An article of Open Democracy written by Hamza Hamouchene and published on 6 September 2016 relates to the North African countries region of the MENA, where the transition to sustainable energy is essential. Few countries in this region because they are importers of fossil fuels have already successfully kick-started ambitious programmes of renewable energy.
Other countries in the region are coming to grips with the challenges of reform that are mostly political and socio-economic. In these countries, with strong states administered fundamentally around a rentier system, the social contract hinges on the redistribution of oil exports revenues within a generalised corrupt background. There is however some growing evidence to show that fossil fuel subsidies have generally been benefiting certain segments of the population groups and that these have given birth to huge market distortions in the whole region. Yet, renewable energy and green growth are these days gathering pace, hence this article. We reproduce it here as a good example of those concerns that are fast coming to the fore-front of the multitude of concerns that plague these countries.
Environmental problems need to be analysed in a comprehensive way with consideration to social justice, entitlements and fair redistribution.
I simply don’t believe in neutral discourses. My perspective is not one of academics and university people who choose to be neutral in face of injustices and oppression, and who justify this by saying they are objective in order to be accepted by the dominant discourses and other structures of power. My perspective is one of an activist, which I hope is progressive, radical, and decolonial in the sense that it is anti-systemic and resolutely in active solidarity with the oppressed and the “wretched of the earth” in their struggles to achieve social justice.
I explore three themes in this article. I will start by giving an idea about the ecological and climate crises in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) then go on and illustrate how the neoliberalisation of environmental governance is being enacted there. I will end by putting forward a critique of some of the concepts of ‘justice’ used to talk about the injustices of facing and dealing with environmental degradation and anthropogenic global warming.
Ecological and climate crises in the Maghreb region
Anthropogenic climate change is a reality in the Maghreb and it is undermining the socioeconomic and ecological basis of life in the region. Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco witnessed severe heat-waves during the summer of 2015 and an ongoing drought this year, which has been catastrophic for agriculture (particularly the small peasants in Morocco). The desert is growing, eating the land around it, placing huge pressure on already-scarce water supplies. Seawater intrusion into ground water reserves, as well as groundwater overuse will put these countries in the category of those who suffer from absolute water poverty.
The effects of climate change and the climate crisis are compounded by the environmental degradation and the exhaustion of natural resources caused by a productivist model of development that is based on the extractive industries: oil and gas in Algeria (and to a smaller extent Tunisia), phosphate mining, the water-intensive agribusiness model and tourism (in Tunisia and Morocco).
Alongside pollution, environmental destruction and the prevalence of some diseases, I saw throughout my visits to sites of fossil-fuel and mining industries what David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession” and Samir Amin describes as “development of under-development”. It is possible to state that the poverty in these areas is related to the existence of significant natural resources.
This is the paradox of extractivism where sacrifice zones are created in order to maintain the accumulation of capital. This is the paradox of extractivism where sacrifice zones are created in order to maintain the accumulation of capital. When I say sacrifice zones, I really mean it: Ain Salah in Algeria, is one of the richest gas towns in the African continent but it is an ugly town with very poor infrastructure. The one hospital they have, they call it the “hospital of death”. Gabes in Tunisia, the only coastal Mediterranean oasis in the world used to be called “a paradise on earth” before the installation of a chemical factory on its shores to process the mined phosphate. That factory has truly caused an ecocide in the oasis by pillaging its waters, polluting its air and sea and killing some of its fauna and flora. Some even talk about environmental terrorism in the current context of anti-terror discourse.
What do we mean by Extractivism? It refers to those activities which remove large quantities of natural resources that are not processed (or processed to a limited degree), especially for export. Extractivism is not limited to minerals or oil. It is also present in farming, forestry, fishing and even tourism. I was appalled to see the construction of golf courses in arid and semi-arid regions in Morocco. Fanon was right all along with his critique of tourism, which he regarded as a quintessential post-colonial industry where our elites have become “the organisers of parties” for their western counterparts in the midst of overwhelming poverty.
The Extractivist model of development has been in practice a mechanism of colonial and neocolonial plunder and dependency on the metropolitan centres. In all the three countries I visited, I repeatedly heard comparisons made between the ravages of post-colonial industries and the colonial ones, in some instances even suggesting that the French colonialists were more clement. To me, these comparisons and proposals are a calling into question of an internal colonialism that is dispossessing people.
People in these regions have long-standing grievances and sometimes these burst into uprisings. Examples include the case of Ain Salah where people rose up massively in 2015 against the plans to frack their land and pollute their waters; and the emergence of the unemployed movement in 2013 in Ouragla, close to the oil-rich town of Hassi Messaoud; the 2008 uprising of the Gafsa mining basin and the ongoing struggle of the Imider communities against the royal holding silver mine that is grabbing their natural resources and impoverishing the area.