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Fuel For Thought: Is There Hope For Africa?

While driving up Africa from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Arusha (Tanzania) – over 4,000 kilometres via Botswana, Zambia and Malawi in 5 days – we saw this amazing juxtaposition with a man carrying over 100-pounds of charcoal on his bicycle being passed by a 20-tonne truck carrying gasoline. Both on their way to the nearest market in Arusha, and both in the same colors. To me this image symbolises an Africa pushing hard to progress and stand tall in a changing world. The truck represents international interests with seemingly infinite resources and the ability to suck places dry. The cyclist represents the under-resourced local people of Africa, who have nothing and yet still make a plan. No matter what they say in the “Social and Environmental Impact Assessments” and associated stakeholder meetings linked to new mining developments on the continent, these mines are not for the benefit of the local people and are there simply to make foreign investors richer. These “snapshots” of how the real Africa is doing are important and provide us with unique insights into the progress of much-needed socio-economic development on the continent. Africa is about a rhythm that can only be experienced live, a few steps forward and a few back, as we learn how to be an independent, proud continent…

What does this photograph represent to you?

The juxtaposition of the man carrying 100-pounds of charcoal on his bicycle and the 20 ton fuel truck carrying a payload of gasoline. Both destined for Arusha (Tanzania). (Steve Boyes)
The juxtaposition of the man carrying 100-pounds of charcoal on his bicycle and the 20 ton fuel truck carrying a payload of gasoline. Both destined for Arusha (Tanzania). (Steve Boyes)

In 2009, when this photograph was taken, most of the new roads and bridges in Zambia were being built by Chinese contractors with funds from the World Bank. The local people we spoke to back then were very wary of the growing influence of China, saying, rightly or wrongly, that the Chinese in Zambia were political prisoners sent to Africa on a one-way ticket to work off prison sentences. Some believed that Zambians were losing out on skilled job opportunities in the construction industry, exclaiming that their government was not acting in their best interests at all. In August 2012, a mere three years later, I was in Livingstone (Zambia) with guests on a National Geographic Expedition and was surprised to discover that our driver’s 8-year-old son was being taught Mandarin at school. He said that this was happening in schools across the country and that it was a good thing. Most Zambians had changed their minds and now thought that the government was acting in their best interests and that China was great partner.

Economic development has come to Zambia and you can see it in the attitude of the people. Dr David Livingstone, the British Missionary and Explorer, is a little bit less popular, as thousands of Zambians enjoy the constant flow of cheap motorcycles, cars, food and goods from China. Aston’s 8-year old son taught me more about China’s “special relationship” with Africa than any news broadcast or even the “Forum for China-Africa Cooperation”. Soon he will be able to speak and write Mandarin, and have a bright future in the new world…

Rural communities in Tanzania have had to be self-sufficient since the beginning and are able to supply all their needs. (Steve Boyes)
Rural communities in Tanzania have had to be self-sufficient since the beginning and are able to supply all their needs. (Steve Boyes)

According to a recent United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report on the environment in Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania was listed as having the third-largest net loss of forest area on the African continent. Shockingly, six of the top ten countries with the largest annual net loss of forested area are in Africa – Tanzania was the sixth largest in the world between 2000 and 2005. The primary drivers of this rampant deforestation in Tanzania are commercial and illegal logging for domestic use and export markets, land conversion to agricultural (e.g. slash-and-burn), and demand for charcoal and fuelwood. Tanzania burns over one million tons of charcoal each year, clearing more than 300 hectares of forest every day to produce the necessary charcoal in simple underground kilns. There are several reforestation and carbon projects currently running in Tanzania, yet for every hectare planted or protected by these projects, the best research indicates that three hectares are lost. Tanzania will lose their last primary forest within the next two decades at current rates…

A scene repeated over and over and over as we travelled through Tanzania. This is when traditional practices become dysfunctional due to population growth, urbanisation and instability. These sacks used to be large hardwood trees that took 50-100 years to grow. (Steve Boyes)
A scene repeated over and over and over as we travelled through Tanzania. This is when traditional practices become dysfunctional due to population growth, urbanisation and instability. These sacks used to be large hardwood trees that took 50-100 years to grow. (Steve Boyes)

The gasoline truck on the right of the featured photograph is very significant… Tanzania is estimated to have an offshore gas reserve of 41 trillion cubic feet and the government projects a conservative five-fold rise in the size of their recoverable natural gas reserves over the next five years. This would rival the surges in discovery and production in the Middle East and North America, establishing this East African country as the third-largest gas producer in the world. East Africa has, in fact, become a popular region for oil and gas exploration and developments with BG Group, Ophir Energy, Exxon Mobil and Statoil operating in Tanzania alone. East African producers are gearing up to supply growing demand in emerging Asian markets and investment is coming in… Every month there are new successful natural gas prospects offshore in both Tanzanian and Mozambican waters. Both governments are rushing to put policies in place that protect the local markets and derive maximum sustainable benefit for local people. No African government has achieved this goal or benefitted from the real power that should be afforded the continent with most of the world’s remaining natural resources.

It seems that roads in Africa are only built to get to resources, they are not built for the local people who rely on walking or riding bicycles. (Steve Boyes)
It seems that roads in Africa are only built to get to resources, they are not built for the local people who rely on walking or riding bicycles. (Steve Boyes)

Africa is developing rapidly. Let’s hope that our ruling governments and international trade partners do more for the peoples of Africa. The only path to sustainable development that can support economic development and prosperity without harming biodiversity and intact wild landscapes is doing everything possible to uplift the people. Education, health care and infrastructure for the people and not to appease governments. African leaders must stop being so short-sighted and re-focus on policies that protect and celebrate people and landscapes. The three things that set Africa apart, that makes us special, are our colorful people, our megafauna like elephants, lions and hippo, and our grand, intact wild landscapes like the Okavango Delta, Serengeti, N Mozambique, S Tanzania and remote Congo Basin. Take these away and we are just the same as the rest… Wishing we had what Africa has today.

Please go to the new Wild Bird Trust website to contribute towards our ongoing work in Africa: http://www.wildbirdtrust.com/

Comments

  1. Amavi
    Dakar, Senegal
    December 8, 2013, 6:19 pm

    Wishing we had what Africa has today? No need. As you said above, Africans are not the ones exploiting african mineral resources. In any case, you will not have free hands to exploit these resources in Europe or America, polluting the environment, expelling the local population from their lands and leaving nothing for them. That’s the beauty of globalisation, isn’t it?