Justice at last from Shell … for Nigerians!

Eric Barizah, chief of Nigeria’s Goi community in Rivers State, shows oil pollution from leaks in the Niger delta. Photograph: EPA (Source: The Guardian)

A court has finally ruled that Shell Nigeria must pay for oil damage. How long has it been? Wasn’t Ken Saro-Wiwa already working on such issues in the 1990s? This ruling deals with oil pollution in the Niger delta region of Nigeria. Well, a Dutch court has finally asked the oil giant Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for oil damages. This is a first… and we just hope that Shell will not play the French card, and will actually compensate for all the environmental damages, the loss of livelihood, and probably the loss of lives they caused while they made humongous benefits. This is a major win for Nigerians, for Africans, and for all the communities around the world whose environments have been polluted by these giant corporations. Excerpts below are from the Guardian.

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A Dutch court has ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate farmers for major oil spills they say caused widespread pollution.

Shell Oil Company logo

On Friday an appeals court in The Hague rejected Shell’s argument that the spills were the result of sabotage, saying not enough evidence had been provided.

The court ordered Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary to compensate the farmers for the losses caused by the oil spills in the two villages of Goi and Oruma in 2004 and 2005. The amount of compensation had not yet been decided.

It also ruled the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, and its subsidiary must install warning equipment on its Oruma pipelines to limit the environmental damage in case of another spill.

The farmers claiming compensation argued the damage was caused by oil leaking from the pipeline, which could have been prevented if Shell had installed the correct detection systems.

Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” said Eric Dooh, one of the Nigerian plaintiffs, in a statement released by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which supported the case. “This verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger delta.” Dooh’s father was one of two complainants who died during the case, which has gone on for 13 years.

Flag and map of Nigeria
Flag and map of Nigeria

The Hague appeals court ruled in 2015 that Dutch courts had jurisdiction in the case, seven years after the four farmers first sued, and after debate over whether Shell’s parent company should be held liable for the Nigerian subsidiary’s actions.

This is fantastic news for the environment and people living in developing countries,” said Friends of the Earth’s Netherlands head, Donald Pols.

It means people in developing countries can take on the multinationals who do them harm.”

World Tiniest Reptile found in Madagascar

Madagascar
Madagascar

There has been a discovery of possibly the world’s tiniest reptile in Madagascar, the grande Ile. It is a Seed-sized chameleon, which scientists have tagged the nano-chameleon, named Brookesia nana (who gives these sort of names? – the Brookesia is probably derived from one of the scientist’s name), whose body is only 13.5 mm long. Excerpts below are from the Guardian. Enjoy!

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Scientists say they have discovered a sunflower-seed-sized subspecies of chameleon that may well be the smallest reptile on Earth.

Two of the miniature lizards, one male and one female, were discovered by a German-Madagascan expedition team in northern Madagascar.

The male Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, has a body that is only 13.5 mm (0.53 inches) long, making it the smallest of all the roughly 11,500 known species of reptiles, the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich said. Its total length from nose to tail is just under 22 mm (0.87 inch).

The female nano-chameleon is significantly larger, with an overall length of 29 mm, the research institute said, adding that the scientists were unable to find further specimens of the new subspecies “despite great effort”.

Professor Hulda Swai of Tanzania Wins Distinguished Science Award: ‘Women are as good as men’

Professor Hulda Swai (Source: nm-aist.ac.tz)

Congratulations to Professor Hulda Swai of Tanzania for winning the 2020 prize of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Continental Awards for Scientific Excellence. This is a prestigious scientific award in Africa. Her work with nanotechnology has helped to study more effective anti-malarial medicines, and through the World Bank, she has helped to secure millions of dollars to fund African researchers. She is an outstanding scientist, and Oliver Tambo Chair for Nanotechnology as well as the director of the African Center of Excellence at the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Tanzania. The award comes with the sum of $20,000. She told the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme, “I’m using nanotechnology, which is my training and expertise, to improve the availability of existing herbal extracts which are very potent but are lacking for example solubility.” Excerpts below are from the The Citizen. Please also take the time to listen to her interview to the BBC at the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme.

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Flag of Tanzania

Arusha. Tanzanian scholar Hulda Swai has won a prestigious scientific award in Africa. The award has been given since 2008 by the African Union (AU) Commission as part of its drive to promote science, technology and innovation. The professor of life sciences and bioengineering was declared the 2020 winner of AU Kwame Nkrumah Continental Awards for Scientific Excellence.

It is sweet news but I’m not entirely surprised. Science has been part of my life since childhood.”

… The award goes with a $20,000 (about Sh 47 million) cash prize for the 66 year old female scholar specializing in nanotechnology.

Prof Swai is the current leader of the African Centre for Research, Agricultural Advancement, Teaching Excellence, and Sustainability at NM-AIST. …

Last year, Prof Swai was appointed as one of the chair holders of the prestigious O.R Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative. … The objective, she noted, is to give out scientific awards to top African scientists “for their scientific achievements and valuable discoveries and findings.”

Description of Rainilaiarivony, Prime Minister of Madagascar in 1868

Below is a description of Rainilaiarivony, the Prime minister of the Kingdom of Madagascar, in 1868, by a Frenchman. As you remember, this was a man who was married to 3 queens: Rasoherina, Ranavalona II, and Ranavalona III. He was in reality the one holding the true power. He held that position for 31 years from 1864 to 1895, when the Kingdom of Madagascar became a French protectorate, and he was destituted, and sent to exile in Algeria.

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Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar, ca 1880

Rainilaiarivony is of small height ; his hair is a bit kinky, the complexion is brown, mulatto, the mouth is thick, pronounced. He does not have the Malaysian [Austronesian] phenotype. He looks shy, embarrassed, and yet he is considered to have great willpower and remarkable eloquence.  Moreover, this figure, of gentle appearance, is as if closed, the furtive glances convey a distrust which always dominates in men who think themselves constantly threatened, from inside as well as from outside,

Docteur Lacaze, from a note from G. Grandidier, Les Africains, Editions J.A., Vol 5, p. 310 (1977). Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

Why the Name: Port-Gentil?

Map of Gabon

I have always wondered why the second largest city of Gabon is named Port-Gentil… Is it full of kind agreeable souls? Is it a gentle town, very laid-back? Otherwise, why will it be named that way?

Emile Gentil in 1902

Well, to my surprise, Port-Gentil is named after the French colonial administrator Émile Gentil who served there in 1902. I have a lot of doubts that the man was a kind or gentle soul. From stories of these colonial administrators in Africa, many were more on the ruthless and disagreeable side, particularly towards Africans, whom they saw as savages. Indeed, after investigation into Emile Gentil, it turns out that he had been accused of massacres in Congo in 1905, but had been cleared by the Lanessan commission (what are indigenous’ words against a European’s?… particularly in those days); he was also part of the expedition that was trying to conquer Rabah, a powerful warrior leader in Chad. Gentil is best known for heading two military missions to conquer and consolidate territories north, from modern Gabon up to Chad. … Thus it is only a tiny shot to imagine the atrocities left in his wake… So why is the second largest city of Gabon still named after someone like that? Someone who murdered Gabonese, and other Africans? I know, it sounds sweet, “gentil”, but knowing the source of the name and the atrocities committed against the indigenous populations, why keep the name? If “gentle” is so important, why not translate it into the local language, or roll back to the original name, which is Mandji. It absolutely makes no sense for a city on African soil to bear the name of someone who has been accused of massacres by contemporaries on that very land!

Port-Gentil, Gabon

For completeness, Port-Gentil is located on Lopez Island (in the mouth of the navigable Ogooué River) and on a bay sheltered by Cape Lopez, which juts into the Atlantic Ocean. As the nation’s chief port and industrial centre, it is linked by air to Paris and major West African hubs as well as many Gabonese towns. Life in Port-Gentil is much more laid-back than Libreville. It is Gabon’s economic engine, and massive oil and gas rigs loom just off the coast. The city stretches along the beach, is full of pleasant wide streets and a bustling port. One block back from the corniche, Ave Savorgnan de Brazza (named after another European who massacred Africans) has most of the banks, shops and restaurants. Port-Gentil sits on a peninsula; it is actually an island, cut off from the mainland by the delta of the Ogooué River.

Surprisingly, just like many places coveted by Europeans on the African continent, there are no roads connecting Port-Gentil to the rest of the country. How outrageous! How come in 2021, there are no roads connecting the second largest city of a country, the industrial hub, to the rest of it? This seems like a wanted political decision, especially when the country, Gabon, has been the milk cow of Elf, the defunct French oil company (now Total), and is still a big milk cow of France today.

So even though, as always, I would like you to visit the sandy beaches of Port-Gentil, and enjoy the warm hospitality of the Gabonese, I think it is about time that the city be renamed! Lastly, ROADS, connections to the rest of the country are a MUST!!!

“Souffrance d’Amour” / “Love Suffering” by Ben Decca

Ben Decca (Source: KamerLyrics.net)

For this year’s Valentine, we will introduce you to “Souffrance d’Amour” by the Cameroonian singer Ben Decca. The song, “Souffrance d’Amour” translated as “Love suffering” tells of a love so deep, so strong between two people, but which does not work. So it is, in the words of Ben Decca himself, “proof that two people can go their separate ways and remain in love despite everything. “Souffrance d’Amour” is a shout-out to people who give themselves entirely to the other with sincerity and loyalty, but unfortunately, in general they receive the opposite of what they put in… sad reality…” [“Souffrance d’Amour” est la preuve que deux personnes peuvent se quitter et demeurer amoureuses l’une de l’autre malgré tout. Souffrance d’Amour” est une dédicace aux personnes qui se donnent à l’autre entièrement avec sincérité et loyauté, hélas en général ils reçoivent l’opposé de ce qu’ils ont misé… triste réalité…]. “To love is to forget oneself and to think only of the one we love” [Aimer c’est s’oublier soi-meme, et ne penser qu’a celui qu’on aime…”]

For those who do not know him, Ben Decca, he is the ultimate crooner of Cameroon… You could think of a Luther Vandross type… His career spans over 40 years of constantly amazing music. He is a pure talent, and hails from a family of musicians, with 3 younger siblings who are also renowned singers  Grâce Decca, Dora Decca, and Isaac Decca, and nephew to the great Cameroonian legend Eboa Lotin, and great grandson to Lobe Lobe Rameau one of the pioneers of Makossa in Cameroon. His work has been the legendary, and he has lightened to lives of so many of us lovers of life, given life to our feelings of joy, pain, grace, hurt,…. Kudos to the great, and only Ben Decca.

Silence en pays étranger / Quiet in Stranger’s Territory

Tam-tam / Drum

On ne bat pas le tambour dans l’eau (Proberbe Ngbaka – République Démocratique du Congo (RDC)). – Au milieu d’étrangers on se tient bien coi.

Do not beat the drum in water (Ngbaka proverb – Démocratic Republic of Congo (DRC)). – In the midst of strangers keep quiet!

When the Kongo King wrote to the King of Portugal against Slavery

Mbanza Kongo, capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, in 1745

King Mvemba a Nzinga, most commonly known as Afonso I of Kongo, or Nzinga Mbemba, was a Kongo king who ruled over the Kongo Empire from 1509 to late 1542 or 1543. He wrote a letter in 1526 to the Portuguese king decrying the capture of his subjects to be taken as slaves in the transatlantic slave trade. The Portuguese were also assisting brigands in Kongo and illegally purchasing free people as slaves. This letter contradicts the story that African kings sold their own into slavery, as has been re-told countless times in history books; moreover, this is also similar to Queen Nzingha‘s stance against slavery a century later; she fought almost 40 years against the Portuguese for the freedom of her people.  Afonso I of Kongo wrote:

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“Each day the traders are kidnapping our people – children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family. This corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated. We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass. It is our wish that this Kingdom not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves.”
Many of our subjects eagerly lust after Portuguese merchandise that your subjects have brought into our domains. To satisfy this inordinate appetite, they seize many of our black free subjects…. They sell them. After having taken these prisoners [to the coast] secretly or at night….. As soon as the captives are in the hands of white men they are branded with a red-hot iron.

Afonso was also concerned about the depopulation of his kingdom through the exportation of his own citizens into slavery. The king of Portugal responded to Afonso’s concerns, writing that because the Kongo purchased their slaves from outside of the kingdom and converted them to Christianity and then intermarried with them, the kingdom probably maintained a high population and probably was not affected by the missing subjects. To lessen Afonso’s concerns, the king [of Portugal] suggested sending two men to a designated point in the city to monitor who was being traded and who could object to any sale involving a subject of Afonso’s kingdom. The king of Portugal then wrote that if he were to cease the slave trade from the inside of the Kongo, he would still require provisions from Afonso, such as wheat and wine.