Earlier this year, Namibians protested against oil exploration activities of a Canadian company called ReconAfrica in the Kavango East region. The exploration sites are within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park, including the Okavango Basin. What advice do you have for activists who are dealing with issues pertaining to oil spills and big companies that take advantage of their power and belittle the cause of climate justice?
AS: Activists have to do what they think is best within the space where they are operating and there is a saying that says, ‘nature knows well’ and my philosophical answer would be, the activist knows well and nature knows well. And we have this kind of criticism against us and we prove them wrong.
During the oil spill [in Mauritius] they [the government] for twelve days said, “No, no, we are looking with the expert, we know what to do”, and yet the oil started to propagate into the lagoon into ocean and yet it was activists who built the technology and collective participation of the people that mitigated the propagation of the oil spill.
How do you hold the Japanese shipping company responsible for the oil spill, and what does that accountability look like?
We organised the people in the region there; thousands of people were registered to build legal cases to compensate the people whose lives have been affected deeply by the oil spill... We [Mauritius] depend on India to give us some materials, some boats, to protect our ocean. When this Japanese boat came into the reef, some meters I would say, to the coastal line where some people live, it was the responsibility of India to protect the movement of the ship. They didn’t. What we feel is happening is that our government is selling its own people. Our government has negotiated with the Japanese under the Indian pressure too, and they have come into an agreement where Japan will give grants to the Mauritian state, because our economy is collapsing. And so the government is going to have grants, and they are now pushing and giving peanuts to the people of the South Coast. Making them sign agreements not to further claim toward the Japanese ship owner, the insurance and the other linked company. We are in a mess...We cannot go outside to organize the people. This would be our next kind of movement; that is to build the people’s movement in the south where we had this oil spill and to challenge the way in which the state government is selling its own people. This is what is happening here. We know the legal case would take 5-10 years. But the way our government is dealing with it is as irresponsible as it was dealing with the oil spill for the first 12 days.
Do the economic gains of oil exploration in developing countries outweigh the long term environmental impacts?
AS: Oil extraction has two sides of the same coin, the extraction itself causes damage to the people and the region where it is being carried out. And secondly the oil itself that is being extracted produces gas contributes to climate change. This is why in our movements we also have a campaign on renewable energy. And for this to work we need to connect with people in the car and oil manufacturing industry so that we find ways of reorganising society for people to jobs and contribute towards zero emission of carbon that we need to save the planet.
Can you elaborate more on the link between an ecological crisis and an economic crisis with practical examples?
AS: You cannot say, for example from a micro-level: “Let’s focus on cleaning the ocean and forget about the people.” You cannot separate these two because these people, they have been affected because of the oil spill and these were the very people in the frontline helping. From a macro-level, the same system that has produced the ecological mess in which we are now is the same system that has created and is creating huge inequality on the planet: between people and the planet, between rich and poor countries. We cannot dissociate the social inequalities, the social injustice to the ecological disaster or the ecological consequence on sustainable livelihoods in the future. You cannot tackle the ecological crisis by saying the poor countries have to bear the consequences; the poor countries produce little carbon emissions, historically, carbon emissions is the product of rich countries [...] You cannot ask the poor countries to solve the problem because in these countries we don’t have food, we don’t have a decent life.
Is sustainable capitalism possible?
AS: It’s not. We are now in times of financial capitalism, forcible capitalism and extractivist capitalism. And I don't think we can return to the welfarism aspect of capitalism that we had after the second world war. We have to challenge capitalism. We have to build a program, a movement, where we can have a transition from the society that we have, a transition in production, a transition of the transport system, a transition in how we manage the commons and how privatised management of the commons have also contributed to the ruins that we are now. No constitution in the last century as ever kind of imagined organised human society around the concept of the right of nature. It;s about nature as our home, as a habitat and our relation to nature. Capitalism sees nature as a free gift, they don't internalise what they take, they externalise it, and colonisation has taught us how destruction capitalism can come.
What is an alternative and sustainable solution to the current economy?
AS: Opposing capitalism and the Soviet [Union] system...is not the correct approach. Though, the Russian revolution was a very important moment for humanity. In summary, maybe we should look to Cuba. Cuba is a country where, because of the amount of embargo, because of the sanctions, has been pushed to organize itself, and has organized itself along social and ecological lines. And Cuba is one of the countries...with more and more claims for ecological policies. Maybe we should learn from there. Maybe we should learn from movements - there are lots of movements around the world - and there are lots of movements who self-organise; who organise around building alternatives. This is what we call ‘prefiguration’. That is, we are trying to build the society of tomorrow and we are trying to build it now...If we could pull together these movements and create together this new society. And this new society has to be organized around the rights of nature, and the rights of people. I think also, we should look to society. I'm not saying that we need to go back 400/500 years ago. The crisis is such that we need to go back to learn, not to go back to live as we lived 500 years ago, but to take some of the philosophy of our society before colonialism, and to nature, and to put deep values.