Sub-theme 4. Commons between colonial legacies and the Anthropocene
An African Anthropocene?
As commodity frontiers expand, including new territories and resources for waste disposal, agribusiness, and the energy transition, commons have been profoundly reconfigured. Environmentalists in the Global North often refer to this process as a manifestation of the Anthropocene, an epoch in geo-history in which humans have turned into significant bio-geo-chemical agents. This panel takes seriously Gabrielle Hecht’s suggestion to “put the Anthropocene in place”* and solicits interventions on the notion of an “African Anthropocene”. We invite both empirically-grounded and theoretically-inspired papers that articulate, reframe, or question from a decolonial perspective the Western notion of the Anthropocene. What are the specificities of the commons in political-economic terms and how do they shape the way we can think about socio-ecological and human-environmental relations? What are the implications of analyzing the transformations of the commons through the category of the Anthropocene? Does a focus on the commons and African entanglements between local and planetary scales lead to unique or/and alternative geo-historical narratives and analytics? * Hecht, Gabrielle (2018) “Interscalar Vehicles for an African Anthropocen: On Waste, Temporality, and Violence. Cultural Anthropology 33, 112.
1. Anthropogenic discourses in policy making: a case study of environmental degradation in East African protracted refugee settlements
Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands
The massive population influx and ‘long-term’ characters of protracted refugee situations have particularly stimulated discussions on environmental degradation, such as deforestation, vegetation types losing, water pollution, in and around settlements areas. Despite the discourse of ‘environmental impacts of refugees’ has been widely adopted by UNHCR, after the Rio Summit on Climate change in 1991, it’s only recent that empirical data on long-term environmental changes in protracted refugee situations has been provided.
The lack of empirical data did not preclude generalizations, for example, UNHCR claims that ‘there is mounting empirical evidence that refugee induce environmental change, through forest clearing, desertification, depletion of water resources, and land degradation in general’. Such statements from international humanitarian agencies are backboned by the rationale of Anthropogenic degradation, which takes environmental degradation as a granted consequence of increasing population.
However, these generalized discourses can be dangerous because some host governments have begun to see refugees increasingly as pollutants and restricted the refugee hosting policies afterwards. Moreover, environmental degradation discussions have also believed to sharpen the natural resources conflict between refugees and host communities.
Therefore, this paper aims to explore the practicalities and outcomes of adopting Anthropocene narratives in policy making. More specifically, it unpacks how Anthropocene and its manifestos as narratives, originated from the western reflection on ‘nature-human’ relationship, have been adopted by governments from ‘global south’ in their refugee policy making, with a case study in Tanzania.
2. A Subterranean Anthropocene
1University of St Gallen, Switzerland, 2University of Basel, Switzerland
«Africa’s rock art is the common heritage of all Africans and all people. It is the common heritage of humanity”. With these words, the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2005) Former UN called for the protection of Africa’s rock art in an increasingly fragile world. Art on rocks and in caves provides testimonies of humans on Earth, almost as spikes signifying humans’ appearance on geological timescales. Such rocks and caves are sites where human- and geohistory intersect, or where the boundary between cultural and geological heritages blurs. In this paper, we discuss the African-centered perspective on the Anthropocene introduced by the Nairobi-based collective of architects Cave-bureau (https://www.cave.co.ke/). By engaging with their influential rethinking of the Anthropocene (https://www.cave.co.ke/origin), we will scrutinize caves as sites of epistemological struggles about humanity ‘being’ on Earth: “As we look today at the postcolonial African city, ‘caves’ made by both men and women have broadened onto a rural and urban network with varying degrees of complexity” (https://www.cave.co.ke/opening-a). Whereas a universalizing discourse on caves as humanity’s ‘common’ heritage geologizes colonial visions of an African immemorial past, Cave-bureau reflects on alternative ways of knowing, opening up caves as sites for decolonial knowledge and practices. For Cave-bureau, African caves are promising sites for reinventing the link between deep time and the colonial archive, thus unsettling Western notions of the Anthropocene.
3. Environmental humanities and relational ontology around adaptation to climate change in a local Senegalese context
Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD), Sénégal
Through qualitative research in Dionewar, in the Saloum delta of Senegal, among the Niominkas, this paper highlights the customary norms of the commons that have been reappropriated but merged into state environmental management instruments such as marine protected areas (MPAs) and local artisanal fishing councils (CLPAs). In the intense interactions of community actors with their socio-cultural, biophysical and political environment, a relational ontology emerges that irradiates their social practices with forms of experimentation useful for adaptation to climate change, despite the globalising discourse constructed by global environmental governance and the resulting international climate negotiations, Thus, the Environmental Humanities are a powerful means of placing Man and the living at the centre of the world shift that is exacerbating the so-called Anthropocene era and of curbing the climate crisis and/or climate deterioration, which poses a problem of justice in Africa, as it suffers the consequences of global warming while being one of the least polluting regions of the world.
4. Uomini del petrolio. ENI’s geopolitics and the African Anthropocene.
Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy
Throughout the 20th century, the Italian National carbon fossil corporation (ENI) documented extensively its operations through a vast apparatus of audiovisual material, technical documents, and literary and journalistic works. Between the 1960s and the 1970s, in particular, ENI produced several films depicting the construction of its extractive infrastructure in Ghana, Nigeria, Libya, and Algeria. In films such as Oduroh (1964), Uomini del petrolio (1965), Oro nero sul Mar Rosso (1960), Petrolio Bu-Attifel (1972), ENI promoted itself as a civilizational and modernizing force, and as a ‘friend’ of decolonized peoples, offering a ‘more just’ path to progress to African nations compared to its American and British counterparts. In reality, ENI’s extractivist politics are responsible for numerous deadly accidents, oil spillages, toxic contamination incidents, and socio-ecological conflicts.
In my paper, I will briefly introduce ENI’s operations in Africa through its own video documentation and promotional media in the hope to shed some light on the extractive operations and geopolitics co-constructing the African Anthropocene.