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DR Congo oil palm company bankrolled by development banks unleashes wave of violence against villagers after peaceful protests

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On 13 February 2021, local communities in the area of Lokutu, Tshopo Province, Dr Congo organised peaceful actions to protest the arrival of a delegation of investors organised by the oil palm plantation company Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC). The villagers were protesting against the failure of the company to provide them with any benefits after more than a 100 years of illegally occupying their lands and the recent takeover of the company by a private equity fund called Straight KKM without any involvement from the communities. Since 2013, PHC, until last year owned by the Canadian company Feronia Inc, has received over US$150 million in financing from the development banks of the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the US. 

A peaceful protest was held at the airplane landing strip in Mwingi to greet the arrival of a delegation of the new owners of PHC/KKM. The new director of PHC and one of its new owners, the Congolese businessman Kalaa Mpinga, was not part of the delegation, which was composed of 3 Asian investors, a representative of PHC and a South African. The villagers then marched from the airfield to the office of PHC in Lokutu.

The next day, the delegation attempted to visit some of the affected communities (notably in Mindua). In some places they were confronted with roadblocks organized by the communities as a sign of discontent. 

In the days that followed, PHC’s security guards (known as gardes industriels) began terrorising the local populations.

According to the information provided by numerous local sources, dozens of villagers from the communities of Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, and Mosite (all located in the vicinity of PHC’s Lokutu plantations) suffered arbitrary arrests and/or physical violence. At the present time, it appears that 12 people are still being held in Yangambi prison (150 km from Lokutu and therefore far from their villages and from any support to assist them in asserting their rights). 

One of those attacked by the company’s security guards died shortly after being badly beaten, tortured and detained. Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village YAKOTE, community of BOLESA, BOLINGA sector, Yahuma territory in the middle of the PHC/ Feronia/ KKM Lokutu plantations in the Province of Tshopo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, died on 21 February 2021 as a result of torture, assault and beatings, perpetrated by the security guards of PHC / Feronia / KKM in Yahuma/Basoko territory, at the Lokutu plantation site, Tshopo Province (DRC).

Here is a breakdown of the arrests and assaults that have occurred so far:

1] Arbitrary arrests in Mwingi – 13 February 2021 – of 3 RIAO-RDC members and 1 community leader

2] Arbitrary arrests in Bolesa – 15 February 2021 – of 8 people, one person who died of his injuries

3] Arbitrary arrests in Mindua – 15 February 2021 (and following days) – of 5 (or more) persons

4] Information that several women were likely raped in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, Mosite

Request for authorisation for a peaceful protest in Lokutu to denounce the killing and violence committed by PHC against local villagers.

Increasing violence over the past months

According to community members, since the recent sale of PHC, and the hiring of Mr King Mpika as Security Estate Manager (head of security) of the PHC in Lokutu, the criminalisation of local protest has increased. According to Gilbert Lokombu Limela, President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side), King Mpika’s security operations also include a detachment of around 50 police officers from Kisangani. Tensions have also been heightened because of the delay in a mediation process that was promised to the communities by the DEG-FMO-Proparco complaint mechanism over 2 years ago. 

Mr King Mpika (who according to some sources is related to the new PHC owner Kalaa Mpinga) is said to have made death threats towards two of the detainees arrested on 13 February, before leaving Lokutu: Mr Christian Litikela and Chimita Alela. 

He is said to have given the orders that led to the acts of repression and recent arrests. 

Villagers protesting the killing of Blaise Mokwe and other violence committed by security guards and police under the command of PHC, February 26, 2021

Circumstances of the arrests

According to local sources, the arrests at Mwingi were carried out by local police, at the request of PHC security. The security guards led or participated in the arrests.

In Mwinigi, three members of RIAO-DRC in Lokutu were arrested under a false pretext of inciting revolt, taking photos of the protest and providing interviews to journalists in which they explained the context of the Lokutu protests. Similar charges were made against the community leader who was arrested at the same time. Three of those arrested were badly beaten. One was released after a payment of 300,000 FC (US$150), while the three others were transferred to Yangambi prison

In the vicinity of Bolesa, the PHC security guards arrested 4 women and 4 men, which they then took to the police station in Lokutu. Several of those arrested were assaulted before they arrived at the police station. Some arrived handcuffed/tied. The eight villagers were taken to the holding cell in Lokutu and the four women were later released. Three of the men were transferred to Yangambi prison. One of those arrested and assaulted, Mr. Blaise Mokwe, was transfered to a hospital which could not care for him and he died on 21 February of his injuries at his home.

There are also reports that a young teacher from Mwingi, who is a local member of RIAO-RDC, was assaulted by PHC security guards while he was travelling to central Lokutu, without any reason given. According to local sources, the arrest was extremely violent. The teacher was eventually tortured, handcuffed and taken to Lokutu prison. He is reported to be in critical condition. 

Following the violent incidents in the vicinity of Lokutu after the demonstration, further assaults and arrests were reportedly made in other villages, including Mindua. The majority of those arrested in Mindua were apprehended by PHC security guards on suspicion of stealing palm nuts and taken by the security guards to Lokutu police station. Sources indicate that five men were arrested, as well as one woman who is five months pregnant. The woman was allegedly beaten and raped and is now at risk of losing her baby. She is reported to have been transferred from the local police station in Lokutu to Yangambi prison. 

Local sources also state that there were several cases of sexual assault and rape committed against women by PHC security guards in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa and Mosite during this wave of violence. 

The coffin of Blaise Mokwe, sitting outside the offices of PHC, as act of protest by his family.

Killing of Blaise Mokwe

Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village of Yakote, was arrested on 15 February at his home near his village of Yakote. That day, he started his day by sweeping his yard in front of his house. As his broom was broken, he went to the plantation to look for a stick to repair his broom. 

That’s when he was arrested by the security guards. They accused Mr. Mokwe of “stealing palm nuts belonging to the plantation” and forced Mr. Mokwe to take them to his house to search the premises and find the “nuts”. Following the search, they found no nuts or oil at Mr Mokwe’s home. However, the security guards decided to take Mr Mokwe to the Lokutu police station. Considering this arbitrary arrest and in the absence of any offence, Mr Mokwe refused to follow them. The security guards then tried to take him by force to the Lokutu police station.

When Mr. Mokwe resisted, the security guards beat and kicked him and then took him by force, handcuffed, to the Lokutu police station (25 km away).  

On arrival at the police station, the commander reportedly demanded that Mr Mokwe be immediately taken to hospital as his health was in a critical state. Unfortunately, at the hospital, due to a lack of medication, Mr Mokwe was unable to receive the necessary care. He therefore returned to his village in Yakote. He died on February 21, in Yakote/Mosite, of the injuries sustained when beaten by the PHC security guards.

In an act of protest and desperation, Mr Mokwe’s family took his body to the Lokutu police station the next day to seek justice. But the Lokutu local police commander refused to allow the body to be taken to the police station because, according to him, the security guards of PHC were responsible for Mr Mokwe’s death, not the police. The body was then taken to the PHC workers’ camp in Lokutu, where it remained during the day of February 22nd, in the presence of some relatives. 

Receipt for the loan of US$100 provided by PHC towards the costs of Blaise Mokwe’s funeral.

PHC made a contribution of 200,000 FC (US$100) to the funeral expenses of Mr Mokwe. Subsequently, PHC requested that an acknowledgement of debt be signed by Mr Mokwe’s elder brother, committing him to reimburse PHC for the payment of the advance to cover funeral expenses. Subsequently, sources confirm that representatives of PHC acknowledged that Mr Mokwe’s death was linked to the assault and beatings he suffered at the hands of its security guards. 

This is understood to be what motivated the company to promise the family an additional indemnity of 500,000 FC (US$300) to cover the funeral expenses.

Mr. Mokwe was buried on 22 February at the end of the day.

Original source: RIAO-RDC

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NGO WORK

Almost 2,000 land and environmental defenders were killed between 2012 and 2022 for simply standing up to protect our planet and us all from the accelerating climate crisis.

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For the past 11 years, Global Witness has documented and denounced waves of threats, violence and killings of land and environmental defenders across the world, and 2022 marks the beginning of our second decade documenting lethal attacks. The world has changed dramatically since we started documenting these in 2012. But one thing that has not changed is the relentlessness of the killings.

Last year, at least 177 defenders lost their lives for protecting our planet, bringing the total number of killings to 1,910 since 2012. At least 1,390 of these killings took place between the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 and 31 December 2022.

On average, a defender was killed every other day in 2022, just as was the case in 2021. Although the overall figure is slightly lower last year than in 2021, when we recorded 200 killings, this does not mean that the situation has significantly improved. The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel and minerals will only intensify the pressure on the environment – and those who risk their lives to defend it. Increasingly, non-lethal strategies such as criminalisation, harassment and digital attacks are also being used to silence defenders.

The situation in Latin America remains particularly concerning. In 2022, the region accounted for 88% of killings – an ever-growing majority of the world’s cases. A total of 11 of the 18 countries where we documented cases in 2022 were in Latin America.

Colombia tops the global ranking with 60 murders in yet another dire year for the country. This is almost double the number of killings compared to 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives. Once again, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists have been viciously targeted. Yet there is hope; when Gustavo Petro, the first leftist president in contemporary Colombia, took office in August 2022, he promised social transformation and enhanced protection for defenders. No government had committed to that before.

In Brazil, 34 defenders lost their lives, compared to 26 in 2021. Defenders in Brazil faced relentless hostility from former president Jair Bolsonaro’s government, whose policies have opened up the Amazon to exploitation and destruction, have undermined environmental institutions and have fuelled illegal invasions of indigenous lands.

An illegal mining operation in the Yanomami Indigenous territory, Brazil, 2023. Alan Chaves/AFP via Getty Images

Mexico, the country with the highest number of killings in 2021, saw a significant drop from 54 murders in 2021 to 31 in 2022. At least 16 of those killed were Indigenous peoples, and four were lawyers. The overall situation in Mexico remained dire for land and environmental defenders, and non-lethal attacks – including intimidation, threats, forced displacement, harassment and criminalisation – continued to seriously hamper their work.

With 14 murders in 2022, Honduras has the world’s highest per-capita killings. The country’s first-ever female president, Xiomara Castro, has committed to protecting defenders. Yet early trends from 2023 point to ongoing rife violence, with reports of killings and non-lethal attacks across the country.

Read more: globalwitness

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Africa Climate Summit 2023 Set to Surrender the Continent to Green Colonialism

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—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—

August 30, 2023; 12:00 AM PDT

Media Contact: amittal@oaklandinstitute.org, +1 510-469-5228

  • Officials from African governments, international institutions, and the private sector will converge at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, September 4 – 6, 2023, to shape the course of Africa’s climate action.
  • With carbon offset schemes and tree plantations set to take center stage — despite their devastating impact along with the corruption and fraud that plague voluntary carbon markets — the Oakland Institute denounces the alarming direction taken by the event.
  • An examination of the African Forestry Impact Platform (AFIP), bankrolled by European development finance institutions, Japanese oil interests, and an Australian investment firm, lays bare the green colonialism that President Ruto of Kenya is promoting on the continent.

Oakland, CA — With carbon offset schemes and tree plantations set to take center stage at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) and Africa Climate Week (ACW) — despite their devastating social and environmental impacts and the prevailing corruption and fraud within the voluntary carbon markets — a new report from the Oakland Institute, Green Colonialism 2.0: Tree Plantations and Carbon Offsets in Africa, denounces the alarming direction taken by the Summit. Starting on September 4, 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, the two events aim to establish a common position for Africa on the climate crisis for the upcoming COP 28 conference in Dubai, slated for December 2023.

The outcome will have significant implications, given the ACS and ACW — both organized by the government of Kenya — are expected to shape the trajectory of climate action for the continent. The focus and intentions of the events, centered on “leveraging” Africa’s abundant “assets” to drive “green growth and climate finance solutions,” raise serious concerns. “This approach only paves the way for further resource extraction while sidelining the rights and interests of local and Indigenous communities,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

Bankrolled by European development finance institutions, Japanese oil interests, and an Australian investment firm, the African Forestry Impact Platform (AFIP), examined in the report, exemplifies the green colonialism that President Ruto of Kenya is promoting on the continent — opening the door for more extraction of Africa’s resources. Despite AFIP’s claim of promoting “nature-based solutions,” a troubling pattern of exploitation and greenwashing underscores its investments, stakeholders, and financial backers. AFIP’s first acquisition is Green Resources, a Norwegian plantation forestry and carbon credit company notorious for its history of land grabbing, human rights violations, and environmental destruction across Uganda, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

Kenya’s promotion of voluntary carbon markets overlooks their fundamental flaws. Over the span of more than two decades, they have miserably failed to reduce carbon emissions, and instead wreaked social havoc by causing forced evictions, loss of livelihoods, and violence. Conflicts of interest, fraud, and speculation plague these markets while the expansion of carbon offset schemes and tree plantations results in expropriation of community lands to generate profits for investors. Far from benefiting Africa, the expansion of carbon markets sustains the status quo of resource exploitation, greenhouse gas pollution, and North/South power imbalances.

“The ACS and ACW represent a pivotal moment. African leaders have a historic opportunity to reject the false solutions that perpetuate the same exploitative model of colonialism that has fueled this environmental catastrophe. Instead, they must listen to the calls of over 400 African civil society organizations(link is external) and prioritize real solutions that account for historical responsibility, uphold the rights of Indigenous and local communities, and pave the way for an equitable and just transition. African people deserve climate justice, not more extractivism,” concluded Mittal.

Source: oaklandinstitute.org

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African Development Bank’s Push for large scale Agriculture in Africa will spark more concerns over Food Sovereignty and Environmental Impacts.

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Panel at the second international summit on food production in Dakar, 10 February 2023, from left to right: Allan Kasujja, BBC (moderator); Admassu Tadesse, Trade and Development Bank; Danladi Verheijen, Verod Capital; M. Malick Ndiaye, Banque Agricole; Dr. Olagunju Ashimolowo, ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development; M. Wagner Albuquerque de Almeida, International Finance Corporation. Source: African Development Bank Group.

“Agriculture must become Africa’s new oil,” said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at the inauguration of the “Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience” (Dakar 2) summit, held in late January 2023 in Senegal. He spoke to 34 African heads of state and 70 ministers, representatives of the European Commission, the United States and several European countries, as well as multilateral institutions such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).[1]

While one of the main objectives of the Bank at the summit was to attract private financing for its projects, the intervention of the director of the Nigerian private equity fund Verod Capital explains the challenge: “I know that we talk about the future of Africa as being that of smallholder farmers, but (…), it is really difficult to experience governance at this level. Smallholder farmers are not the most efficient enterprises. Their bargaining power is limited, they have less money to invest in the infrastructure needed for more efficient agriculture and to get their products to market (…). So, we need bigger businesses where we can deploy capital. I think it will attract more private capital. »[2] Verod is one of the 70 private equity funds in which the AfDB is a shareholder.[3]

In financial terms, the Bank has a certain weight in the continent. It currently has USD 240 billion to invest and a portfolio of USD 56.6 billion already invested.[4] The main sectors covered by this portfolio are: transport (27%), electricity (20%), finance (18%) and agriculture (13%).[5]

Often these investments lead to conflicts with affected local communities. According to the Environmental Justice Atlas, the Bank is involved in at least 14 ongoing social and environmental conflicts.[6] It is in this context that social movements and women’s groups are preparing an African civil society campaign against the AfDB.[7]

So how does the Bank work? Which actors benefit the most? What agricultural model is it promoting? And what role does it play in relation to the struggles for food sovereignty in Africa?

Dakar 2 and the Era of Pacts

Among the “successes” of Dakar 2 claimed by the AfDB is the agreement to implement the “Food and Agricultural Supply Pacts” for 40 countries for the next 5 years.[8] The African Union has declared its strong support for this initiative.[9]

A first reading of the pacts surprises by the lack of care taken in their drafting. For example, the pacts of Burundi and Cape Verde are incomplete, and that of Togo does not make it possible to know whether it concerns this country, Niger or Madagascar. In others, like that of Cameroon, certain parts of the text are copied several times. Despite the supposed importance of these initiatives in attracting funding from the private sector and development banks and agencies, the total cost of the projects is unclear. Our conservative estimate of the total cost is around USD 65 billion.[10]

Far from promoting agro-biodiversity, which is Africa’s wealth, the pacts aim to promote mainly corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and palm oil. The aim is to increase their yields through the industrialisation of “value chains”, which will extend to livestock, dairy and fisheries. To do this, the pacts will promote mechanisation, certified seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, often via tax exemption on imports and other types of subsidies.

Throughout the summit it was repeated that 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.[11] This is why the expansion of cultivated area is strongly on the agenda in the pacts and covers tens, hundreds of thousands or even millions of hectares, depending on the country. For example, under the Tanzania pact, only 23% of the land available for agriculture would be cultivated. The document proposes prioritising the production of wheat, avocado, market garden produce and sunflower. For this, it refers to the need to expand the agricultural area by more than two million hectares by 2025, in particular through a “transfer” of land currently owned by the village councils. The government is reportedly already identifying and acquiring land for industrial agriculture, installing irrigation infrastructure, an agreement with the “Building Better Tomorrow” initiative.[12]

The provision of open trade policies aimed at attracting investment, especially from the private sector, is also mentioned in the pacts, often in the form of very problematic public-private partnerships.[13] Among other policies aimed at attracting investment, the Kenya pact refers to the absence of restrictions on the repatriation of earnings and capital. It is also worrying that the pacts are based on failed agro-industrial programs. This is the case, for example, of that of Gabon, which specifies that the implementation will be based “on the institutional mechanism already existing and set up by the support project for the GRAINE program”. This program was entrusted to a public-private partnership between the Gabonese government and the multinational Olam in 2015. It has been denounced by the affected communities for having led to the grabbing of thousands of hectares by oil palm plantations.[14]

Source: Grain

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