Forests are losing to fossil fuels and foreign funding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On July 28, the country’s government auctioned off 27 blocks of oil and three blocks of gas that intersect with some of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems, after signaling its intention in April.
The blocks, which cut through high-carbon peatlands, Virunga National Park and other conservation areas, have been sold to the highest bidder in what the country’s government has described as an act of nationalism to boost its economy. “We care more about people than gorillas,” argued the communications minister. “We have a duty to our people, NGOs don’t,” said the Environment Minister in defense of this environmental disaster in the making.
The nationalist narrative is not only grossly misleading, but obscures the true acts of nationalism required in Africa. First of all, the government has not even bothered to inform and consult the numerous Congolese whose lives will be affected by oil and gas exploration and production. We know this because when the Greenpeace Africa teams spoke to the people living on the blocks being auctioned, they found the communities shocked and outraged at the prospect of their ancestral lands being auctioned off and their lifestyles disrupted.
Feeding Europe’s hunger for energy
The DRC government’s feigned nationalism is stifling efforts by ordinary Africans to end a centuries-old colonial and neo-colonial approach to growth that has benefited richer nations, large multinational corporations and a closed circle of elites, while alleviating the hardship of most people in the country Region tightens continent.
In its simplest form, neocolonialism is the continued influence of former colonial masters on African countries through interference in politics, economics, and security.
A growing number of African leaders are speaking out against neocolonial practices to defend their national interests and sovereignty, and to ensure that national policies promote the dignity and well-being of their people above all else. While the DRC government claims to be doing this by auctioning off the Congo rainforest, in reality it is further entrenching neo-colonial rule over the nation.
The decision to auction blocks of oil and gas in some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems comes amid a scramble by European nations and their giant oil and gas companies to find alternative energy sources to reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
It comes at a time when many rich economies appear to have forgotten their climate pledges and are now rushing to service their high-carbon lifestyles. And like every neocolonial act before it, their race for resources keeps the needs of the people of Africa suppressed.
This massive auction will inevitably render certain communities living and dependent on the rainforest homeless, degrading their land and disrupting their way of life, polluting their air and water for generations to come. If history is any guide, a few high-ranking officials will line their pockets and big international corporations will be the biggest winners. Also, instead of creating more jobs, the oil and gas industry could propel higher already increasing youth unemployment by diverting the country’s brightest minds from starting small and medium-sized enterprises – the backbone of job creation in much of the world.
Plunder as Patriotism
There are countless examples across Africa of how such deals have enriched a few elites and brought greater hardship to millions of ordinary people. True acts of nationalism result from a deep and honest reflection on the best interests of the people and not the best interests of a select few.
Few countries in the world can match the bulk, mineral and biodiversity wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but more than 60 years after independence, it still ranks among the world’s poorest nations. If selling off its rainforest and other natural treasures had ever been an act of nationalism, the country would now be a G7 nation. Instead, the rush to sell commodities has only made it poorer and more corrupt, with horrific images of child labor and other hardships at its mines making headlines around the world.
Nationalism in Africa will require much more than selling resources to cater to extravagant lifestyles in richer countries. It will take the courage of African leaders to really find other ways to free their people from their economic struggles.
Building a local industry for manufacturing to create jobs, providing decentralized energy access by tapping into the bounty of solar energy, preserving nature and investing in ecotourism are some of the avenues for development Africa needs. They would help incentivize good governance, distribute wealth, and root out the corruption and greed that continue to characterize many leaders in Africa.
To truly adopt an African approach to growth and development, one must also have the courage to rethink the socio-economic system itself. Has the current approach worked for Africa? Is an alternative economic model rooted in African traditional ways of organization and life too far-fetched to achieve?
Portraying looting as patriotism – as the DRC government is doing – is no substitute for asking these important questions.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.