Forests are losing out to fossil fuels and foreign funding in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On July 28, the country’s government auctioned off 27 oil blocks and three gas blocks straddling some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, after signaling its intention in April.
Blocks cutting through carbon-rich peatlands, Virunga National Park and other wildlife sanctuaries have been sold to the highest bidder in what the country’s government has presented as an act of nationalism to advance its economy. “We care more about human beings than gorillas,” said the communications minister. “We have a duty towards our people, while the NGOs do not,” declared the Minister of the Environment, in defense of this environmental disaster in the making.
The nationalist narrative is not only grossly misleading, but obscures the real acts of nationalism that are required in Africa. First and foremost, the government has not even bothered to inform and consult with the many Congolese whose lives will be affected by oil and gas exploration and production. We know this because when Greenpeace Africa teams went to speak to people living on the blocks being auctioned, they found communities shocked and outraged that their ancestral lands were being auctioned and their way of life be disturbed.
Fueling Europe’s energy rush
The DRC government’s false nationalism is one that stifles the efforts of ordinary Africans to end a century-long colonial and neo-colonial approach to growth that benefits the wealthiest nations, large multinationals and a closed circle of elites while compounding the hardships of most people on the continent.
In its simplest form, neo-colonialism is the perpetual influence of former colonial masters on African countries, through interventions in politics, economic policy and security.
More and more African leaders are speaking out against neo-colonial practices to defend their national interest and sovereignty and to ensure that national policy advances the dignity and well-being of their people above all else. While this is what the DRC government claims to be doing by auctioning off the Congo rainforest, it is actually further reinforcing the neocolonial hold on the nation.
The move to auction blocks of oil and gas in some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems comes amid a scramble by European nations and their oil and gas giants to find alternative energy sources to reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
It comes at a time when many wealthy economies seem to have forgotten their climate commitments and are now rushing to secure their carbon-intensive lifestyles. And like every neo-colonial act before this, their scramble for resources keeps the needs of repressed Africans going.
This huge auction is sure to render homeless some communities that live and depend on the rainforest, degrading their lands and disrupting their way of life, polluting their air and waters for generations to come. If history is any guide, a few senior officials will line their pockets and big international companies will be the big winners. Moreover, instead of creating more jobs, the oil and gas industry could drive up already rising youth unemployment rates by driving the country’s brightest people away from creating small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of job creation in much of the world. .
Looting as patriotism
There are countless examples across Africa of how such deals have enriched a few elites and left millions of ordinary people in dire straits. True acts of nationalism come from a deep and honest reflection on the higher interest of the people and not on the higher interest of a few elites.
Few countries in the world can match the DRC’s mass, minerals and wealth of biodiversity, 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 was an act of nationalism, the country would have already been part of the G7. Instead, the rush to sell raw materials has only made it poorer and more corrupt, with horrific images of child labor and other hardships at its mines making global headlines.
Nationalism in Africa will require much more than the sale of resources to sustain carbon-crazed lifestyles in wealthier countries. It will take the courage of African leaders to really reinvent other ways to get their people out of their economic struggles.
Building local industry for manufacturing to create jobs, providing decentralized access to energy by harnessing the abundance of solar power, conserving nature and investing in ecotourism are some of the development pathways that Africa needs. They would help encourage good governance, distribute wealth and eradicate the corruption and greed that continue to characterize many leaders in Africa.
Truly adopting an African approach to growth and development also requires having the audacity to reimagine the socio-economic system itself. Has the current approach worked for Africa? Is an alternative economic model rooted in traditional African ways of organizing and living too far-fetched to achieve?
Presenting looting as patriotism – as the DRC government does – does not replace these important issues.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.