Africa together to make their problems visible, analyse them and collaborate and share experiences in order to strengthen our joint struggle.

The effort to unify Southern African struggles is one part of a major global campaign to fight the exploitation of our lands, our eco-systems, our labour and our bodies by big corporates acting together with powerful states. These mega transnational corporations have created a blanket of impunity – getting away with their crimes unpunished and without repercussions - through the dismantling and systematic violation of laws and the signing of international trade and investment agreements, which award investors more rights than citizens. As a result, peoples’ rights have been systematically violated, the Earth and its resources destroyed, pillaged and contaminated, and resistance criminalized, while corporations continue committing economic and ecological crimes with total impunity.

Driven by the imperative to maximize profit, TNCs seek to pit workers from different countries against one another in what is a race to the bottom for the world’s working people. The governance and policies of the multilateral institutions, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisations have long served corporate interests, while the institutions of the United Nations, Southern African Development community and the African Union have been increasingly captured by TNCs and placed at their service. In most countries, governments increasingly act at the service of corporate interests, awarding them with tax breaks and a legal system that works to their benefit. National elites use their access to political power and influence over state policy to position themselves so as to benefit from corporate power and stop at nothing to continue plundering the wealth of nations and maintain their predatory relation to nature.

Working class and peasant women carry the major impacts of corporate-led theft of land, water and forests, and the pollution of the resources that peoples across Southern Africa rely on for livelihoods and survival. The patriarchal division of labour means that women have to work longer hours and bear heavier burdens as they search out livelihood alternatives when land-based ones are destroyed, safe water when these resources are stolen or polluted, and alternative energy when forests are destroyed. And it is women’s unpaid labour that fills in for public services that are cut to service debts in support of major infrastructure investments that benefit corporates, and when workers and family members fall ill from environmental pollution and unsafe working environments.

In the face of mounting criticism of their operations, TNCs’ use Corporate Social Responsibility to clean up their image with minor investments and no change in destructive business practice. They recruit private security arms, often acting in collaboration with state militaries, to patrol their territories and enforce the compliance of communities through intimidation, arson, rape, sexual harassment and murder. And they control major media agencies, which play a key role in ensuring the continuity of corporate hegemony. Acting with brutality in the rich countries from which they originate, but especially in countries of the Global South, including those in Southern Africa, major corporations are appropriating more and more of our collective wealth and rights.

Yet, resistance is growing across the world and throughout our region. Every day, there are more communities, movements and peoples struggling against TNCs – often confronting specific companies or sectors and winning important victories. If we are to challenge corporate power and the system that protects and benefits TNCs it is necessary that we come together and offer a systematic response. 

We must unite our experiences and our struggles, learn collectively from our victories and our failures and share our analysis and strategies for putting an end to the impunity of TNC’s. We must converge our struggles within and across countries, regions and continents.

We must build on our ways of life, our forms of production, our ways of nurturing and living alongside eco-systems and each other in harmony and with love - it is these ways of being, seeing, relating and producing that are the basis for building an alternative society in which we, the people, are the protagonists.

Dismantling the transnationals’ system of power demands coordinated action at the regional level: engaging in struggles in various spheres and sectors of the economy, combining mobilizations on the streets and in territories with popular education and actions in parliaments, media and international forums and organisations. By creating a powerful movement of solidarity and action against TNCs, their apologists and promoters, we will begin to build a world free from corporate power and greed.

We, the Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Stop Impunity, and Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, welcome you to join us in collectively building this process of mobilization towards a campaign against the power of corporations and their crimes against humanity. The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal will take place in three sessions: A first set of hearings in August 2016 in Swaziland, the second in May 2017, and soon after, the delivery of the verdict by a panel of respected judges.

To sign on to the Call to Action or to participate in the Tribunal email ilham@aidc.org.za

How climate change efforts by developed countries are hurting Africa’s rural poor

By Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby  - The Conversation, September 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In recent years there has been significant movement toward land acquisition in developing countries to establish forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution elsewhere in the world. This is often referred to as land grabbing.

These carbon trading initiatives work on the basis that forestry plantations absorb carbon dioxide and other polluting greenhouse gases. This helps to undo the environmental damage associated with modern western lifestyles.

Carbon markets are championed as offering solutions to climate change while delivering positive development outcomes to local communities. Heavy polluters, among them the airline and energy sectors, buy carbon credits and thereby pay local communities, companies and governments to protect forests and establish plantations.

But are carbon markets - and the feel good stories that have sprung up around them - all just a bit too good to be true?

There is mounting evidence that forestry plantations and other carbon market initiatives severely compromise livelihoods and ecologies at a local level. The corporate land grabs they rely on also tend to affect the world’s most vulnerable people – those living in rural areas.

But such adverse impacts are often written out of the carbon market ledger. Sometimes they are simply justified as ‘externalities’ that must be accepted as part of ensuring we avoid climate apocalypse.

Green Resources is one of a number of large-scale plantation forestry and carbon offset corporations operating on the continent. Its activities are having a profound impact on the livelihoods of a growing number of people. Norwegian-registered, the company produces saw log timber and charcoal in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. It receives carbon revenue from its plantation forestry operations.

In Uganda, the focus of our research, Green Resources holds two licenses over 11,864 hectares of government-owned, ‘degraded’ Central Forest Reserve. Historically, villagers could access this land to grow food, graze animals and engage in cultural practices.

Under the licensed land agreement between Uganda’s government and Green Resources, more than 8,000 people face profound disruptions to their livelihoods. Many are experiencing forced evictions as a direct result of the company’s take over of the land.

Review: Hamza Hamouchene and Mika Minio-Paluello, The Coming Revolution in North Africa: The Struggle for Climate Justice

By Hamza Hamouchene and Mika Minio-Paluello - Jadaliyya, June 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Hamza Hamouchene and Mika Minio-Paluello, editors, The Coming Revolution in North Africa: The Struggle for Climate Justice. Platform (London), Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (North Africa), and Environmental Justice North Africa (EJNA), 2015.

Jadaliyya (J): What made you put together this book?

Hamza Hamouchene and Mika Minio-Paluello (HH & MM-P): The idea was both to highlight the violence of climate change in North Africa, and the need for an indigenous response. We wanted to point out that survival relies on structural change, and on facing the challenge of talking about climate justice in Arabic.

Climate change is already a reality in North Africa. People are dying and communities are being forced off their lands, with stronger and more frequent droughts and winter storms, as deserts grow and sea levels rise.

There is a growing literature in Arabic on the threat, but this knowledge production is dominated by neoliberal institutions like the World Bank, the German Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and European Union agencies. They highlight the dangers of a warmer world and they argue for urgent action. But their analysis of climate change does not include questions of class, justice, power, or colonial history. They re-empower those who have wealth, and their vision of the future is marked by economies subjugated to private profit and further privatization of water, land—even the atmosphere.

There is no reference to the historic responsibility of the industrialized West for causing climate change, of the crimes of oil companies like British Petroleum and Shell, or the climate debt owed to the Global South. Most Arabic-language writing on climate change in the Middle East and North Africa includes no references to oppression—or to resistance.

We wanted to point to the failure and bankruptcy of the global climate talks. These have been hijacked by corporate power and private interests that promote profit-making false solutions like carbon trading, instead of forcing industrialized nations to reduce carbon emissions and leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

Through compiling and editing this book, our goal was to counteract the dominant neoliberal discourse on climate change in Arabic, and point to the need for a revolutionary alternative grounded in justice. 

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

HH & MM-P: We think this is the first book in Arabic to address climate justice (though we would be really happy if that is not the case!). It includes six essays on climate violence and false solutions in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and the wider region.

A further fifteen essays introduce inspiring and liberating perspectives advanced by radical and progressive intellectuals, activists, politicians, organizations, and grassroots groups from the Global South. We selected essays, interviews, and statements in which social movements describe what they are fighting against, how they are organizing, and what they are demanding. The chapters cover a broad geography—from Ecuador to India, South Africa to the Philippines.

The book addresses the burning issue of climate change in North Africa and the Global South through a justice lens rather than a security one. A future framed around “security” subjugates our struggles to a conceptual and imaginative framework that ultimately re-empowers the state’s repressive power. Through the different articles and essays, we argue that the climate crisis is the epitome of capitalist and imperialist exploitation of people and the planet. Climate change is a class war—a war by the rich against the working classes, the small farmers, and the poor who carry the burden on behalf of the privileged.

There are four sections in the book, with twenty-one chapters. The first section, “The Violence of Climate Change,” highlights the scale of the threat posed by climate change. The second section, “System Change Not Climate Change,” points to the economic and power structures driving climate change, and what a different system should look like. The third section, “Beware the False Solutions,” examines how the powerful have attempted to use the climate crisis to profit and entrench inequality by pushing false solutions. The final section, “Organizing for Survival and Climate Justice,” looks at how people are mobilizing for a different future.

Climate Change, Land Grabs, and Revolution in Burkina Faso

By Alexander Reid Ross - Earth First! Newswire, November 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Like virtually every country in Africa, Burkina Faso has been assailed by North Atlantic military intervention over the past four decades, as well as an escalation of land grabs since 2008. More land has been grabbed in Africa over the past 15 years than in the rest of the world combined—more than 55 million hectares, according to Blessing Karumbidza of the Global Justice Ecology Project. The economic tensions between local producers and international powers that have contributed to the revolutionary dissatisfaction with the establishment in Burkina Faso can be found in virtually any country subject to the harsh and cruel conditions of the global land grab and the crisis of climate change. The revolution in Burkina Faso represents a crucial break, summoning the revolutionary leaders of past generations to maintain a legacy of popular control.

The popular movement that has spread throughout the small African state contains the process of liberation both inspired by and inspiring different forms of political engagement throughout the continent. While some, including the present military junta, insist that we are seeing a youth rebellion, the revolution has formulated a deeper, systemic challenge. The promise of Thomas Sankara, the “Che Guevara of Africa” who ruled Burkina from 1983 until his assassination in 1987, was the suture of the generation gap and the progression of egalitarian economic policies. While Sankara emerged as a powerful leader in Burkina Faso in the 1970s, a powerful student movements broke through in nearby Sierra Leone, the independence movement of Guinea-Bissau ascended to power, and the People’s Republic of Benin was declared. West Africa was uniting under common dreams of liberation fueled by the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and other noteworthy West African leaders of the 1950s and 1960s. After the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, Sankara appeared among the most important radical leaders in all of Africa. The current revolution, with its rekindling of Sankara’s legacy, can be seen as a return to the legacy of national liberation—not just as a youth movement, but a rejection of the neoliberal trajectory set into place after Sankara’s death.

This rekindling can be seen in the movement’s strategy and tactics. The absence of genuine movements linked to an intergenerational leadership led to the decline of social mobilizations in many places. For instance, the student movement of Sierra Leone disintegrated into what the leaders of the RUF would call “the bush path to democracy” (and what scholar Ibrahim Abdullah correctly deems “the bush path to destruction”). Rather than descending into Civil War, Burkina’s largely-urban revolution has developed through popular mobilizations and insurrectionary strikes against symbols of the established regime. It emerges as a popular rejection of two decades of political “decentralization,” wherein administrative powers and resources were supposed to be liberalized and granted to local councils. But at the same time, it is being supported by the leaders of the West, who seek to use it as an exhaust valve for popular resentment, enabling them to strengthen their grasp on the region through the elections to come.

Hundreds of women demand a People-Centered Agenda for SADC

By Via Campesina Africa, WoMin and Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) - La Via Campesina, September 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

(Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, August 18, 2014) – Women and Mining (WoMin), Via Campesina Africa and Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) contributed to demands made to the SADC Head of States during the just ended SADC People’s Summit held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from the 15th to the 16th of August 2014.

The RWA, WoMin and Via Campesina delegates were part of the more than 2,500 delegates drawn from grassroots movements, community and faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, labor, student, youth, economic justice and human rights networks and other social movements.

The Peoples’ Summit was convened under the leadership of the Southern Africa People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN) and Peoples Dialogue at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair grounds in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe under the theme ‘Reclaiming SADC for People’s Development-SADC Resources for SADC People’. This political position responds to our shared analysis that the SADC development agenda is increasingly determined by corporate interests, which are privileged above the region’s 260 million people.

Via Campesina and RWA met under the agriculture and food sovereignty cluster while WoMin met under the extractives and climate cluster, and developed their own statements, which were included in the communiqué submitted to the Heads of States.

The Mozambique Union of Farmers, member of La Via Campesina, met to speak about Pro-Savanna’s role in land grabbing in Mozambique and asked for regional solidarity.

“Rural women in Africa are the main producers of food, yet their contribution remains invisible. They are the most marginalized in terms of access to land and secure tenure, natural resources, and political rights. Patriarchal relationships continue to prevail, making rural women vulnerable and subject to violence” read part of the RWA declaration.

The communiqué went on to demand that governments fulfil their commitment to allocate 10% of national budgets to agriculture following the Maputo declaration at African Union level.  RWA and Via Campesina also demanded that governments include small-scale farmers in policy and decision making processes.  Other demands included women’s rights to land and security of tenure and protection of organic products, indigenous seeds and knowledge to ensure food and seed sovereignty.