Thursday, November 28, 2019

African Technocrats: Rats or Real Cats?

African Technocrats: Rats or Real Cats at the Global Scale?

By Evans Rubara 

Africa will not advance towards the long talked about unity, any time soon. 

This week has been an eye opener to the seeming ‘aimless’ traveler. Aimless, as the whole purpose and eagerness to reach the destination and interact with great African minds at a global scale, on matters of environmental integrity and human health, is thwarted by small minds dressed in expensive suits and flamboyant diction. 

In a city that has the towering 39 feet broken leg chair amounting 5.5 tons of timber, so is the image presented by the African technocrats. They stand high, and most of them from the government, fed by the tax-payers’ hard-earned money, as large and heavier than the 100 kilograms of sand. 
With such similarity, there is also a comparative contrast that can be drawn between the three-and-a-half-legged chair and the technocrats from Africa. The former symbolizes “opposition to land mines and cluster bombs”. The latter, only carry with them the weight of power from the countries of origin but with a seeming little palatable intellectual muscle to effectively and convincingly contribute to the discussion on the table.

Reading this, you realize that the traveler is not at all impressed by the African technocrats who travel heavily, giving hope to sending countries that they would deliver. Only to become beggars at the discursive platform and a lot that fight for leadership opportunities that would allow them to travel outside their countries. 

The Conference of the Parties
The Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP3) that commenced in Geneva on November 25 and will run until November 29, 2019 brought together high-level stakeholders from all-over the world. The meeting and the deliberations here are meant to discuss the well-being of our planet, including persons who come in contact with mercury during their lifetime.

According to the Minamata Convention, “mercury is a chemical of global concern owing to its long-range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment once anthropogenically introduced, its ability to bioaccumulate in ecosystems and its significant negative effects on human health and the environment” is unmatched. 

But it does not end there. The Convention expressly states that mercury produce “significant adverse neurological and other health effects […] on infants and unborn children”. With such hazardous and long-term life-threatening impacts, on February 20, 2009, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated an “international action to manage mercury in an efficient, effective and coherent manner”. 

Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining and Mercury Contamination
The proceedings of the meeting revealed that Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is the largest consumer of mercury. The prevalence of the use of mercury is in the developing economies in the global South. In the presented statistics, about 1,200 tons of mercury sediments already emitted on land and water comes from the ASGM sector activities. This is staggeringly shocking. 

When listening to the arguments and presentations, even though the different presentations revealed that between 2010 and 2015 most of the mercury emissions were recorded in Asia, West and sub-Saharan African populace is in great danger. According to UNEP’s Global Mercury Assessment for the year 2018, “…Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) accounts for about 70% and up to 80% of the emissions from South America and Sub-Saharan Africa, respectively”.

A report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, released in 2018, on the Global Trends in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM), shows an increase in numbers of people working in the ASM sector from 6,000,000 in 1993 to 40,500,000 in 2017 worldwide. But the same report also suggests that “Some sources estimate a much higher number – up to 100 million ASM operators – compared to seven million people working in industrial mining”.

Let’s bring this closer, home. A recent mapping activity carried out by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), indicates that, in Tanzania alone, not even the whole country but in the north of the country, covering Mara, Geita and Shinyanga Regions, there are a total of a total of 337 ASGM operators. 
The majority of these operators have not yet started adopting the use of mercury-free processing of gold. They are still using the traditional mercury amalgamation. Let me not get started talking about the careless manner in which this hazardous substance is handled due to lack of proper structures that follow known Occupational/Environmental, Health and Safety principles.

In a nutshell, even though mercury is a global environmental and human health threat, the burden of its impacts is heavily borne by the end users in developing countries. The countries where ASGM activities are increasingly relevant for survival. Not by the producing countries.
Leadership and African Representation
Interestingly, the leadership in the processes that would create a safer environment for us all, especially for those who come from the ASGM operations intensive regions, come from Africa. This goes hand-in-hand with the Regional leadership from all the Parties. African Region is well presented. 

The most surprising thing is that sitting at the Regional Sessions for Africa, the discussions are not substantially focusing on the substantive issues that would come out with cohesive strategies that aim at minimizing the use of mercury use starting in the year 2020. 

This lot of persons from Africa appointed to lead in the processes that would contribute to the global strategies are busy fighting and conniving on who should be elected or re-elected into positions. Critical and constructive voices are swallowed in the majority of different Regional Economic Communities (REC’s) within the African Continent seeking these positions – for financial gain.

Looking around, the room is also attended by others from the donor countries that are reported to have contributed heavily to facilitate the development of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the mitigation of the use, and subsequently the impacts of mercury emission from the past, present and future activities. 

Unfortunately, my country of birth, the country I so love, a country where a lot of ASGM activities occur using mercury, is neither a party to the Minamata Convention – yet, nor sent a representation to these crucial deliberations. 
But by way of absence or obscene desire to be the ones who get the hefty DSA’s, adding non-performing accolades on resumes, and being received back home as a victor from a war, African leaders have disappointingly represented itself in these deliberations. Africa is continuing to shoot itself on the foot. The hopes of a United Africa is smoked into the abyss as long as this destructive thought and compartmentalization continues.

About the Author: Evans Rubara is stakeholder and policy engagement professional with an extensive experience working on cross-cutting natural resource-based development discourses and practices including global environmental politics. The writer can be reached through:


thewalkingjohnie November 29, 2019 at 8:42 AM  

This is captured so well, and reveals the disturbing truth about us. I fully understand how it may feel being in the room ad seeing how people gross over issues and focus on the nonsenses. The subject you elucidate is very close to my heart, having had involved in the study in the field and seeing for myself how mercury was being treated so negligently in the artisanal mining activities in Geita and elsewhere, and well aware of the risks that imposes to the surrounding communities and those whose livelihoods depend on it. I'm also privy to the conference politics and I have seen for myself how these chances are nothing more than tour stints and photo-ops to most of our representatives chosen on the basis of not merits but patronage. Particular to mercury and- and narrowing- or rather expanding the net to address the entire business investment in the extractive industry- I have had an opportunity to engage with one of the UN Committee and discussed quite in detail how countries are supposed to seriously put mechanism in place etc guard the vulnerable populations exposed to the exigencies of extractive activities. Th state party was asked to take very specific action towards this end. Unfortunately, reading the follow up report only two days ago- nothing touching on the specifics of action were even mentioned. I therefore thank you personally for giving me additional inputs from that IPIS report that goes to strengthen our advocacy and watchdog role.

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