14: Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea: “we thought it was oil but it was blood”
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The Gulf of Guinea has been the historical scene of many crimes against humans and the environment, a commodity extraction and export region, whether of slave human labour, “preciosities”, or more recently “bulk” commodities such as oil from the Niger Delta (by the Shell company and other multinationals) causing havoc and resistance by the Ogoni, the Ijaw and other groups.This chapter explains waste dumping in Ivory Coast and Senegal; oil palm plantations in Liberia, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, and Gabon; biomass and land conflicts in Burkina Faso; river management conflicts in the Niger River and the Volta River; oil extraction, iron ore and uranium mining in Gabon; phosphates in Togo; gold mining, aluminium smelting and hydropower in Ghana; bauxite and iron ore mining in Guinea; transboundary environmental conflicts related to transport like the coastal gas pipelines from Nigeria to Ghana; and oil extraction, oil spills and gas flaring in the Niger Delta, among other.


From the African coast of the Indian Ocean, we now go to the Gulf of Guinea. The EJAtlas contains numerous cases from Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea and the west coast of Africa.

The Gulf of Guinea has been the historical scene of many crimes against humans and the environment. My collaboration with Environmental Rights Action (ERA, Friends of the Earth, in Nigeria, FoEN) dates from 1995 through Acción Ecológica of Ecuador and their contact with Nnimmo Bassey, in the sad days in which Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni companions were killed by the military dictatorship for their opposition to the Shell corporation. In the same year, 1995, Oilwatch was founded. The names of Agip and Shell, Chevron and other oil companies appear in many of the conflicts recorded for Nigeria in the EJAtlas. Nnimmo Bassey coined the words “We thought it was oil but it was blood”, as he also coined the slogan “leave oil in the soil”. Years later this was behind the Yasuni ITT proposal in Ecuador. We could also say in this chapter, “we thought it was palm oil, but it is land grabbing and deforestation”. To stop the flow of oil, palm oil and other raw materials from the South to the North (in protest against the local socio-environmental damages and also the ruinous prices) would be “degrowth in practice”. It is not true that the poor cannot contribute to degrowth of the capitalist industrial economy because they are “too poor to be green”, and that therefore degrowth should begin in the world's wealthiest economies. It should begin everywhere, and in the South by the socio-ecological movements of the poor and the Indigenous against cheap and damaging exports, and against the import of waste and against climate change.

Nigeria has a still growing population of 212 million people in an area of 923,768 km2. It is the country with the largest population in Africa, and the seventh largest population in the world. Some other countries in West Africa barely reach 30 million inhabitants (Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast). I visited Nigeria and the Niger Delta in 2013. Before that, I had visited Benin (which in the past was part of the kingdom of Dahomey) for a meeting of Friends of the Earth on the ecological debt from North to South organized by Ivonne Yanez of Acción Ecológica and Oilwatch in 2001. The impressive Nigerian economic writer Festus Iyayi was in the Benin meeting but he died in a road accident a couple of years later. Nnimmo Bassey was also there and accompanied those at the meeting on an emotional walk on the slave road in Ouidah, many of us crying. My friend the environmental historian José Augusto Padua from Rio de Janeiro was there ‒ many of the slaves were taken to Brazil and brought the Yoruba religion with them.

This is the coast of slavery, also the gold and the ivory coast, and now the coast of bauxite, iron ore, oil, gas extraction, palm oil, and sand mining – an undisguised commodity p. 269extraction frontier for many centuries. It is also a destination for solid waste disposal giving rise to some socio-ecological conflicts. This is not a remote territory ‒ it is in some way the centre of the world, where in our usual representation Parallel 0º and the Greenwich Meridian 0º intersect. As slavery was eventually stopped, so the barbarity of the present economic-ecological system must be stopped.


Trafigura in Ivory Coast 1

The Trafigura waste dumping case happened in August 2006. Toxic waste was illegally exported from Europe by the multinational company Trafigura in the tanker Probo Koala, and left in Akoudo dump site (Abidjan), and in other sites in the city. Tens of thousands of people suffered severe health effects and about 15 people died. Ivorians staged protests in the city following the dumping, but the company paid the Ivorian government US$ 195 million in settlement and became immune from prosecution.

In 2010/11, a Dutch court found Trafigura guilty of the illegal export of waste from the Netherlands to Africa and for concealing the harmful nature of the waste for life and health. However, an out of court settlement requiring Trafigura to pay a total of $1.7 million in fines concluded the legal process in the Netherlands. No studies were undertaken to assess the long-term health impacts of the waste. Thousands of Ivorians were yet to receive compensation. Small liability in money terms and no criminal responsibility: this is the rule of cost-shifting.

E-waste Recyclers in Agbogbloshie, Accra 2

Agbogbloshie is a slum in the heart of Accra, Ghana, that achieved notoriety as one of the most polluted slums in the world by hosting one of the largest electronic waste dumps in Africa. In this area the poorest classes of Accra have been spending years dismantling, recovering, weighing and reselling parts and metals extracted from heaps of electronic waste. The majority of the e-waste first enters the African continent through South Africa, Tunisia and Nigeria, so shipments containing hazardous materials circumvent the Basel and Bamako Conventions due to wording and labelling tactics. Once in Ghana, a shipment will more likely reach an informal facility in Accra where end-of-life electronic goods will pile up in one of several locations in the city, like Agbogbloshie.

Every day informal workers transform used electronic products into working units and extract heavy and precious metals for reuse in second-hand formal and informal markets. The e-waste that has been either refurbished/repaired or recycled will later arrive in the hands of a middleman, e-waste intermediaries who send Ghanaian recovered copper, mixed scraps and other metals to international recycling firms in Europe, China, India, and the Middle East. These international players have greater technical capabilities and accumulate scraps from numerous e-waste hubs, thereby achieving economies of scale in recycling. At the same time, some streams of refurbished and repaired consumer goods, as well as extracted metals, re-enter the Ghanaian domestic market from scrap dealers. The non-valuable fractions and the p. 270unusable/irreparable e-waste components end up in a formal landfill or in an informal dumping ground to be burned.

All these rudimentary recycling techniques practised by informal e-waste processors release environmental toxins that pollute and contaminate landscapes, waters and biota of Agbogbloshie. Waste left in fields and nearby bodies of water is ingested by animals and marine life, thus creating entry points for toxins into non-human ecological systems, while indirectly affecting humans via consumption of fish and seafood. On the other hand, little-to-no protective measures in use endanger not only the e-waste workers, but also local inhabitants. In fact, residents of the nearby settlement of Old Fadama and those working and residing in the central business district are at risk of experiencing high exposure levels of environmental toxins. A report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency says that the waste contains many toxic chemicals, neurotoxins and carcinogens. E-waste recyclers can develop respiratory illness, developmental and behavioural disorders, damaged immune, nervous and blood systems, kidney damage, impaired brain development, mental disability from lead poisoning, and eventually cancer. Ghana's authorities have proposed the demolition of Agbogbloshie several times, and early operations began in June 2015. But the approach taken is raising concerns because, according to local organizations, this doesn’t solve the problem, it simply moves it elsewhere. The Agbogbloshie site alone provides cash to approximately 4,500–6,000 workers and perhaps another 1,500 indirectly. E-recyclers earn between $6 and $10 per day.

Based on research conducted in 2009, the area of Agbogbloshie was home to 80,000 individuals. More generally, Ghana's e-waste activities sustain the livelihoods of at least 200,000 people nationwide and generate US$105–268 million annually. This amount, in 2009, represented 280,000 metric tons of e-waste that entered Ghana, of which only 1 per cent were processed through a formal facility.p. 271

Map of West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea with the Niger and Volta Rivers (Wikimedia Commons).
Figure 14.1

Map of West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea with the Niger and Volta Rivers

Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Mbeubeuss Landfill, Dakar, Senegal 3

I continue with a description of an awful urban waste disposal site in Dakar, Senegal, and the rights of waste pickers. Mbeubeuss illustrates the tensions between a top-down imposed perspective on waste management for the sake of private profits, and a grassroots perspective from the waste pickers defending their source of livelihood. Mbeubeuss is a means of subsistence for one of the poorest populations in Dakar suburbs. This open-air landfill causes air and soil contamination in the Malika District, where more than 17,000 people live. The waste pickers’ community is formed by young populations unable to find a job in Dakar. Mbeubeuss is only 27 km away from the capital. The 2,500 informal waste pickers are a marginalized and discriminated group among the Senegalese society, but they organized with the creation of the Bokk diom Association in the late 1970s when the government tried to remove them.

Foreign investment interests, mainly coordinated under the World Bank programmes, have been influencing the Senegalese government. Already in 2005, a report from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program proposed the privatization of the waste from Mbeubeuss for the creation of methane capture technology to generate electricity, but the project never materialized.

By 2009, the closure of the Mbeubeuss landfill became conditional for the relocation of the 3,000 households near Pikine, being displaced for the construction of a highway as the chosen relocation area was 2 km away from Mbeubeuss. The Senegalese government's creditors (mainly the International Development Association, part of the World Bank group) pressured for the landfill closure. The World Bank proposed to open a new site which would only have generated 300 job positions with lower salaries. The waste pickers defended their self-employment and mobilized with the help of ENDA to oppose the project. As a result, the situation of the landfill remains the same, although the World Bank and its associated programmes, other development agencies such as the Canadian agency CRDI/IDRC, also advocate in favour of the closure of Mbeubeuss for sanitarian and environmental reasons. The agency funded the project “Pure” from 2006 to 2011 during which time it monitored the social, health and environmental impacts of the landfill on Malika, Diamalaye and Njagoo neighbourhoods.

The waste pickers fight for bottom-up mitigation solutions, which take into consideration their needs, instead of a managerial imposed perspective whose aim is to foster private and foreign profits. The involvement of international and foreign institutions, though, is not necessarily going against the waste pickers’ will. For instance, Bokk diom has set up a school for the children of the dump thanks to financial help from European organizations (French Agence Française du Développement, the Luxembourg Agency for Development and the Belgian Ministry for Cooperation). The waste pickers also obtained funds from the United Nations Development Program to construct a medical centre. Security issues remain recurrent in the landfill. Tragedies happened in December 2016, when a fire in the landfill killed two people. After these tragedies, the public authorities committed to study the possibilities of the future of the landfill.


The cases that follow on oil palm plantation conflicts, land grabbing and agricultural biodiversity illustrate the persistent colonial domination in the area. These are not geographically p. 272limited extractivist “enclaves”, these are expansive plantations. Sometimes this type of colonial domination is exercised by new companies with a global reach (such as Wilmar, from Singapore). At other times, there are European owners, such as Bolloré from France and SOCFIN, active in Africa and SE Asia. By July 2021 the EJAtlas had 101 conflicts related to palm oil, most of them in Indonesia and other countries in SE Asia, followed by West Africa and Central and South America. The yearly production of palm oil is approximately 75 million tons (Figure 14.2). Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest producers, followed by Thailand, Nigeria, Colombia and Guatemala.

A map showing where oil palm plantations have been created (Rico Kongsager, 2012).
Figure 14.2

A map showing where oil palm plantations have been created

Source:  Rico Kongsager, 2012

Golden Agri Resources/Golden Veroleum Palm Oil Plantations, Sinoe County, Liberia 4

The expansion of large Palm Oil Plantations in the south-eastern Liberian rainforest is made at the expense of livelihood and sacred sites of local communities. One of the best documented land grabbing cases took place in Sinoe County. A partnership between Golden Agri Resources (GAR) ‒ through Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a subsidiary of the New York-based Verdant Fund LP and the Government of Liberia ‒ was announced in August 2010. The area was supplemented by 40,000 ha for small holder plantations. By 2021, GVL, the world's second largest palm oil company, was subject to claims filed in July 2018 by Friends of the Earth groups from Liberia (Sustainable Development Institute), the Netherlands (Milieudefensie) and the United States (FoE US). It was found that GAR committed deforestation of over a thousand hectares of forest, including endangered species habitat and wetlands. The company also had violated the communities land and cultural rights including the right to free prior and informed consent. In early 2019, GAR was delisted from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index after several high-level company executives were jailed for bribing Indonesian officials, which in practice did not change anything in Liberia.

The terms of the contract, which are valid for 65 years, are for palm oil plantations, out-grower schemes and the construction of a new port. In October 2012, Green Advocates, an NGO, filed a first case against the company for non-compliance with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on behalf of communities in Sinoe County where crops were destroyed, shrines were desecrated, villages uprooted and grave sites destroyed.

However, the company continued its expansion during the Ebola crisis of 2014, as Global Witness reported that GVL obtained the signature of four land-concession agreements. Blogbo people's sacred sites were profaned, the Palotro Hill and the Sleni River suffered from a mill for processing the palm oil which was constructed, risking the contamination of the river's water. By July 2016 the Liberian forestry authority proposed to allow the sale of the timber logged from the concessions. which might incentivize further deforestation. It finally was not concretized thanks to joint efforts between the Sustainable Development Institute and the Rainforest Rescue.

Okumu Oil Palm Plantation in Edo State, Nigeria 5

In June 2017, ERA/FoEN, representatives of the Owan and Okomu communities urged the Dr Godwin Obaseki administration in Edo State to uphold a revocation Order on land expropriated by Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc (a Belgian company). Under former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, the sale of the lands in contention had been reversed, which cover an estimated 13,750 ha spread through Okomu Forest reserve to Owan Forest reserve. The Okomu Oil p. 273 p. 274Company Plc disregarded the Edo State Government order. The company is alleged to have militarized the communities and continued bulldozing the forests for palm oil plantations. “In the process, over 60,000 rural farmers have been displaced and a host of communities impacted”, the ERA/FoEN disclosed in a statement made on June 21 2017. There were street marches and other forms of protest.

Two years earlier, in 2015, ERA/FoEN had expressed dismay towards multinational companies in the country denying their host communities the use of their lands without any commensurate compensation. Rita Uwaka, project officer of ERA in her research findings, told journalists that Okomu Oil Palm firm, a member of the global SOCFIN Group, grabbed land across forest reserves for oil palm business. Community-based livelihoods, comprising mainly farming and fishing, had been truncated with over 20 communities risking eviction and human rights abuses. According to her:

There is an increasing threat to the existing food security system as hunger prevails, sicknesses and diseases arising from plantation chemicals and poor sanitation are having differentiated impacts on women and children. No documented evidence of an EIA is in sight. Entry and exit of community people from their territories is at the mercy of the plantation company. Some were hopeful of this “development opportunity”.

ERA alleged that over 11,000 ha of forested land as well as communal farmlands had been grabbed by Okomu Oil Palm Plc in Nigeria. Meanwhile, in 2019 it was reported that the government and the Central Bank of Nigeria supported further growth of oil palm plantations.

Wilmar Concessions in Cross River State, Nigeria 6

According to ERA-FoEN, Edo State is currently the second highest in terms of deforestation in Nigeria behind Cross River State. Okomu Oil Palm has become one of the major drivers of deforestation for oil palm cultivation. Another similar case triggering deforestation, land grabs and threats to the locals’ livelihoods and culture, is in the Cross River State in the Niger Delta region whose government handed over vast concessions of land to Wilmar International in its bid to restore its past glory as a palm oil exporter. ERA-FoEN considers that at least 20,000 people were directly affected by Wilmar's concessions in Cross River State, among which potentially 10,000 are at risk of displacement. The locals’ daily life and farming activities are impacted by Wilmar's use of chemicals. They also see the biodiversity of their surroundings put in jeopardy.

Communities informed ERA that the Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates were acquired in 1959 by the then Eastern Nigeria government via the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. These lands were meant for palm oil plantations. In December 1963, a formal agreement was reached between the communities and the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. At the creation of the Cross River State in 1967, the new state administration took over the estates. However, over the years the estates became moribund because of administrative neglect, but locals were allowed to farm on the land if they paid a yearly rent.

An independent research led by G. C. Schoneveld (2014), considered that at least one-third of the lands in the concessions of Calaro, Ibiae and Biase were being farmed by small-holders prior to the arrival of Wilmar. These farmers were deemed to have the right to farm in perpetuity. The results of Schoneveld's study were ignored by Wilmar. The communities from Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates complained that they were not adequately consulted on the transfer of the land to Wilmar. Testimonies collected by ERA alleged that the Nigerian p. 275government and Wilmar have instrumentalized the local chiefs’ authority to pretend they had gained the populations’ consent despite obvious local discontent. The impacted villagers wrote a petition to the state government via their lawyers in April 2012, where they said that by virtue of the breach of fundamental provisions of the 1963 lease agreement the government had ceased to have any legal rights over the lands. The communities alleged that the government failed to pay the rents and royalties agreed over a 24-year period.

The acquisition of Obasanjo's concession is also a case of land-grab. In 1992, communities of Ekong Anaku, Mbobui, Mfamosing, Abiati and Anigheje (in Cross River State) agreed to hand over their lands as a forest reserve. In exchange, the government promised to undertake programmes for agroforestry and rural development and credit for small farms. Those promises were never fulfilled. In 2002, the Cross River State government handed these lands to the company Obasanjo Farms Ltd, owned by the president of Nigeria at that time: Olusegun Obasanjo, who in 2011 sold the concession to Wilmar. The communities were never consulted nor compensated. Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa that has not ratified the 169 ILO Convention that provides protection to Indigenous and Tribal peoples.

With the assistance of civil society groups, the communities raised the issue of the failure of Wilmar to conduct a mandatory EIA as required by law and to also abide by the National Park Act and the Forest Laws. Communities argued that it is wrong for Wilmar to commence massive forest clearing without an approved EIA Report. ERA argued that the way that Wilmar obtained these concessions represented a major violation of the rights of consultation as guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples of 13 September 2007 and the Principles and criteria of the RSPO.

In February 2014, Wilmar Nigeria Limited was billed to appear in court to answer charges of unlawful trespass by its host communities from Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates. The company was accused of unlawful acquisition of communal land and non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Mr Odey Oyama, an environmental expert and Executive Director of Nigerian-based NGO Rainforest Reserve and Development Center (RRDC), filed a suit. RRDC cited multiple infractions of Nigerian state and federal laws governing land ownership and the Land Use Act. According to news reports by August 2018, the communities failed to obtain justice after a series of appeals.

RRDC filed several complaints to the RSPO, of which Wilmar is a member. In what concerns the Obasanjo plantation, RRDC again considers the deal between Wilmar and the government was illegal. RRDC also alerted the European Union on the effects of its biofuels policy on Southern countries like Nigeria, as the European demand for biofuels feeds the greed of multinationals like Wilmar.

The RSPO Roundtable appears in other chapters of this book. It was established in 2004 for promoting the growth of palm oil products through global standards and multistakeholder governance. It is a “greenwashing” organization that in their own words “unites stakeholders from the 7 sectors of the palm oil industry: oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social NGOs, to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil”.

Again, Palm Oil in São Tomé and Principe 7

São Tomé and Principe (Biosphere Reserve) is a small island nation west of Equatorial Guinea, with unique flora and fauna. Of a total avifauna of 143 species, including 72 breeding p. 276residents, 28 species are endemic to the islands, of which 12 are species of global conservation concern. Here, resistance was based on the local population, but it also appealed to international biodiversity conservation organizations.

According to a WRM report, the oil palm grows naturally on the two main islands. When the Portuguese arrived between 1469 and 1472, the introduction of sugarcane cultivation based on slave labour led to the forced arrival of Africans from Benin, Congo and Angola who brought with them the traditional uses of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Their leaves have traditionally been used in basket weaving, bags and brooms by local people. Moreover, this type of palm is used to produce wine.

After the Independence of the islands, the EU financed the plantation of 650 hectares of oil palm in Ribeira Peixe, São Tomé island. The first palm oil mill Empresa de Óleos Vegetais (EMOLVE) was established by a loan from the European Investment Bank. During the 1980s, EMOLVE continued expanding its palm plantations. By 1990, EMOLVE's industrial plant produced about 2,000 oil tonnes/year. In 1999, the oil production declined, finally coming to a halt in 2007, as the oil palm groves grew old and the company's equipment deteriorated. In 2008, the equipment was improved with a contribution from Taiwan, but the problem was not resolved.

In 2009, Agripalma, a subsidiary of STP Invest and São Tomé investors acquired a concession to recover and expand oil palm plantations from 610 ha to 5,000 ha with the aim of processing the oil as biofuel in Belgium. The people of Principe Island rebelled against the agreement, preventing the deforestation of more than 1,000 ha of land in the Sundy area, so the government looked for more land on the island of São Tomé to respond to the agreement signed in 2009 with Agripalma. This new expansion took place close to the Monte Carmo forests of the Obô Natural Park and overlapped with the Natural Park's buffer zone. The state expropriated land from agriculture and gave it to Agripalma Company, generating land conflicts that the farmers are individually fighting. According to Bird Life International, the Natural Park is suffering serious threats like “increasing hunting and extractive pressures on the forest birds and other biodiversity”. International NGOs have developed a campaign to avoid losing the rich biodiversity.

Since 2013, some citizens organized and they complain that the oil palm is replacing their staple food, coconut. Here livelihood needs and biodiversity conservation come together. The conservationists focused on small corners of the island only. By July 2013, the court approved an injunction against Agripalma, imposing restrictions on the development of palm oil plantations in the country. However, the court merely imposes conditions with the objective of protecting specific areas (Carrere 2013).

Palm Oil and Rubber Plantation Deforestation, Gabon 8

Two agro-industrial companies, Olam International and SIAT Gabon, are involved in the large-scale development of palm oil and rubber plantations in Gabon. The Gabonese government allocated a total of 300,000 ha for plantations to Olam, which has had timber concessions in Gabon since 1999, but only obtained the palm and rubber land in the late 2000s. The development of the plantations involves the clearing of large areas of pristine tropical forest that communities depend on for their livelihoods for agriculture, hunting, fishing and collecting non-timber products. The project will benefit from a 16-year income tax holiday, and exemptions on payment of duties or tax on machinery, gas, oil, fertilizers and other inputs. p. 277Land insecurity, food insecurity, working conditions and resource management issues are other concerns. Moreover, communities face more restrictions than before on use of forests in OLAM's concession areas, which the company could use as compensation.

Olam was reported to want to reach a production of at least 60,000 tons of rubber by 2016. Olam is the main industrial oil palm company in the country, with the Gabonese government holding a 49 per cent stake in the company. According to a September 2019 WRM article, in December 2016, the US conservation NGO Mighty Earth evidenced in a report that OLAM had deforested approximately 20,000 ha in Gabon for its industrial oil palm plantations. Three months later, Mighty Earth signed an agreement with OLAM, which committed itself to a moratorium on further deforestation.

In 2018, the Gabonese Ministry of Agriculture proposed to modify the current forest definition based only on tree coverage. The proposal would consider a forest not only as an area with trees, which in itself mistakes a tree plantation for a true forest. Moreover, it would set a parameter of a minimum quantity of carbon that a forest area should contain. If this definition is adopted, it would create a dangerous precedent and its overall purpose would become very evident: OLAM can expand its plantations into areas of secondary forests and forests in regeneration while claiming to be upholding its international “zero deforestation” commitment.

The Retreat of Monsanto GM Cotton from Burkina Faso: Conservation of Agricultural Biodiversity 9

There are other biomass-related conflicts in West Africa, a land of peasants but also of colonial plantations. I now move to a case in Burkina Faso, a success in environmental justice against a big multinational company reflecting very clearly the clash between international commercial interest and local livelihoods and markets. In 2015, seven years after Monsanto Bt cotton was first commercially cultivated in the country, a decision was taken to return to conventional cotton.

Burkina Faso was once the poster child for genetically modified (GM) crop advocates. Its adoption of GM cotton for smallholder farmers in 2008 was hailed as an example of how these technologies could alleviate poverty by protecting crops from pests and increasing yields. But this much celebrated success story came to an abrupt halt in 2016 when the Burkina Faso government and cotton companies decided to abandon GM cotton. (Luna and Dowd-Uribe 2020)

Burkina Faso is a major producer and exporter of high-quality cotton. It has gone through the experience of large-scale planting of Bt cotton provided by Monsanto, a GMO variety. Farmers did not have much choice given the marketing structure for the cotton crop. Sofitex ‒a state company ‒ and two smaller private companies dictate what cotton farmers plant. Large-scale planting of Bt cotton started in 2008. However, seven years later it was being phased out after showing a marked decline in fibre quality compared to conventional Burkinabé cotton. In 2015 there were street demonstrations in the capital against Monsanto. By 2016‒17 Burkina Faso, Africa's top cotton producer, was phasing out genetically modified cotton on quality grounds. The world's tenth largest cotton producer said it was giving up Monsanto's GM Bt cotton because it had proved uneconomical: low price of the crop, and more expensive inputs. The Inter-professional Cotton Association of Burkina (AICB), grouping the country's main producers and the national cotton farmers’ union, was opting instead for “100 percent p. 278conventional” production, announced Wilfried Yameogo, director of Sofitex. The events had an echo in India (Andhra Pradesh), where there were also criticisms against Monsanto Bt cotton and problems reached a much larger scale in terms of area and population.

To sum up, in a modernizing effort to increase yields, AICB began introducing Monsanto's Bollgard II trait into Burkinabé cotton varieties in 2009. Monsanto started getting juicy royalties. The AICB, which groups together Burkina's Sofitex and two other cotton companies, and the national cotton farmers union (UNPCB), believed the trait has increased levels of short fibres in its cotton, and reduced the ginning ratio, thus reducing its market value. US$ 84 million were claimed by the Burkina Faso government from Monsanto due to losses to cotton farmers. In 2017 the money dispute with Monsanto was settled (Figure 14.3).

Banner “Our seeds, our knowledge. Montsanto shall not pass over us” (Inter Réseaux).
Figure 14.3

Banner “Our seeds, our knowledge. Monsanto shall not pass over us”

Source:  Inter Réseaux

Monsanto (taken over by Bayer AG at a cost of US$ 66 billion) is a company that appears in other chapters. One wonders how Monsanto's socio-environmental liabilities were valued (in money terms) when Bayer's takeover took place. All the more remarkable is this success of Burkina Faso farmers in conservation of agricultural biodiversity (López Villar 2017).


The Gulf of Guinea is also a region of oil and gas extraction geared to export reaching south to the corrupt regime of Equatorial Guinea. The Niger Delta is the central region but we shall start with the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline against which there was a strong but ineffective campaign in the late 1990s (Figure 14.4).p. 279 p. 280

Map of EJAtlas conflicts in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea (A. Grimaldos).
Figure 14.4

Map of EJAtlas conflicts in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea

Source:  A. Grimaldos

The Doba-Kribi, Chad-Cameroon Pipeline 10

In June 2000, in spite of a three-year global opposition campaign led by local population and international NGOs, the World Bank financed the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline, a 1,100-km pipeline for crude oil from southern Chad to Cameroon's Atlantic coast, through tropical rainforest. The pipeline has a capacity of about 225,000 barrels of crude oil per day, roughly equivalent to 10 million tons of crude oil per year, meant for export. The project was one of Africa's largest public-private partnerships at the time and took upwards of $3.7 billion in investments, including the construction of 300 oil wells in Chad. The Cameroonian rainforest covers an area of about 20 million ha. Besides posing a serious threat to the biodiversity and the ecosystem of the country, the construction of the oil pipeline and the subsequent deforestation generated serious social conflicts, and deprived local Indigenous communities of territorial resources and traditional livelihoods, especially the Bakola Pygmy people. Bantou villagers claimed Pygmies’ lands as theirs and received the compensations which were due to the Pygmies. In 2002, a project by the Forest Peoples Programme helped resolve some of the long-standing rivalries between the Bantou and the Pygmies. Overall, the compensation plan by Cameroon Oil Transportation Company (COCTO) was insufficient.

A Yaoundé Peoples Tribunal was launched in September 2005 by organizations supporting local communities’ five-year protest against the project. In operation since 2003, local NGOs denounced the numerous oil spills regularly occurring. The oil extractive industry also threatens the fishing economy of Kribi, Cameroon's port, from where the oil is exported. Far from relieving poverty, the pipeline provoked health problems for the population living in the 242 villages it goes through. In 2011, a complaint against the World Bank and International Finance Corporation listed the following points against COCTO's operations:

  • A rise in HIV/AIDS;

  • Concerns over adequacy of compensation packages;

  • Loss of livelihoods among fishermen;

  • Inappropriate waste management;

  • Work related accidents;

  • Displacement of and improper compensation to indigenous communities; –

  • Concerns about subcontractors and compensation process; –

  • Concerns regarding royalties.

In spite of the multiplication of reports of monitoring entities the World Bank demonstrated its incapacity or unwillingness to influence the operations of oil companies in any meaningful way. The pipeline also has severe consequences on Chad. Scandals burst out, denouncing that the government finances its war against the rebels in the North and East of the country with the revenues from oil. It is alleged that none of that money has benefited the local residents near the pipeline.

Oil and Gas in the Niger Delta: An Introduction 11

Oil is the major source of revenue for Nigeria. It is the largest producer of crude oil in Africa when the oil fields are not riddled with violence. The associated environmental impacts lead to conflicts, violence and killings. It was the state and the companies who started the violence; p. 281before, there was peaceful resistance for many years (by the Ogoni, until the killing of their leaders in 1995), and later there was violence when the Ijaw youth and others took up arms (Figure 14.5).

Nigeria and its states in the Niger Delta (Arielle Landau).
Figure 14.5

Nigeria and its states in the Niger Delta

Source:  Arielle Landau

After decades of field monitoring, ERA-FoEN had generated many documents on environmental degradation. As written by Dr Godwin Ojo (of ERA), colonial trade in natural resources historically meant expropriation and dispossession. Since British companies like the Royal Niger Company needed palm oil in the industrial era for lubricating machines, they secured a monopoly of the trade in palm oil through force. Many years later, in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni Niger Delta leaders were murdered by the military dictatorship in a bid to silence the people and ensure that oil corporations have free rein over their activities. Commercial exploitation of crude oil commenced in 1958. Since then, the region has known no peace. Conflict arises from the impact of oil extractive activities from the oil companies, the gas flaring and the lack of transparency and accountability in the sector. The environment, soil, air and water bodies are polluted and little or no compensation is given for destroyed livelihoods.

Professor Richard Steiner, a biologist at the University of Alaska, observed this overwhelming situation in 2016: 12 p. 282

The Niger Delta's legendary “blood oil” disaster has persisted for decades, and is now deepening. Oil in the Delta fuels a dangerous mix of environmental devastation, a violent militancy that has killed thousands, human rights abuses, corporate greed and exploitation, epidemic corruption, massive oil theft, sabotage, repression, poverty, anger and despair. The 30,000 square mile Niger Delta – including rich coastal waters, islands, mangroves swamps, and rainforests – was once one of the most productive and diverse ecological habitats on Earth. But today, the region's environment and society are devastated – a textbook example of the “oil curse”. This is, again, not a small extractive “enclave”, it is a large region, it was a fertile region.

In fact, at present, there are over 5,000 identified oil spill locations that require attention, which have an impact on the natural resources upon which many Niger Delta communities depend. The major oil companies operating in Nigeria's Niger Delta are Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), ExxonMobil, and Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). Drinking water is polluted, fishing and farming are significantly impacted, and biodiversity and ecosystems are degraded, affecting the health and food security of rural people. Although the industry regularly claims that most of their oil spills are caused by sabotage, none have been adequately cleaned up. A further count is available in EJOLT report n. 6,2013.

On 19 March 2013 I wrote:

In the EJOLT trip to the Niger Delta in March 2013, we visited the communities of Goi and Bodo (in Ogoni territory), both badly damaged by oil spills. A citizen of Goi who was suing Shell was denied compensation in The Netherlands. The case is now on appeal. We visited his property and the creek nearby, full of oil. Meanwhile, the community of Bodo is litigating in London against Shell. The situation in Bodo is terrible, with schools and houses located next to official advertisements exhorting the population to “keep off” because of contamination. There is widespread poverty and environmental damage. Perhaps three million barrels of oil are extracted from the Delta per day, while a large amount of gas is flared. As EJOLT, we were in Nigeria supporting our partner Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in its 20th anniversary celebrations and to take stock of the progress of the EJOLT project. We visited the community of Ikot Ada Udo within a two hours’ drive from Port Harcourt. In the village hall one of the plaintiffs in The Netherlands court case, Friday Alfred Akpan, whose farm and fish ponds were damaged by oil spills, read the following text addressed to the village head, to the EJOLT visitors from different countries, to ERA of Nigeria, to Friends of the Earth from Norway, to the women of the Niger Delta and “all others too numerous to mention”:

“I am grateful to the Almighty God for the journey of mercy he granted you and your team to my village. Permit me to thank Barrister Chima Williams and those working for him in ERA for properly linking me up with Friends of the Earth Netherlands – who make it possible for me as an individual to sue Shell SPDC in a world court. […] I will specifically thank my lawyer for pulling the case the way it is.

It is my joy to let you know that our forefathers were in business with Shell SPDC for the past decades and yet Shell SPDC refused to respect the terms of their business agreement. I do not want to go into that now but I will have to let you people know that Shell SPDC came into Ikot Ada Udo community as far back as 1958. After the exploration they corked their well with the Xmas tree erected facility and left the community uncared for until 1997, when they started to release crude oil spilling into my farm land and fish ponds as well as causing fish to die. I reported to SPDC and they did not listen to my letter. I decided to write a letter to them again on the 14th December 1999 to remind them of the issue but they did not reply. The gradual leaking of the Shell SPDC facility without repairs for a long time made it more dangerous in 2004 to 2006 – which has caused a lot of damage to my 47 fish ponds. My farming business is paralyzed because of the oil spills from the SPDC facility. I welcome all of you who come and see things for yourselves and to see me in particular as the one you sponsored to win in the case which I hope you will follow-up until compensation is paid, as the case may be”. 13 p. 283

Shell Spills Bodo Community, Nigeria 14

We briefly visited the Bodo community with ERA in 2013 in this tour of the Delta, as well-wishing eco-polit-tourists. Court cases in The Netherlands to see whether any kind of justice may be achieved against Shell were still going on in 2019‒21. This is just one of many instances of oil spilling together with gas flaring. Bodo community is located in Gokana Local Government Area of Ogoniland, Rivers State. The community hosts Shell's TransNiger pipelines. In August and December 2008, two major oil spills disrupted the lives of the 69,000 people living in Bodo. About 4,000 barrels of oil a day during four weeks were leaking from the pipelines. Shell stated that the spill was caused by equipment failure as a result of corrosion. In 2013, the prolonged failure of Shell Petroleum Development Company to clean up the oil continued to have catastrophic consequences on the Bodo community. Oil pollution remained highly visible; it was everywhere, in the water, mangroves and soil. The human cost is also starkly apparent, since the lives of many people have been directly affected. Many are worried about their health and are afraid to eat locally caught fish or drink water from streams. Those who used to rely on fishing for their living, have lost their incomes.


Oil Pollution by Addax in the Obangué River 15

South east of the Niger Delta and Cameroon, in Gabon, there is also oil extraction. Addax Petroleum has been present in Gabon since 2004. It is a subsidiary of the Sinopec Group, one of the largest oil and gas producers in China and the third largest worldwide oil refiner. Gabon's main source of income is petroleum exports. Together with its subcontractors, the company has been exploiting a concession near the Mandji Isle. In 2010, it was revealed that the company had been discharging toxic chemical waste into an artificial lake which then fed directly into the river Obangué, the principal source of freshwater for inhabitants of the area.

A local official from Fouanou, an oil town which is situated a hundred km from Mandji Isle, testified that inhabitants have been highly exposed to numerous illnesses, as they consume the Obangué river's water and fish. Equally, crops and animals have been reportedly affected by the pollution. After complaints by local authorities, Addax first installed a few public fountains, but did not maintain them when they broke down, leaving villagers with no other option than to continue consuming the polluted river water. According to Marc Ona Essangui, member of the local NGO Brainforest, pollution has been going on for a decade. Also, other sources of pollution have been reported, such as pipeline leaking and gas flaring around the same time.

In 2010, after reports in the newspapers by WWF and local NGOs, the Government of Gabon found Addax Petroleum responsible for polluting the Obangué River. This was considered a great success in the local media although the affected population has not received compensation. From 2013 to 2014, Gabon and Addax Petroleum engaged in a legal battle on licence and breaches of contract issues not directly related to the pollution. After having transferred the Obangue Oilfield to Gabon Oil Company because of failure to pay taxes, Addax was seeking $330 million dollars in damages from Gabon at the ICC International Court of Arbitration, and Gabon responded with a claim of $780 million. It resulted in Addax paying $400 million to Gabon to end the oil conflict and continue its presence in the region.p. 284

Gabon: the Belinga Iron Ore Mine and Marc Ona Essangui 16

The coastal states of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are ruled by dictators and subject to plunder on a large scale. One example is the iron ore mine and related dams and railway in Gabon. Again, opposition from activist Marc Ona Essangui and the Brainforest organization became well-known. As explained by R. Dittgen (2011), Gabon historically was one of the major pillars of the “Françafrique”, and it has moved into a new geopolitical area which could be called “Chinafrique”. The country's interest in iron ore is recent; in fact, President Omar Bongo qualified Belinga as the “project of the century”. But apart from iron ore, the growing manganese sector is dominated by three companies: France's Comilog (Eramet), India's Nouvelle Gabon Mining, and China's Commercial Industrial and Mining Company. As one of Central Africa's richest families, the Bongos have been in power for many decades and at the centre of international controversy because of corruption.

In June 2012, an EJOLT's blog entry asked, “When does a man – bound to a wheelchair – become an Enemy of the State?”. When Marc Ona Essangui arrived at the New York Forum Africa ‒ a Libreville event attracting politicians and businessmen, he was arrested by police. Ona was cited by Gabon's Interior Ministry as behaving violently. Ona is a brave voice. In 2009, he was awarded a Goldman Prize for defending the Ivindo Forest against iron mining and against the Belinga dam. In 2006, Ona campaigned against the Belinga mine project ‒ a deal between the Bongo government in Gabon and the Chinese company, China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC), to extract iron ore. The project includes the construction of hydroelectric dams to provide power for the mine. One dam is being built on the Ivindo River, near the Kongou Falls, Gabon's highest waterfall. Gabon's government failed to consult the local population before permission was given for construction.

Marc Ona dedicated his early career to improving education and communications in Gabon, including working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He later founded the environmental NGO Brainforest, which aims to protect the rainforest for the benefit of local communities. Marc Ona leaked a copy of the Belinga mine agreement between the government and CMEC, revealing that CMEC had been offered a 25-year tax break. “We noticed that it was China, not Gabon, that was the major beneficiary … The government alleged that we were working [on behalf of] Western powers, and we received a lot of pressure to stop the campaign”. This culminated in Marc Ona being charged with “incitement to rebellion” on 31 December 2008.

The dam would generate power for the Belinga iron ore project, which is located 500 km east of Libreville. The mine is expected to produce 30 million tons of iron ore annually. It includes 560 km of railroad track from Belinga to a deep-water port at Port-Gentil that will allow the ore to be shipped to China. As planned, CMEC is building the mine, China Exim Bank is funding the entire project, and China's industry would be the sole recipient of the ore. Exporting the ore will not be easy because the deposit is separated from Gabon's Atlantic coast by hundreds of kilometres of dense rainforest. Mines Minister Regis Immongault Tatagani said that the government aimed for exploitation to begin in 2024 or 2025. By 2019, the Belinga iron ore project was seen as a fiasco. Gabon already mines manganese. Officials claim that mining could account for as much as 30 per cent of Gabon's GDP by 2030 versus 4 to 6 per cent currently. Oil accounts for a larger share of Gabon's GDP

Areva in Gabon: Uranium Mining Pollution and Health Threat 17

Complaints about uranium mining in other countries appear in Chapter 10 and elsewhere in this book. Here we focus on the consequences of radioactive materials left over from 40 years p. 285of uranium mining in southern Gabon that have dogged French mining giant Areva since it closed down its operations at the town of Mounana in 1999, 60 km from Franceville and roughly 600 km from the capital Libreville. As reported by Hibakusha, “In the jungle of Gabon, the French nuclear company COMUF (an Areva subsidiary) neglected environmental safety standards, exposed mine workers to high doses of radiation and dumped thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the delicate ecosystem of the Mitembe River”. The risks are exposure for residents of Mounana and occupational illnesses of former workers at the mine.

A report on Gabon and Niger (another Areva uranium mining site) published in 2010 stated that substantial problems existed around mining operations, the safety of miners and local citizens. After the mine closed, workers formed an NGO advocating for a health and environmental monitoring programme as well as medical compensation. They joined forces with several French NGOs, who sent scientists, doctors and lawyers to Mounana in June 2006. The team took independent environmental readings and interviewed nearly 500 former employees. Residents displayed a range of symptoms, many lung-related, but their illnesses remained untreated. In 2010, Areva entered into an agreement to establish a health observatory to treat former miners. French NGO Sherpa was also part of this agreement, but withdrew in 2012, citing non-compliance by Areva.

By the end of 2016, 367 former workers had died from “pulmonary respiratory infections” linked to working in the mine, according to MATRAC, a campaign group gathering 1,618 former employees. The surviving miners waited for compensation for years. An internal company letter dating from 2015 acknowledged that the company was aware that many of its former employees had developed serious ailments. For former workers, this proves the company's liability and justifies their claims for compensation. The firm has refused to give pay-outs to most of its employees, apart from compensation payments in 2011 to two families in France of former mine workers who died of lung cancer. The company has repeatedly argued it was difficult to establish if the rate of cancer cases among former miners was greater than those occurring in the wider population. This is a conflict that could be framed as a case of “undone science”, a case needing “popular epidemiology” in the combat against environmental injustice and racism.


Moving up the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and to conclude this chapter, a further selection of relevant environmental conflicts includes: mining phosphates in Togo; mining gold and developing hydropower for aluminium smelting in Ghana; the Fomi dam, and bauxite and iron ore mining in Guinea.

Hahotoé-Kpogamé-Kpémé Phosphates Mines & Facilities, SNPT, Togo 18

The non-metallic materials such as sand, gravel, and fertilizers, are of great importance to the economy, but despite their volume sometimes they are left aside because of their relatively low chrematistic value (Franks 2020). We do not make this mistake in the present book. Phosphates are the main exports in volume from Morocco (and Western Sahara) and Tunisia (Gafsa). There are also phosphate exports from Togo, the old German colony. Hahotoé and Kpogamé phosphate mines and Kpémé processing plant pollute the local environment and p. 286threaten human health while the State company Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo (SNPT) does not respect its workers’ rights.

To start the exploitation of phosphate reserves in the sites of Hahotoé and Kpogamé, the local populations were displaced. The phosphates extracted are being treated at the plant in Kpémé, 40 km east of Lomé and on the ocean coast. These industrial extractivist activities have numerous adverse effects on the surrounding communities’ lives since the mines’ effluents and the dust from the Kpémé processing plant are not treated before being discharged into the air and the environment. Deforestation, loss of soils’ fertility and heavy metals pollution threaten the surrounding communities’ livelihoods and they suffer from fluor pollution.

As with Areva in Gabon, sometimes one cannot separate what are environmental conflicts, health conflicts and labour conflicts. This is a working-class environmentalism (Chapter 20). The Hahotoé/Kpogamé/Kpémé complex is mainly known for the ongoing conflict between SNPT and its workers. The latter claim higher wages, and the required equipment to be properly protected. They reiterated their strikes in the past years, paralyzing the sector for 72 hours in 2013, and again in 2014 and 2015. The workers’ bodies and health are under constant threat because they are not being granted the necessary clothes and footwear for their jobs. Also, their wages are too low to make a living. On 10 August 2016, the workers from the extraction site Hahatoé and the processing plant in Kpémé started a 72-hour strike and again a 48-hour strike on August 24th since nothing had changed. An agreement was signed in September 2016 but was not implemented by SNPT.

In 2019, the situation had hardly changed. “Death has become an everyday companion”, says one worker interviewed by 27 avril, an online Togolese newspaper. Eight deaths had already been recorded since January. Workers advocate for the establishment of a commission that must include health and safety services at work, the search for the exact cause of these deaths, the implementation of regular medical examinations, the recruitment of two doctors and the acquisition of two new ambulances per site, among other demands.

Obuasi Mines in Ashanti Region and Other Gold Mines in Ghana 19

The Ashanti formed an empire that resisted colonialists for some time. The British gave the name Gold Coast to the territory. The colonialist gold mining company took the name Ashanti. Cynicism, racism and coloniality in the Gulf of Guinea. Obuasi AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) mine has been accused of water and land pollution. In 2014, the mine closed down in order to become more efficient, but nothing was said about the liabilities from contamination. It reopened in 2018. Ghana is the world's second largest producer of gold. In Obuasi, in the Ashanti Region, mining started in 1897 under British rule.

AngloGold Ashanti was registered in 2004 in Johannesburg as the result of the merger between the state-owned Ashanti Goldfields Corporation and the South Africa Anglo Gold Mining Company. Nowadays, it has operations in ten countries all over the world, including Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the US and Australia.

In fact, that Colombia is mentioned makes me remember an encounter with AngloGold Ashanti in La Colosa project in Colombia (Chapter 17). But I have not visited in Ghana the Obuasi mining concession that covers a large area, and 80 communities within a 3-km radius of the mine. The forecast for the 2018 reopening was to get a production of around 350,000 to 450,000 oz (gold ounces) in the first ten years and a bit more over the next ten. In 2011, p. 287AngloGold Ashanti was declared the worst company for bad corporate behaviour in Ghana in the Public Eye Awards. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world's No. 3 gold producer, closed shafts at its Obuasi mine amid sinking metals prices. In 2016, hundreds of men broke through the 13-mile fence around Obuasi and started prospecting for gold there on their own.

In February 2018, AngloGold Ashanti announced that it had signed an agreement with the government of Ghana to provide a framework for the redevelopment of the Obuasi Gold Mine. Under the agreement, which incorporates a development agreement, a tax concession agreement, a security agreement and a reclamation security agreement, AngloGold would invest $450‒$500m in bringing Obuasi back to producing.

Another conflictive gold mining project in Ghana is the World Bank's IFC-supported exploitation of Ahafo gold deposits, led by the Newmont company. It dispossessed and relocated thousands of farmers and communities from their ancestral lands, suffering recurring cyanide pollution. Also to be included is the unsuccessful Chirano Gold Mine compensation struggle against this combined underground and open-pit gold mine owned by Red Back Mining up to 2010, when it was taken over by the Toronto based Kinross Gold (at 90 per cent) and the Government of Ghana (10 per cent). 20

The Volta River Dams: Akosombo and Bui in Ghana 21

Ghana is not only the “gold coast”. After such colonial episodes, we must remember Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana after independence. He was brought up on the teachings of Marcus Garvey, C.L.R. James and W. Du Bois. He was a formidable anti-colonialist Pan African leader and also leader of the Bandung movement (with Sukarno, Nehru, Tito and Nasser). He was against colonialism and unequal exchange, as was Sekou Touré, the president of neighbouring Guinea. We may ask: was and is anti-colonialism, in Africa and also in India, Vietnam etc., as a triumphant movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, also an environmental movement? Thinking of Gandhi (and Kumarappa and Mira Behn) we might answer “yes”, but remembering Nkrumah we would say “no”.

Nkrumah's advocacy of industrial development led to the Volta River Project: the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in eastern Ghana by the Kaiser aluminium company. The Volta River Project was a centrepiece of Nkrumah's economic programme. The country would no longer rely on cocoa exports and subsistence farming. The contradiction between anti-colonialism and extractivism did not yet bother Nkrumah. 22

The Akosombo Hydroelectric Project had an original electrical output of 912 MW, which was upgraded to 1,020 MW in 2006. The biggest hydroelectricity project in West Africa from the 1960s, it displaced 80,000 farmers to fulfil a national idea of “development”. Originally designed in the 1920s to serve the British colonial metropolis, the Volta River Project was reshaped by the country's founding leader Kwame Nkrumah.

Because there were insufficient funds, the American company Volta Aluminium Company (Valco) loaned money to Ghana so that the dam could be constructed. The primary purpose was in fact to provide electricity for the aluminium industry which would be based on bauxite mining. The final proposal outlined the building of an aluminium smelter at Tema, a dam constructed at Akosombo to power the smelter and a network of power lines. The smelter received its financial investment from Valco shareholders, with the support of the Export-Import Bank of Washington, D.C. However, Valco did not invest without first requiring assurances from p. 288Ghana's government, exemptions from taxes on trade and discounted purchases of electricity. The dam was finally built between 1961 and 1965.

In May 1960, the Ghana government called for tenders for construction of the hydroelectric dam. In 1961, an Italian consortium, Impregilo, which had just completed the Kariba Dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe, won the contract. They carried out the dredging of the river bed and completed the dam. It flooded part of the Volta River Basin, and led to the subsequent creation of Lake Volta, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. It covers 8,502 km2. By 1981, a smaller dam was built at the town of Kpong, downstream from Akosombo.

Despite a policy requiring those displaced to be enabled to at least regain their former living standards, a 1994 World Bank review cited few instances where this had occurred. Increasing demands for power exceed today what can be provided by the current infrastructure. Power demands go along with unforeseen environmental trends like the lower lake levels.


The Bui Dam in the Black Volta River is a 400-MW hydroelectric project built on the Black Volta River at the Bui Gorge, at the Bui National Park. It was first envisaged in 1925 and remained on the drawing board since the 1960s, when Ghana's Akosombo Dam was built further downstream on the Volta River. By 1978, planning for the Bui Dam was advanced with support from Australia and the World Bank. However, four military coups stalled the plans. At the time, Ghana began to be plagued by energy rationing, which created goodwill among the population towards the construction of the plant. In 1992, the project was revived. Construction on the main dam began in December 2009, and its first generator was commissioned on 3 May 2013. Funded largely by China Exim Bank and by the Chinese government, Bui was built as a turnkey contract in which the Chinese dam builders Sinohydro are the contractors who build the dam and then transfer its ownership to Ghana's government.

This put Ghana's government in charge of the resettlement, compensation, mitigation measures to reduce the environmental impacts, and daily management of the dam. The cost went up to US$622 million. The dam's capacity of 400 MW might be constrained by increasing drought from climate change. The dam project inundated a quarter of the Bui National Park, home to one of two populations of hippos in Ghana, and monkeys, lions, buffalo, monitor lizards, antelope and leopards. The altered flow regime is also expected to negatively impact 46 species of fish that are important to the local communities. Two thousand six hundred people were relocated, losing fishing grounds, homes and farms, and facing the danger of schistosomiasis disease outbreaks from the new dam.

Guinea: Dams, Iron Ores and Bauxite Mining

The republic of Guinea (capital city, Conakry) is about half the size of France, and holds over 12 million people. Here I shall focus on the transnational conflict of the Fomi Dam, and then on the mining of bauxite and iron ores for export.

Fomi Dam in the Inner Niger Delta for Water Diversion and Hydropower, Guinea-Mali 23

The Fomi dam would produce electricity and water for mining and large-scale agriculture under the name of poverty reduction. This is a transboundary conflict. The Inner Niger Delta p. 289in Mali is one of Africa's largest wetlands bordering the Sahara Desert. It hosts millions of migratory birds coming to Africa from Europe and serves as a lifeline for one or two million people who depend on its fisheries, agriculture and pasturelands. The unique ecosystems of the Inner Niger Delta are in turn sustained by the beneficial annual flooding of the Niger River that inundates up to 30,000 km2.

However, the region is targeted by large-scale water diversion plans. The projects include a 102-MW hydropower dam at Niandan River in Fomi in Guinea, a 25-MW hydropower plant in Toussa, Mali, and the 565-MW Kandadji dam in Niger. They are all meant to boost hydroelectricity and irrigation, reduce desertification and flooding, and improve economic activities across the region. The Fomi dam is planned to be built near the river's source in Guinea and is funded by the World Bank (WB), under the Niger River Basin Management Project (NRBMP) and through its International Development Association fund. In January 2015, the WB approved a budget of US$7.5 million for NRBMP, half of which would cover activities to build the Fomi dam which has long been a priority for the government of Guinea.

Three Ramsar sites, a total of 1,620 km2, have been declared in the Inner Niger Delta. The WB is helping revive the project, and according to its documentation, “Seven of the Basin countries are among the 20 poorest countries in the world, all of which have a predominantly rural population relying on rain-fed agriculture, pastoralism or other natural resource-based livelihoods. […] Water infrastructure […] can significantly contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction, and build resilience against extreme weather”.

In addition to generating power in Guinea, Fomi is now meant to double lands under cultivation in the Office du Niger, the Malian irrigation scheme of colonial times that yields the country's rice and sugarcane. According to International Rivers (IR), large tracts of land in the Office du Niger have already been allocated to foreign investors, pushing out smaller producers. The two largest projects provide water for the sugar giant Illovo and a Chinese state enterprise. However, IR warns that: “The Bank is laying the groundwork by bankrolling requisite studies that examine environmental impacts and technical feasibility, as well as resettlement planning for an estimated 45,000 Guineans who would have to be relocated”. Also, hydrologists have warned that massive engineering works on the Niger river are set to turn the delta into a desiccated area.

During the World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012, studies were presented on the impact of Fomi dam in the territory. According to the hydrologist Leo Zwarts of a Dutch consultancy, during the last major drought in 1984, three-quarters of the delta dried out, fishing failed, cattle died and people fled. His study warned that the dam and irrigation schemes would make a disaster like the 1984 drought on average every four years. While increasing Mali's production of commercial crops, the projects would cause extreme poverty and force more than a million people into migration. IR has also put it clearly: “If the Fomi Dam is indeed built, this will most likely spell ecological disaster for the Inner Niger Delta. By leading the process to bring Fomi forward, the World Bank will bear responsibility for a scheme that is fundamentally flawed”.

Compensation will also remain a key issue for the Fomi project. Despite the announcement in 2017 that construction would begin with Chinese finance and expertise, by 2021 the project is stalled (Pearce 2021).

Bauxite Mining from Boké, Guinea 24

According to Aluminium Insider, a trade journal (23 April 2019), Guinea is poised to be at the centre of a global increase of bauxite mining in the coming years. A significant driver p. 290are aluminium producers from China like Société Minière de Boké (SMB), but also from other countries, such as Vedanta from the UK and Emirates Aluminium. As the world's biggest bauxite consumer and aluminium producer, China has established a vast bauxite supply chain. However, there are labour strikes and a deterioration in human rights in the mining districts of Boké and Telimélé. Land grabbing by foreign mining firms as well as environmental damage detrimental to agriculture and water resources are widespread.

The Boké region is known for its abundant mineral resources. The Bauxite Company of Guinea (CBG) initiated the exploitation of bauxite in 1973, operating several mines on the Sangaredi Plateau and an aluminium plant at the port of Kamsar. Villages near CBG mines have suffered negative consequences which are not being taken care of by the public authorities or the company. Their houses are cracked by dynamite explosions, the fertility of agricultural fields is decreasing, and muddy water has polluted the rivers. The livestock of the agro-pastoral villages are endangered by the pollution of the vegetation they eat. The villagers also report respiratory problems, coughs and stomach aches. The populations demand a better consideration of their situation, but not the shutting down of the activities. Some villagers expressed their desire to see their children being employed by the mining company.

The riots of April 2017 in the city of Boké arose in a social context even more tense after the intensification of mining activity since the arrival of new companies, like the SMB-WAP Chinese consortium. Negative effects intensify, while Boké still lacks basic infrastructure. The inhabitants of Boké rose up after repeated power outages and the death of a taxi-motorcycle driver, overthrown by a truck carrying bauxite. One of the many problems is the air pollution caused by the transport of bauxite in the city. The protestors’ grievances led them to make a list of 35 claims, including the claim for water and electricity supplies, youth employment and the construction of a road so the bauxite trucks would bypass the city.

The NGO Action Mines Guinée works on a national scale aiming to involve university students in the creation of committees for the transparency of extractive industries. In March 2019, 13 villages lodged a complaint against the IFC of the World Bank for financing CBG. The complaint reports systematic violations of IFC's social and environmental standards by CBG. The villagers are represented by the Center for International Trade for Development (CECIDE), the Association for Rural Development and Mutual Aid in Guinea (ADREMGUI) and the US organization for the defence of human rights, Inclusive Development International (IDI).

Export of Bauxite from Katougouma and Dapilon Harbours in Boké, Guinea

The Compagnie Minière Boké-Winning Africa Port consortium (CMB-WPA) has been exploiting bauxite ore deposits on the Kaboyé plateau since July 2015. Despite its recent arrival, the exploitation and export of bauxite for the Chinese aluminium industry has been problematic and the source of many socio-environmental problems. The transport of bauxite from the mines to the two river ports of Katougouma and Dapilon triggers the contamination of the fields, the water sources and the flora. Villages like Diakhaby (Dapilon) and Baniré (Dabis) neighbouring the mines, ports and the mining road denounce the air pollution caused by bauxite, which endangers their health and their sources of subsistence.

The company proudly states it has compensated the populations for the fields taken away, yet the villagers complain that despite compensations the decline in land productivity puts their livelihood in jeopardy. The National Waterworks Development Service has dug a well in Djoumaya, where three out of six rivers have dried up. Although drilling can mitigate social p. 291impacts, the drying up of rivers endangered animal species. For its part, CMB-WPA is very eager to increase its capacities of extraction, transport and storage at the ports while it is not taking any responsibility for the pollution provoked. For decades, Boké has been denouncing the air pollution. Already in December 2016, the youths of Corrérah (Boké) demonstrated demanding from CMB-WPA the asphalting of the road between Corrérah and the city centre. The neighbourhood suffers from bauxite pollution caused by the consortium's trucks. Residents reported that their cashew trees, one of the main sources of subsistence, had not produced anything in 2015. They only obtained the watering of the road three times a week.

In addition, CMB-WPA is contested by its employees due to indecent working conditions. The Katougouma workers have repeatedly gone on strikes: between July 2015 and March 2016, they went on strike 24 times. During the strike on October 2015 the workers denounced the lack of healthcare, housing safety and protection equipment necessary for them. These demands were not met.

A recent investor is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based aluminium conglomerate Emirates Global Alumina (EGA). Its Boké bauxite project is being developed approximately 168 km north of Conakry. The greenfield project will have two phases through its subsidiary Guinea Alumina Corporation (GAC). The first phase is estimated to cost $1.4bn and the second phase $4bn. Construction works under the first phase were started in 2017. Production from the first phase is expected to go up to 12 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of bauxite, which will be entirely exported.

Iron Ores from Simandou Mountain Range, a Great Extraction Frontier 25

Simandou, Nimba, Zogota and Yekepa are potentially very large iron ore mines, and therefore they also require big and dangerous tailings dams (Figure 14.6). Transport to the export harbour is a problem – a new railway is supposed to go through the western route around Sierra Leone to northern Guinea, while Arcelor Mittal in Yekepa, Liberia, exports through Buchanan. Nimba (a Unesco site) and the other mines are in dispute because of the great biological worth of the territory. Some of the largest iron mining transnationals have been there including Rio Tinto, Vale and Chinalco. In 2021, the arrival of a military junta in Conakry opened a new stage, the outcome of which remains uncertain. In 2019, there was an agreement between Beny Steinmetz's group (BSGR) and president Alpha Condé over the Simandou and Zogota iron ore projects, negotiated with the help of French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy. 26 The Simandou region holds huge reserves estimated at nearly 9 billion tonnes with an iron content of 65 per cent. The mine could produce 150 million tonnes annually, 7 per cent of the global production (2019). The project has been plagued by corruption scandals, and by coups d’état. Rio Tinto was the original major owner of the site.

Getting the iron ore out - through Liberia and Buchanan, or around Sierra Leone through Conakry (Arielle Landau).
Figure 14.6

Getting the iron ore out – through Liberia and Buchanan, or around Sierra Leone through Conakry

Source:  Arielle Landau

Even though commercial exploitation has not started yet, the infrastructures built have disturbed the hydrological connectivity of the area and reduced the water quality. Action Mines reported the voices from the communities living downstream who have lost access to drinkable water. The local inhabitants asked Rio Tinto to drill but their claims were ignored. Roads built by Rio Tinto to access the site have also divided farming lands, which has decreased locals’ farming productivity, affecting their future living conditions What's more, the impacts on biodiversity conservation are anticipated to be considerable.

Since BSGR's arrival in December 2008, all operations at Simandou's site were suspended. However, the joint venture between BSGR and Vale (VBG) began mining the iron ore on the Zogota deposit. There was local opposition. The Guinean law enforcement and security forces p. 292intervened on the night of 3 August 2012, where six villagers were killed, several wounded, and properties destroyed. A complaint was lodged against state officials at first instance at a Guinean court. But the prosecutor declared himself incompetent in trying the suspects. In September 2018, the NGO Rights for All filed an additional complaint against the company Vale for providing the Guinean law enforcement forces with the logistical and material means necessary for this massacre. Finally, given the inertia of Guinean justice, the NGO also filed a complaint against the Guinean State before the ECOWAS. After the change of government in 2021, the Simandou project remained stalled in 2022. It is jointly owned by Singapore's Winning International Group, a number of Chinese-funded enterprises and Rio Tinto. Guinea's government says that any developer of the mine must build the railway spanning the country.


The chapter started with descriptions of three large waste dumping cases, that of Trafigura in the Ivory Coast, the e-waste recycling in Agbogbloshie and the Mbeuleuse dump in Dakar. p. 293These topics in political ecology deserve as much attention as extraction of raw materials. Marco Armiero has a proposal that the Anthropocene should be called the Wasteocene, and this makes even more sense if we think that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel has also become waste. Apart from conflicts on industrial and domestic waste, at national or international level, there are many other types of environmental conflicts in the region that comprises the basins of the Niger River and the Volta River. There are conflicts on uranium mining but not on nuclear energy power plants.

This is the region of origin of oil palms. Large-scale plantations are an industrial, capitalist institution. Tree plantations are not true forests because they eliminate biodiversity, undermine human livelihoods and are not sustainable. We followed the fights against palm oil or rubber plantations in Liberia, in Nigeria (Edo state and Cross River state), in São Tomé and Principe, and Gabon, and we learnt the names of the main palm oil international companies (Wilmar, GAR, Socfin) and have noticed the power they hold. In Chapter 27, we shall have a look at SOCAPALM in Cameroon. Another biomass and land conflict is related to Monsanto's GM cotton in Burkina Faso. More will be said about precious wood exports in Chapter 26.

The Niger River articulates the region from its birth in Guinea to its mouth in the Delta in Nigeria, next to Cameroon. There are conflicts about the management of the river, such as the Fuomi dam in Guinea that would affect the Inner Niger Delta in Mali. And then there is the Delta itself that has suffered terrible social and environmental impacts in the last 50 years from the oil industry. Oil has been a curse. The Shell company and others will be historically associated with this forever. Beyond the Niger Delta, we have also seen conflicts on oil, iron ore, manganese and uranium mining in Gabon, and on phosphates in Togo. In Ghana the main extractivist conflicts are on gold mining, aluminium smelting and hydropower. Hydroelectricity is produced by the Akosombo and Bui dams in the Volta River. In Guinea, bauxite from Boké for aluminium, and the enormous iron ore mine of Simandou are being made available to international companies.

The means of transport are so convenient at present that the volume (in tons) of the plunder of nature for export or for domestic consumption has never been so high as today. For oil and gas this is made possible by means of transport such as the controversial Chad-Cameroon pipeline and the new conflictive coastal gas pipelines from Nigeria to Ghana, also involving Benin and Togo, operated by Chevron. There are advanced plans for a Nigeria-Morocco Offshore and Onshore Gas Pipeline, a project signed in 2016 that is in the news in 2022 because of the crisis of Russian gas supply to Europe after the invasion of Ukraine. In the Niger Delta, apart from the terrible oil spills, another scourge has been gas flaring. Oil comes out together with so-called extraction water, which is toxic, and also with gas. It has been convenient for the companies (Shell and others) to flare it, in the absence of nearby markets.

There are also notable conflicts on sand mining for minerals on the coast of Senegal and Gambia which I leave for Chapter 15. I end this chapter anticipating two other themes treated in Chapters 26 and 27. Most of the conflicts in the Gulf of Guinea in this chapter involve large foreign firms (European, North American and Chinese) looking for materials and energy to supply directly or indirectly the metabolism of metropolitan industrial economies: commodities such as oil, gas, biofuels, iron ore, aluminium… and also colonial “preciosities” of high monetary value. On top of the old stories of trade in preciosities like ivory, diamonds, hard woods and gold exported from this region we must now become aware of the millions of tons of iron ore and palm oil to be exported, and the hydropower used for smelting metals. This is a commodity extraction and export region, whether of slave human labour, or preciosities at p. 294different periods (the “blood” diamonds from Sierra Leone, the ivory from elephants, the gold from Ghana). More recently the increased use of energy and materials in the world economy including China means that remote areas are now extractive frontiers from where ‘bulk commodities’ essential to the metabolism of the rich economies (oil, coal, gas, iron ore, bauxite, nickel, copper, timber) are supplied, together with the old preciosities. This export trade has a great influence on the metabolic profile of each country and region, which is connected to the local socio-ecological conflicts.

Another general relevant issue is the lack of environmental liability enjoyed by the extractive and the polluting industries. The largely unsuccessful attempts in bringing to court corporations show how the rule of “cost-shifting” operates. The enormous damages from oil extraction in the Niger Delta by Shell, Chevron, AGIP and other companies have not given rise to commensurate compensation, if this were possible.

There are some further issues that appear in the Gulf of Guinea. There are environmental networks such as the ENDA (Enda Tiers Monde) international organization in Dakar, Senegal, and ERA in Nigeria, a member of Friends of the Earth International. There are many ad-hoc local organizations related to local conflicts. On geopolitics, I wonder what are the connections in Nigeria between the Biafra war 50 years ago and the oil industry. I am also interested in the topic of transboundary environmental conflicts. In West Africa, as we have seen, railways for exports and pipelines cross borders. Will dams in Guinea alter the hydro-social regime of the Niger River and what is the response from Mali?

A further transversal theme is corruption. In my view, it is born from the great disparity of economic and political power between foreign corporations (and old and new colonial powers) and the local politicians, whether duly elected or reaching power by military coups. The local political opposition and the civil society cannot, despite their efforts, confront such external powers. There are remarkable fighters for environmental justice in Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and elsewhere but their task is too heavy. One extreme case is the dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea, a small country with very large oil exports (1.4 million inhabitants, 230,000 barrels per day of oil). In July 2019 the government revoked the authorization granted to the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID) – one independent NGO that denounces human rights violations in the country.



Trafigura's toxic waste scandal and the closure of Akouédo dump, Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Zahra Moloo and Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.

Amnesty International (2014). Trafigura, a toxic journey.


Hazardous e-waste recycling in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana (Carla Petricca, Zahra Moloo and Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.


Mbeubeuss landfill, Dakar, Senegal (Camila Rolando Mazzuca and Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.


Golden Agri Resources/Golden Veroleum Palm Oil Plantations, Sinoe, Liberia (Aliza Tuttle and Camila Rolando Mazzuca), EJAtlas.


Okomu oil palm plantation, Edo State, Nigeria, EJAtlas.


Land-grabbing of communities’ forest lands by Wilmar International in Cross River State, Nigeria (Maria Obaseki ‒ Earth Rights International, Nigeria ‒, Winnie Overbeek, Teresa Perez ‒ WRM ‒, Camila Rolando Mazzuca ‒ EnvJustice Team ‒), EJAtlas.


New expansion of oil palm plantations, Sao Tome and Principe (Teresa Perez, WRM), EJAtlas.


Palm oil and rubber plantation deforestation, Gabon (Ejolt moderators), EJAtlas.p. 295

Muyissi environnement, Gabon and WRM (2019). OLAM Palm Gabon pretends to use the Forest Definition to implement its “Zero Deforestation” pledge, World Rainforest Movement (WRM), 30 September.


The retreat from Monsanto Bt cotton in Burkina Faso, EJAtlas.


Oil Pipeline Doba-Kribi, Chad-Cameroon (Lucie Greyl, ASUD), EJAtlas.


Environmental Justice map of Nigeria (Godwin Ojo, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) ‒ Friends of the Earth-Nigeria), EJAtlas.

Temper, L., Yánez, I., Sharife, K., Ojo, G., Martínez-Alier, J., CANA, Combes, M., Cornelissen, K., Lerkelund, H., Louw, M., Martínez, E., Minnaar, J., Molina, P., Murcia, D., Oriola, T., Osuoka, A., Pérez, M. M., Roa Avendaño, T., Urkidi, L., Valdés, M., Wadzah, N. and Wykes, S. (2013). Towards a post-oil civilization: Yasunization and other initiatives to leave fossil fuels in the soil, EJOLT Report No. 6, 204 p.


Steiner, R. (2016). Time to end ‘blood oil’ disaster in the Niger Delta, Royal Dutch Shell Group, 10 March.


Martinez-Alier J. (2013). EJOLT transmits a message from deep down the Niger delta, EJOLT report.


Shell Spills Bodo Community, Nigeria (Godwin Uyi Ojo), EJAtlas.


Pollution of the Obangué River (also Dubanga River), Gabon, EJAtlas.


Belinga iron ore mine and Belinga dam, Gabon (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Dittgen, R. (2011). New development cycle through long-term investment? China and the Bélinga project in Gabon, Echo-Géo, no. 17.


Uranium mining pollution and health threats, Gabon (Patrick Burnett), EJAtlas.

The Citizen (2017). For Gabon's sickly uranium miners, a long quest for compensation, 29 November.

Hibakusha Worldwide, An interactive map on health and environmental issues related to the nuclear chain, “Mounana, Gabon”.


Hahotoé-Kpogamé-Kpémé Phosphates Mines & Facilities, SNPT, Togo (Camila Rolando Mazzuca), EJAtlas.


Obuasi Gold mines in Ashanti region, Ghana (Aurora Moreno Alcojor), EJAtlas.


FIANgermany (2009). Ghana Newmont Ahafo goldmine (video), April 22.

Newmont's Ahafo gold mine, Ghana (Camila Rolando Mazzuca and EJAtlas team), EJAtlas.

Chirano Gold Mines compensation struggle, Ghana (Patrick Burnett and EJAtlas team), EJAtlas.


Akosombo Hydroelectric Project, Ghana (Daniela Del Bene), EJAtlas.

Bui Dam in the Black Volta River, Ghana, EJAtlas.

Ejolt (2015). Bui Hydroelectric Power dam Project in Ghana, Ejolt Fact sheet 25.


New African (2018). The Volta River Project: How Kwame Nkrumah's dream project was frustrated, 2 August.


Fomi Dam for water diversion and hydropower, Guinea-Mali (Daniela Del Bene), EJAtlas.

Pearce, F. (2021). Is China edging away from a massive dam on the River Niger? Campaigners warned the Fomi dam would risk a food crisis in the Inner Niger delta, China Dialogue, 7 April.


Bauxite Mines on the Sangaredi Plateau & Kamsar port installations, involving the multinationals Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Dadco, Guinea (Camila Rolando Mazzuca), EJAtlas.

Export of Bauxite from Katougouma and Dapilon harbours by Société Minière de Boké, Guinea (Camila Rolando Mazzuca), EJAtlas.

Mining Technology (2019). GAC Boke Bauxite Project, Guinea, 24 January.


Iron Mine on Simandou Mountain Range, Mine de Fer, Guinée (EJAtlas Team and Camila Rolando Mazzuca), EJAtlas.

Africa Intelligence (2020). Simandou, Nimba and Zogota: the long and difficult road to the start of iron ore production.

Samb, S. (2022). Guinea suspends Simandou iron ore project, saying there has been no progress, Reuters, 11 March.


Wild, F. and Biesheuvel, T. (2019). Mining billionaire ends bitter Guinea dispute after months of secret negotiations. Steinmetz stages Guinea comeback in Sarkozy brokered deal, Bqprime, Bloomberg, 25 February.

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