On Sunday, February 9, 2020, media reports indicated that Uganda had been invaded by locusts.
That same day, the 33rd African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government Assembly commenced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The two-day meeting was held under the theme: Silencing the guns: Creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development.
As the leaders deliberated on topics such as conflicts in the Sahel region, sustainable funding of Africa’s development agenda and others, scores of Ugandans panicked over the locust invasion.
A government inter-ministerial committee met to discuss measures to address the locusts, which the public was informed each insect could eat food that could feed 2,500 people per year!
In addition, army officers and others were shipped off to Karamoja, the site of the reported invasion, to address the threat.
LOCUSTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
While some of the above was ongoing, the AU Heads of State and others deliberated on matters that would improve the wellbeing of African citizens.
However, they did not discuss how African heads of state in alliance with national and international agricultural, oil and other companies are contributing towards climate change and are exposing Africans to more potential locust invasions.
With the permission of African leaders, activities such as destruction of forests such as Bugoma in Uganda for sugarcane growing and exploitation of fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) including in ecosensitive areas such as national parks, lakes, rivers and forests in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria, among others, are ongoing in Africa today.
Both the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are drivers of global warming and consequently, climate change. Yet climate change is part of the reason that Uganda, Kenya and other Eastern African countries are in the predicament they are in today. Moreover, this is a predicament that African countries are ill-equipped to deal with.
As pointed out by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warmer cyclones caused by climate change have created the perfect breeding conditions for locusts. Per information from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the warmer cyclones resulted in rains in Oman, which enabled the breeding of the desert locusts.
The locusts invaded Eastern Africa thereafter and have caused serious damage. FAO estimated that 200 billion locusts invaded Kenya. The locusts, which eat their own weight in food every day, destroyed pasturelands which had only been rejuvenated after drought.
Further, the damage caused by the locusts in Somalia was so much so that the country declared a state of emergency after the insects damaged about 70,000 hectares of food supplies in the country and in Ethiopia.
Experience shows that when food and pasturelands, which are major sources of income for many households, are destroyed, other impacts follow. Incomes reduce, children’s education suffers as parents lack incomes to pay school fees, and even domestic violence due to increased poverty in homes is seen.
OIL AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Now, several countries in Africa including Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon Niger, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and others are oil producers. In addition, several countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo and others are planning or are undertaking activities to become coal, oil and gas producers.
The above countries argue that they need to produce coal, oil and gas not only to create jobs but to generate revenues to support their respective economies, among others.
However, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas is the biggest contributor to climate change. As earlier noted, climate change has been cited as the cause of the biggest locust invasion to be seen in Kenya in 70 years and in 25 years for Somalia and Ethiopia.
To continue to exploit oil to exacerbate climate change is to put the lives of African citizens at risk. Moreover, poorer African states are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. African states have too few resources to manage climate change impacts.
Indeed, the Ugandan government’s response to the locust invasion in Uganda on February 9, 2020, was testament to this. The country had no standby expert manpower and equipment such as airplanes to spray the locusts. Communities in Teso reported that they resorted to making noise to scare the locusts away.
One may argue that oil revenues could be used to make African states climate-resilient. However, experiences from Nigeria, Angola and other oil-producing countries show that oil revenues are never used for the benefit of citizens. Instead, they are largely abused by corrupt government officials at the expense of citizens’ wellbeing.
African countries must consider leaving fossil fuels unexploited. They should invest in other economic activities such as agriculture, tourism and others.
The writer is the senior communications officer at Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO).