Africa as Dumping Ground for European Wastes: From Toxic Wastes to UK Unwanted Refugees – THISDAYLIVE

Africa as Dumping Ground for European Wastes: From Toxic Wastes to UK Unwanted Refugees – THISDAYLIVE thumbnail


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Once upon a time, Africa was the darling of Nigeria. Africa was first made the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy and that was from 1960 to 1976. Anti-apartheid policy stand of Nigeria was the major dynamic. In 1976, following the Professor Adebayo Adedeji report, Africa seized to be the cornerstone and became the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. As centrepiece, Africa was given greater prominence in Nigeria’s foreign policy calculations. This was one major rationale for the nationalisation of the British Petroleum and the Barclays Bank, which became the Union Bank in 1977 and 1978.

As from 1994, with de-apartheidisation, Nigeria does not have any meaningful foreign policy to reckon with. When Dr. Okoi Arikpo was Commissioner for External Affairs under General Yakubu Gowon, he made it clear that Nigeria would not allow the use of Africa simply as a source of raw materials for the development of Europe and America. In fact, Nigeria was vehemently opposed to the exploitation of Africa by the colonial masters in many ways. It was against this background that Nigeria opposed French Atomic Tests in the Reggane area of the Sahara desert in February, April and December 1960, as well as the eventual rupture of diplomatic ties with France in January 1961.

Today, Nigeria’s foreign policy does not have any focus or anything to defend. Nigeria is even aligning internationally contrarily to the established non-alignment policy put in place in 1960. Although the policy does not imply that Nigeria must never align, it simply says that such alignment must be a resultant from Nigeria’s sovereign decision. The decision must not be as a result of international pressure. Whether Nigeria’s support for Ukraine against Russia is sovereignly taken is a separate debate on its own. However, it is on record that the US government is currently making efforts to sanction any African country that is supporting Russia. And most unfortunately in this case, voting against Russia is, grosso modo, not in Nigeria’s national and African interest.

And perhaps most disturbingly, not only are Nigerians mistreated in many parts of Africa, the same African continent has become a terra cognita for dumping of anything unwanted in Europe and America. It is sufficient to attach monetary compensation to any unwanted thing for African leaders to accept acts of wickedness for their own people. The most recent example is the controversial plan of the British government to deport all unwanted migrants from the UK border to Rwanda. With the dumping of toxic wastes in 1988, new approaches to people deportation, visible efforts at re-colonisation in 2022, and without Nigeria vigorously reacting, Africa as centrepiece of Nigerian foreign policy in defending Africa and its people has become meaningless. This is most unfortunate.

Africa as Dumping Ground 

In January 1988, an Italian company dumped more than 2000 drums, sacks and containers of hazardous wastes in Koko, a small fishing village in the rain belt of the then Bendel State in Southern Nigeria. The drums and containers were presented as containing fertilisers for farmers and meant to assist them. From various accounts, there is no disputing the fact that the importation of the toxic waste was in collaboration with Nigerians. Not only were the host community more interested in the inducements to be given for the dumping of the toxic wastes, apparently for ignorance of the toxicity and its implications for the environment, but the Government of Delta and the Federal Government under General Ibrahim Babangida showed a lackadaisical attitude to the issue.

In an interview granted by an indigene of Koko fishing village and former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Professor Lucky Oritsetojumi Akaruese, to the The Punch newspapers, the attitude of the governments was shameful. As he put it, ‘it was some Nigerian students in Italy at the time that exposed the dumping of the waste and possibly in conspiracy with some Nigerians that were highly connected. A Nigerian newspaper reported the issue. I think it was the Sunday Guardian newspaper. Note that the waste passed through the Koko seaport with the full compliments of the officials of the Federal Government that owned the port.’

What is particularly noteworthy about this quotation is the fact of negligence to control the toxic drums. In other words, the government officials did not know about the contents? If they did not know, what did they do when eventually the matter was brought to its attention? An overview of the situation is disheartening as told by Professor Akaruese: ‘it is a community that has been abandoned and sacrificed by the duo of the State and local governments on the altars of greed, selfishness and political electoral interests. It is a community that has been sold to merchants of death by its local leadership for peanuts and a community that will constitute the future metaphorical “guinea pig” for research into the effects of industrial toxic wastes.’ 

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And most unfortunately too, another toxic waste dumping in the same Koko village took place in 2017. How do we explain this recurrence? Why the choice of Koko again for the dumping? Why the complicity of the Governments of Nigeria? Who is to blame in this regard for the policy of fresh dumping in exchange for money?

In the Côte d’Ivoire, a United Nations Press Release of 30 January 2018 had it that in August 2006, a cargo ship, Probo Koala, a Panama registered tanker and chartered by the Singaporean-based oil and commodity shipping, Trafigura Beheer BV,  offloaded toxic waste to an Ivoirian waste handling company, Tommy. Tommy took delivery and disposed the waste in 12 sites in Abidjan which created unwarranted health hazards. In fact, about 100,000 Abidjanais had to seek medical attention when the Prime Minister, Charles Banny, opened hospitals and offered free healthcare to all residents of Abidjan.

Expectedly, Trafigura Beheer BV initially denied any importation of toxic wastes from the Netherlands. When it eventually accepted knowledge of it, it claimed not to know that the toxic waste would not be properly disposed off. The Ivoirian government made the Trafigura to pay damages to the tune of US$ 198m. Besides, more than 30,000 Ivoirians embarked on a law-suit in 2008 against the Trafigura in London. Trafigura had to pay £30m (US$ 42.4m) in settlement of the suit. 

In the context of the toxic waste in Koko village in Nigeria, the story is completely different. There is nothing like sanction or trial of anyone in the spirit of Nigeria being a fantastically corrupt country. It is collective thieving and institutional corruption. In Abidjan, more than 100,000 suffered ill-health. There is no official record of victims of the toxic waste in Nigeria.

But true enough, there is the Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland. The Convention was prompted by public outcries following the discovery of deposits of toxic wastes in Africa and many parts of the world. The Convention was done to reduce hazardous waste generation and to promote ‘environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes wherever the place of disposal; the restriction of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management’; and to regulate the system applying to cases where trans-boundary movements are permissible.

Most unfortunately, however, many of the signatories to the convention breached the obligations created for them by the Convention. While the challenge of how to dispose industrial waste in the developed countries, and particularly the high costs of their disposal in Europe and coupled with the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, industrialists have to seek cheaper ways of disposing their toxic wastes, which mainly was to turn to Africa. Nobody wanted toxic wastes in their backyard in Europe, but craftily negotiated with African leaders to accept and which the African leaders happily accepted for their people because of money. 

It is against this background that the Bamako Convention was conceived in 1991 and negotiated by 12 OAU countries. The Convention entered into force in 1998 and has six main purposes: prohibition of importation of all hazardous and radioactive wastes into African continent for whatever reason; minimizing and controlling trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes within Africa; prohibiting all ocean and inland water dumping or incineration of hazardous wastes; ensuring that disposal of wastes is conducted in an environmentally sound manner; promoting ‘a cleaner production over the pursuit of a permissible emissions approach based on assimilative capacity assumptions’; and establishing a precautionary principle. In essence, Member Signatories are required to ban the import of harzardous and radioactive wastes and all forms of ocean disposal.

Even though the Bamako Convention drew a lot of inspirations from the Basel Convention, especially from its Article 11 which requires its signatories to enter into bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements on Hazardous Waste to help achieve the objectives of the Convention, the Bamako Convention provides for stronger restrictions on import of hazardous wastes to Africa, For instance, it makes no exceptions on certain hazardous wastes like those for radioactive materials provided for in the Basel Convention. It prohibits all imports of hazardous wastes.

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Again, most unfortunately, Nigeria has not ratified the Bamako Convention since 1998 while the developed countries have continued to import hazardous wastes to Africa. This cannot but be an expression of failure of Nigeria’s foreign policy, especially in light of the fact that Africa is considered as the centrepiece of foreign policy. What is again staring Nigeria in the face is the shift from importation of toxic wastes to importation of refugees of mixed personality and whose future has the great potential to threaten continental stability in a very serious manner. 

Refugee Deportation and Implications for Africa 

The refugees are comprised of Afghans, Syrians, Arabs, and Muslim in the main, and will be expected to constitute in the long run a new colony, in addition to the minority Tutsi and majority Hutus, in Rwanda. Both Tutsi and Hutus are basically Roman Catholics. When the population becomes inclusive of people of different background and possibly of extremist religious beliefs, the current myopic policies of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda will be another internal strife from which future lessons will be drawn.

Before then, questions ought to be raised on the choice of donation of money to Rwanda in exchange for accommodating unwanted refugees in the United Kingdom? In an agreement done on 14 April, 2022 and signed by the British Minister of Interior, Priti Patel, and Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Birutaare, Britain offered to give $157m €144m to Rwanda. Explained differently, Britain will first pay £120m to Rwanda for economic development and will then pay thereafter for the operational costs of the program along with accommodation and integration expenses. This is necessary because the asylum is not for a temporary period but one designed to be permanent. 

The refugees are by implication to become Africans by conferment of Rwandan nationality on them. Additionally, even though the Rwandan government is looking at the current small number of the refugees, the moment the foundation for settlement of the asylees is well laid, a gradualist further repopulating of Rwanda must be expected

In this regard, why is it that the opposition to the deportation of the refugees has become an issue in the United Kingdom? There is rivalry between British courts, on the one hand, and the European Council of Human Rights (ECHR), on the other. While the ECHR issued a last minute injunction to stop the deportation of the thirty migrants initially earmarked to be flown to Rwanda, two British courts did not accept to block the deportation. 

Many of the deportees themselves have been protesting vehemently against their deportation. They complained about unfairness, warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees and better treatment for them, but such good treatment was not given to them. The Kurdish and Syrian migrants who spoke to Al Jazeera said they fled joining the army in Syria and would prefer to take their lives rather than accept to stay in Rwanda. While the UK-Rwandan deal is an expression of human trafficking, the Boris Johnson government argues that the cardinal objective of the deportation is to prevent such human trafficking. It is to ensure their protection. 

As reported by Al Jazeera, one 23-year Kurdish detainee from Iran, Ferhad, was quoted as saying that ‘when the war in Ukraine started, all Ukrainians were welcomed and given better treatment. Since we are all refugees, I didn’t understand why I would be relocated to Rwanda when Ukrainians are welcomed, given a better life, shelter and everything they need.’  More important says the quote, ‘regardless of our origin, we are all human beings, Kill me here or let Iran kill me, instead of taking me to Rwanda.’ The implication of this position cannot be far-fetched. If the protesting migrants are forcefully deported to Rwanda, their anger has the potential to impact negatively on political governance in Rwanda.

Whatever is the case, Britain had to comply with the judgment of the ECHR because of the supranational authority of the ECHR. Indeed, the ECHR is not part of the European Union from which the UK Brexited. Even though the UK government has indicated that the deportation of the migrants would still continue and several British notables have been considering the possibility of Britain’s withdrawal from the ECHR, the point remains what future for the refugees in Rwanda? And what future if Rwanda is inviting insecurity to his country by not seeking to know the quality of migrants being planned to be sent to Rwanda? What if the migrants to be sent to Rwanda are extremists, especially those of them coming from terrorist zones? Will the money given and to be given to Rwanda be adequate to contain the would-be insecurity? This scenario is most unfortunate for various reasons. 

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There was the time the United Kingdom promised to give more than £75m to the Government of Zimbabwe headed by Robert Mugabe in compensation for acquired land for White Zimbabweans. This was in resolution of the Chimurenga crisis. Britain, after paying the first tranche, made no further payment and this led to a serious political misunderstanding between the UK and Zimbabwe, and which also impacted on British relations with the entire African continent because African leaders pitched their tent on the side of Zimbabwe. 

In this regard, Africa is considered the cornerstone and centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy, which Nigeria does not want to be exploited for the development of Europe? Nigeria’s foreign policy is therefore necessarily challenged directly.

A second implication is that the principles of territorial asylum are directly denatured. It is useful to differentiate between territorial, extra-territorial, and neutral asylum in understanding the implications of the relevant principles. Territorial asylum is when the refugees are on the territory of the receiving State, meaning that territorial asylum is granted within the bounds of the country granting asylum. In this regard, territorial asylum is necessarily an exception to the rule of extradition. On the contrary, extra-territorial State is when an asylum is granted in Consulates, Diplomatic Missions or Legations, all of which are generally referred to as diplomatic asylum; warships and merchant vessels in a foreign country and still considered to be granted within the territory of the State from which protection is sought. Neutral asylum which occurs when a state offers an asylum within its territory to troops of belligerent States subject to acceptance of internment of troops during the period of the war. 

Thus, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’ but that ‘this right may not be involved in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to purposes and principles of the United Nations.’ And perhaps more importantly, Article 3(1) of the Declaration on territorial Asylum (UNGA Resolution 2312 (XXII, 22UN GAOR sup. (No.16 at 81, UN Doc A/6716 (1967), clearly stipulates that ‘no person referred to in Article 1 paragraph 1, shall be subjected to measures  such as rejection at the frontier or, if he has already entered the territory in which he seeks asylum, expulsion or compulsory return to any state where he may be subjected to persecution.’ 

Based on this provision, the UK has acted contrarily to this provision and its international responsibility can be called to question, despite its exclusive right to accept or not to accept refugees. Asylum offences can include treason, desertion, espionage, sedition desertion etc., prompting the quest for an asylum or a refugee status. The basic principle involved here is the right of access to the asylum process upon setting foot on the territory of the intended Asylum State, but which the UK has set aside by sending away refugees that have stepped on its soil. 

A third implication is the likelihood of political magouilles in Rwanda because President Paul Kagame is a condoned dictator. The UK-Rwanda agreement is simply a Memorandum of Understanding and therefore not enforceable. In paragraph 1.6 of the MoU, it is clearly stated that ‘this arrangement will not be binding in International Law. Additionally, paragraph 2.2 says, ‘for the avoidance of doubt, the commitments set out in this Memorandum are made by the United Kingdom to Rwanda and vice versa and do not create or confer any right on any individual, nor shall compliance with this Arrangement be justiciable in any court of law by the third parties or individuals.’ Thus it simply remains a non-justiciable bilateral arrangement which gives room for future manoeuvres. In this regard, for how long will Africa remain a land for dumping of Europe’s unwanted toxic wastes? Will the relocation of the UK’s unwanted refugees to be sent to Rwanda not be the beginning of another process of re-colonisation of Africa with the complicity of Africans this time? But before time will tell, UK and others should send their unwanted refugees to the Maghreb countries where they can fit in well, being mostly Arabs, rather than to Rwanda.

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