Earlier this week, as speakers and participants gathered at Chatham House in central London for a two-day conference entitled ‘Extractive Industries in Africa’, civil society from across Africa and beyond presented an open letter challenging the conference organisers and attendees. The letter was hand delivered by Gaia ally Nnimmo Bassey, a lifelong activist challenging big oil in the Niger Delta, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria, and former Head of Friends of the Earth International. The letter asked that delegates consider an alternative set of questions and discussion points which, rather than paying ‘mere lip service’ to sustainability and international protocols, seek to address the climate, social and ecological crises that the extractives industries are implicated in.

Nnimmo at Chatham House_Africa speaks out-400x700

An extract from the Open Letter Delivered on Monday 16th March

Dear organisers and delegates,

We, members of African civil society and our non-African allies, write to you to express our deep concerns regarding the conference on Extractive Industries in Africa taking place today in London[1].

At this event, which claims to critically consider the current and future role of extractive industries in Africa, we note with concern that mining corporations, government agencies, academics and large NGOs from the Global North are well represented. But where are the voices of affected African communities and civil society in this discussion?

With the exception of one civil society person from Kenya, members of African civil society and/or communities are entirely absent from your speakers list. The participation of African community members is effectively prevented by locating this conference outside of Africa and charging prohibitively expensive fees for attendance (£580 being the cheapest fee for non-member NGOs). It can only be hoped that this is not another Berlin Conference aimed this time at carving up the continent’s resources.

Local communities are most affected by extractive industries in Africa, which routinely disrupt and destroy their livelihoods, health, ecosystems and cultural coherence. To exclude their voices strips this event of all legitimacy.

At this time of multiple social and ecological crises, your conference asks the wrong questions and will only provide answers that miss the mark and risk worsening the social and environmental injustices perpetrated by the extractive industries and their allies in Africa…

Read the full letter here. 

The letter was signed by over 40 organisations and individuals in Africa and beyond. Many of these were connected through Yes to Life, No to Mining, a movement which seeks to raise the voice of those affected by the extractives and to web up those whom are working to protect them. Gaia supported the efforts to spread the word amongst civil society internationally. Later on Monday Nnimmo Bassey was joined by Sheila Berry, an activist working to protect the iMofolozi wilderness in South Africa, for a recorded interview by the Guardian as part of their Keep it in the Ground campaign. This will soon be released as a podcast.

Nnimmo and Sheila also co-authored an article in the Ecologist – Let them eat carbon! The corporate plan to cook Africa in its own fossil fuels.

See the day in Pictures on the Yes to Life No to Mining website. It’s been an encouraging few days for the Yes to Life No to Mining movement of which Gaia is a part. Together we’ve shown how effectively we can support one another, and proved that the voices of those who are impacted upon by the extractives but left out of these discussions will not be kept down.