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Local Communities in Senegal Demand the Return of their Land Acquired by US Firm

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Members of the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël, 2019. © Grain

—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—

  • US-based African Agriculture Inc. (AAGR) filed an initial public offering to fund a large-scale agribusiness project in the Saint-Louis region of Senegal on March 31, 2022.
  • AAGR acquired the concession formerly held by Senhuile, an Italian-owned firm that took control of the land a decade ago without consent from communities who have since been deprived of the land critical to their livelihoods.
  • On May 30, 2022, the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël representing 37 affected villages sent a letter to AAGR Chairman and CEO Alan Kessler, demanding the immediate return of their land as well as adequate remediation and compensation for the harm and economic loss inflicted upon communities.

Oakland / Dakar / Paris — As US-based holding company African Agriculture Inc. (AAGR) has filed an initial public offering to fund a large-scale agribusiness project in the northern region of Saint-Louis in Senegal, local communities are demanding the company return their land stolen over a decade ago.

In 2012, Senhuile obtained 20,000 hectares of land for 50 years for an agribusiness venture following the declassification of part of the Ndiaël Nature Reserve. In the years since, communities who have been living in Ndiaël for generations have opposed the project and advocated for the return of their legitimate land. The Oakland Institute and GRAIN(link is external) have extensively documented the impact of the project.

“The 20,000-hectare concession has had a devastating impact on our people. It was granted against the will and without the consent of our communities, which have used this land for generations for wood, food, medicinal plants, and most crucially for pasture, given that we are agro-pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on livestock,” said Elhadji Samba Sow on behalf of the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël, representing 37 villages and over 10,000 people. The Senhuile project additionally blocked passage along customary routes between villages and water sources while the irrigation canals caused the death of at least three children by drowning.

On May 30, 2022, the Collectif pour la Défense du Ndiaël sent a letter to AAGR Chairman and CEO Alan Kessler, demanding the immediate return of their land as well as adequate remediation and compensation for the harm and economic loss inflicted upon communities by ten years of occupation of their land by the project. In his response to the letter, Kessler ignored the communities’ demands and instead highlighted a number of actions by his company in their favour, including contributions for the celebration of Ramadan and Eid holidays and distribution of fodder to a few herders.

In 2018, AAGR purchased the Senhuile concession — now renamed Les Fermes de la Teranga (LFT) — from its Italian owners for US$7.9 million. LFT plans to establish a commercial farming business on the concession that will initially focus on producing and selling alfalfa for cattle feed in Senegal and for export. AAGR filed an initial public offering investment prospectus(link is external) in March 2022 and seeks to raise US$40 million to run its operations.

AAGR markets its proximity to the Lac De Guiers and emphasizes low water costs as a “competitive advantage” for their operations, which will require “the use of large volumes of water.” Critically missing from their prospectus is the fact that the Lac De Guiers is the only water reservoir in the lower Senegal River basin, supplying a significant share of water to several cities -– including 65 percent of the water consumed in Dakar — and rural communities in Ndiaël during the prolonged dry season.

“In the IPO filings, AAGR makes no mention of the communities’ opposition to the project and their more than 10-year long struggle to reclaim their land,” said Oakland Institute Policy Director Frédéric Mousseau. “It is critical that the SEC and potential investors are made aware that the project is being established on land grabbed from local communities,” he concluded.

“This project, which really started back in 2009 in Fanaye, has been marred with controversy,” pointed out Renée Vellvé of GRAIN. “People have been killed, livelihoods disrupted, company officials have gone to jail and nothing serious has been produced on the farm. This endless cycle of injustice has to stop.”

Romanian mining and energy tycoon Frank Timis owns 80 percent of AAGR while Senegalese investor Gora Seck owns 9 percent. Timis is a controversial figure due to his involvement in several projects, including a high-level corruption scandal over an oil contract in Senegal, in which the Senegalese president’s brother was implicated.

In their IPO filings, AAGR say they expect to finalize an agreement with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, “to train, develop and transfer educational skills to local communities” in Africa. AAGR also indicate plans for a major carbon credit tree-planting project in Niger, claiming to have reached agreements with the local governments of Ingall and Aderbissinatt to lease over 2.2 million hectares of land.

“For our communities, this is a clear and ongoing case of land grabbing,” concluded Samba Sow. “Alan Kessler and his company are aware of our demand for the return of our land but have chosen to sweep our lives and resistance under the rug. But we will not be silenced,” he concluded.

Source: oaklandinstitute.org

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NGO WORK

Statement- Uganda: Seven Environmental activists brutally arrested, charged and released on police bail for protesting against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project

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On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala, Uganda and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. This was reported by the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (StopEACOP) campaign on 29 May 2024.

The seven human rights defenders were peacefully protesting against the intended financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) by the Chinese government. According to the environmental human rights defenders, EACOP has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis. The EACOP is a project led by Total, spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. The seven environmental activists were sitting outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala in an attempt to present a letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador expressing their complaints and demanding that his government refrain from funding an unfavourable project for them. Due to their arrest occuring before they had any chance of interacting with embassy representatives, their letter was not delivered. The peaceful protesters were violently rounded up by the police, who subsequently packed them in a vehicle and brought them to the Jinja Road police. The seven activists were released on police bail and were due to report back to the Jinja Road police station. On 18 May 2024, following several banks and insurance companies’ withdrawal from EACOP, Civil Society Organizations supporting energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and urged the Chinese President to rescind his interest in funding the project.

Local organizations have been denouncing that, in order to stifle complaints, silence protesters, and maintain pressure on those who defend climate, environment, and land rights, Ugandan authorities have turned to attacking and criminalising environmentalists, climate activists, and defenders of land rights. Uganda has recorded the most number of cases of violations against these human rights defenders, with 18 incidents documented in Africa, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s 2023 in their report titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023. The majority of these attacks seem to center around the EACOP and the environmental human rights defenders campaigning against the project, which the State regards as a significant infrastructure initiative.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the safety and security of the seven environmental human rights defenders and strongly condemns the recent instances of intimidation, criminalization and police harassment they have been subjected to, as it believes are an act of reprisal for their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental and land rights in Uganda.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security and protection of environmental human rights defenders during peaceful protests. The organisation also demands that the brutal arrest of these seven human rights defenders be condemned. Front Line Defenders calls Ugandan authorities to guarantee that all environmental and land human rights defenders, including human rights organisations working on environmental rights, are able to carry out their legitimate activities and operate freely without fear of police harassment.

Source: Frontline Defenders

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NGO WORK

TotalEnergies African legacy: 100 years of environmental destruction.

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TotalEnergies, the French petro giant company with a legacy of destruction on the continent, this year celebrates 100 years. To be clear, that is 100 years of profit, environmental destruction and damage to people’s lives.

The company’s damage is widespread, extensive and well-documented.

In 1956, TotalEnergies entered Africa, exploiting natural resources as it went along. In chasing down oil and gas, it has wreaked havoc on communities, land, and the environment.

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

As Charity Migwi, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, a research, communication, and advocacy organisation, notes, the company has its hands on various projects on the continent.

The project noted above will have about 460km of pipeline in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. On top of this, there are plans to extract oil from the fields in Uganda as well as the company’s prominent role in the Mozambique LNG Project, which is a major cause of carbon emissions

Closer to home, TotalEnergies has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil and gas off the south-west coast of South Africa, which sparked protests. As the company held its annual general meeting in Paris, France, protests by affected communities, civil society and activists in both countries took place.

Environmental justice group The Green Connection’s community mobilisation officer, Warren Blouw, said in a press release: “TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies must consider the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, whose economic wellbeing is jeopardised by offshore oil and gas exploration. We must unite to protect Africa and its resources from those who only seek profit, at the cost of regular South Africans.”

Zinhle Mthiyane, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “We are protesting to protect the environment and prevent ocean pollution. Drilling for oil and gas in South African waters could degrade the environment, threatening livelihoods and cultural practices.”

One of those affected by TotalEnergies and its hunt for fossil fuels is Sifiso Ntsunguzi, a small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, on the Eastern Cape coast. Ntsunguzi made the trip to France to protest.

“We are in Paris to support the court case against TotalEnergies’ oil and gas projects. As a small-scale fisher and member of a coastal community, I do not support the exploration of oil and gas in the ocean. We use the ocean for cultural practices and as a means to sustain our livelihood. We are against exploration of gas and oil, as it may risk degradation of the environment and marine ecosystems, our livelihood and our health. I come from a fishing community and have become a fisher myself,” he said.

In another press release, environmental justice group Bloom wrote that TotalEnergies has been well aware of its climate harms as far back as the 1970s, yet the company still goes ahead with its oil and gas initiatives.

Initially, its strategy was to deny climate change, wrote Bloom. Now that it can no longer do so, it has changed tact and resorts to greenwashing, described by the United Nations as follows: “By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Total Energies portrays itself as a serious player in the renewable energy space and constantly punts its renewable efforts while going full steam ahead with its fossil fuel projects.

For example, it said of its project in the Northern Cape: “TotalEnergies and its partners are launching construction of a major hybrid renewables project in South Africa, comprising a 216 megawatt solar plant and a 500 MWh battery storage system to manage the intermittency of solar production.”

Bloom explained that chasing renewables is profitable but nowhere near as profitable as oil and gas, and it in no way negates the harmful search for and use of fossil fuels. For this reason Bloom and two other climate justice groups took TotalEnergies to court.

This case also hopes to halt the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. As The Guardian reports: “A criminal case has been filed against the CEO and directors of the French oil company TotalEnergies, alleging its fossil fuel exploitation has contributed to the deaths of victims of climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters. The case was filed in Paris by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs.”

Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the University Of Cape Town, said: “The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine science, they will continue to expand their businesses,

they will continue to cause suffering to the people as long as they know that the law can’t hold them accountable.”

Whether the case will yield anything remains to be seen, but the important thing is people are standing up and fighting the harmful practices of these fossil fuel companies. International bodies like the UN climate change conferences yield very little results. It is up to us, the people on the ground, to unite for the good of our planet.

Source: mg.co.za

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NGO WORK

Incredible WIN! European Union withdraws from Energy Charter Treaty

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The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is an international agreement originally created with a focus on growing fossil fuel energy cooperation after the Cold War. Today, the Treaty is a major obstacle to effective climate action because it protects fossil fuel investments. By including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel corporations to sue States that act to protect our climate when that action could impact a company’s profits.

Today, we celebrate because the European Council overwhelmingly adopted the EU’s proposal to exit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), an outdated international investment agreement that protects and promotes fossil fuel investments.

CIEL and other organizations across Europe have worked tirelessly to educate European decision-makers about the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty. Together, we proved how the treaty prevents effective climate action and is fundamentally incompatible with EU law.

This pivotal vote follows up an EU Commission’s proposal for the EU and European Atomic Energy Community to exit the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission found the ECT incompatible with the EU’s laws, investment policy and law, and energy and climate goals. Its proposal broke months of deadlock by offering EU countries the option to remain in the treaty while allowing other countries to exit. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution in April 2024 calling on the EU to withdraw from the ECT.

Today’s vote proves that people power can win critical victories!

Join us in celebrating this victory for the people, the environment, and the climate!

Demonstrators wear masks with the EU leaders under a sword that reads Energy Charter Treaty.

Why does this matter?

Fossil fuel investors have used the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States when they take climate action, claiming a right to compensation for alleged loss of investments. If they are serious about climate action, States must disentangle themselves from investor protections that allow fossil fuel companies to sue them in private courts when States act in the public interest to phase out fossil fuels. States could be squeezed from both sides: sued by communities for their climate inaction with ever greater frequency, and sued by investors when they do act to phase out the fossil fuel drivers of the climate crisis and accelerate the energy transition.

CIEL has worked for a long time to dismantle ISDS and ensure that the perspectives of communities inform ongoing arbitration.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Exit the Energy Charter Treaty'

Policymakers in Europe, and beyond, now have a duty to end their dependency on fossil fuels, exit the ISDS system that allows industry to sue States for enacting public interest policies, and accelerate the clean energy transition.

This win in Europe is a milestone in the fight against investor state dispute settlements. Now, we are leveraging this momentum for other States and clearing the way for effective climate action around the world.

Today we celebrate this victory with you. Tomorrow we will continue working to uproot the fossil economy driving the climate crisis, and the trade and investment deals that stand in the way of a renewable energy future.

Source: ciel.org

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