“Africans Solving African Problems: Lessons in Self-Determination and Self-Sufficiency”

Summary:

  • Under the theme, “African People Solving African Problems: Lessons in Self-Determination and Self-Sufficiency,” the festival ran four films highlighting the courage and leadership of indigenous people struggling to protect human rights and defend the environment.
  • The films also carry a message of hope – citizens of developing African economies have agency and, as demonstrated by the examples of Bougainville, Wangari Maathai and Yacouba Sawadogo, individuals standing up for social justice can protect the environment for posterity.

By: Edwin Adjei

From February 27th – March 3rd this year, the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana hosted its 3rd Annual Black History Month (and Beyond) Film Festival. Under the theme, “African People Solving African Problems: Lessons in Self-Determination and Self-Sufficiency,” the festival ran four films highlighting the courage and leadership of indigenous people struggling to protect human rights and defend the environment. In this blog post, I highlight three of the films that were shown and describe their continued importance to us today.

I found a key commonality across the three documentaries: The Coconut Revolution, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai and The Man Who Stopped the Desert. The films all portrayed how multinational Western corporations often take advantage of less industrialized countries by claiming and then destroying their lands, which is the source of livelihood for most people in the global South. The power of these documentaries is in their portrayal of the local community members who stand up to the destructive tendencies of multinational corporations and corrupt governments who steal the lands of everyday citizens, often leaving people more impoverished and without a source of livelihood.

In The Coconut Revolution, a giant mining company, Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) purchased land on the pacific island of Bougainville and made a profit of three billion dollars, but only invested one thousand dollars into the community whose livelihood was destroyed. As viewers are made aware, the people of the island are mostly farmers and land is their lifeline. Unfortunately, the mining company not only claimed the land, but also destroyed the environment through destructive mining practices. Despite such challenges, the film also reveals the innovativeness of the people of Bougainville. In their attempts to cope with the dire environmental situation, Bougainvillians devised ways to use coconut oil as fuel for their vehicles and machines, and also using the husk of the coconut for fertilizing the soil. Such a case highlights humans’ continued resistance and innovativeness in the face of extreme environmental inequity and poverty.

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai tells the story of a Kenyan Nobel prize winner whose vision and action concerning the environment, in the face of fierce opposition, resulted in a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment for future generations. Wangari Maathai organized rural Kenyan women into a “Greenbelt Movement” that ran several peaceful demonstrations and protests in order to change how forests were being treated by Kenyans and non-Kenyans alike. Despite threats of death and physical violence Wangari Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement were resilient in their fight against the destruction of national forests and very successful in their tree planting exercises throughout the country. Through their resilience, the movement was able to establish more than 4,000 tree nurseries throughout Kenya, which continue to generate income for over 150,000 people.

In The Man Who Stopped the Desert, a farmer in Burkino Faso, Yacouba Sawadogo went to war against both nature and man in a bid to regain desert land which was turning into waste through droughts, overgrazing, and poor land management. Sawadogo used a traditional farming technique called “zai” to restore soils damaged by desertification and drought. After over two decades of using this farming approach, Yacouba successfully created a forest of 20 hectares. However, this forest was then taken over by the government in a bid to increase the country’s revenue, with Yacouba and his family only receiving a pittance for all their work. Yacouba has since been attempting to raise funds to buy back the land from the government.

What is most obvious in all these documentaries is that humans, especially through multinational Western corporations play a huge role in the destruction of lands, rivers and forests in the global South. But local individuals from affected countries like those demonstrated through the cases of Bougainville, Wangari Maathai and Yacouba Sawadogo can have a huge say in preserving land for posterity. Non-industrialized countries are agrarian in nature and the destruction of their lands is a destruction of their wealth and a destruction of their future. As Wangari Maathai and Yacouba Sawadogo show, it is never too late to rise up and fight to reclaim our environment and transform the lives of many through a judicious use of land and also preserving the land for unborn generations.

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