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Detail from Eyrie-four by Cecilia Ferreira


One nation's lifestyle ends the life of another.

For peoples and places on the brink of extinction by sea or by drought, the Climate War will be the most important battle of their lives


  Berlin, Copenhagen, and the Cult of Appetite  


Déjà vu. Or a Tale of Two Conferences

Not that many years ago, the industrialising nations of the world gathered in another conference in Berlin to parcel out a precious resource. The year was 1884, and the resource was a newly-mapped Africa. There were backroom deals and diplomatic sleights but eventually a treaty emerged whose impact has endured, which has established a solid foundation for the wealth of nations.

Fast forward a hundred and twenty-five years to December 2009, to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in Denmark. This season, the resource at the centre of deliberations was far more ethereal, but no less critical to the wealth of nations. And the parties at the table were not just the wealthy or war-ready nations, but representatives of all humanity. The resource at stake was the Licence to Blight Nature which is proportionately linked to Economic ‘Development’ as we know it. However, despite the great advances in human ingenuity, the 2009 conference struggled to achieve a meaningful agreement; because this time all the potential victims (apart from Planet Earth herself) were propped around the table.

One of the tricky things about the Copenhagen conference and its goals was the unspoken philosophy behind it. The mechanisms for issuing Licences to Pollute and Compensation to Refrain were never to be based on any intrinsic equality in the rights of peoples, or states, to emit greenhouse gases – or (to use the more positive phrasing) to 'develop'. They were inevitably to be based on capacity; on the current appetite, or the level of consumption of countries, or their current economic momentum.

Back in 1884 the conference apportioned the land and peoples of Africa based on the principle of effective occupation. The European countries could only retain their African real estate if they could prove they had politically subjugated the territories and were effectively exploiting them economically. This was a conference that rewarded greed and rapacity, awarding for instance, the 2 million square kilometres of the Free State of Congo to a single gentleman. The consequence of the partitioning process was of course an acceleration of the wars of subjugation in the single-minded goal of creating effective occupation.

As the acquisition of the Congo, and its subsequent inhuman exploitation showed clearly, there is no limit to human greed. Even in the midst of the deliberations in Copenhagen, powerful lobbies who are heavily invested in balance sheet profits continued to contest the impact of humanity on climate and campaign to continue business as usual, free from any restraint.

At its most optimistic, the 2009 conference would have formally anointed the perimeters of present human consumption, or scaled back marginally. States would have retained the percentage of global pollution that their societies had wrested. Those, like China and India, who have built up the most momentum might have been appropriately appeased to ease off the accelerator. – As for those nations who are yet to arrive at the development party, they would have received the hand-outs that will secure their forests and waters as carbon sinks and grand receptacles of the effluents of human economic activity.

Unfortunately, the decisiveness of the treaty produced by the Berlin conference proved quite beyond their 2009 counterparts in Denmark. Indeed, the dividends of Copenhagen could not have been more modest, considering the relative threats that confronted the attendees of the respective conferences. With 115 world leaders in one location, Copenhagen was of course the terrorist target to end all terrorist targets. This thought was probably preying on the minds of the heads of state, robbing them of the ability to take real leadership at a time of global need. But then, many of the most powerful leaders in the world are not leaders as such: they are amalgams of opinions, positions and sound-bites designed to win the next election. A climate bomb that will detonate in another ten to twenty years is not something to lose elections over.

We did not need a Copenhagen conference to recognise that this planet will not sustain six billion ‘rich’ humans. It is clear that there is not enough tarmac, steel or petrol for six billion limos. Neither is there planet enough for the avarice of even a thousand irresponsible billionaires. In this sense, it is the lifestyle choices of a minority of the world's population that most constitutes a threat to the existence of the majority. Never has the code book for Sustainability been more critical reading for the world's population.

The Copenhagen conference was a laudable initiative — it was our most concerted effort on Climate Change yet. But our political leaders had neither the vision nor the courage appointed for the moment. Perhaps they even lacked, for all their high office, the power to bring about the necessary change. For politics does have its limitations: whether at moments of hand-wringing cowardice during genocides like Rwanda, or moments of utter impotence during disasters like the 2004 Asian tsunami. On this Climatic challenge, political action will only succeed where it is allied with a worldwide movement for economic and social justice. Without this focus on substantial justice, Copenhagen will simply be a mechanism whereby richer nations bribe the light-fingered quislings ruling the poorest nations to herd their hapless natives out of newly-minted forest reserves, in order to defer Armageddon by a generation or so.

In a sense, the salvation that the world seeks in Copenhagen will not happen there. It can only happen by diffusion, far away from the centres of power. It will happen in the radical change of attitudes, of hearts, of appetites, and of lifestyles. Yet, this sanitising of appetites is contrary to the current formbook of the human gene. We seem to be wired more like the virus, which is so successful an invader and colonist that it kills its host — and ipso facto, itself. We are most unlike that other 'king', that lion of the savannah that only kills to live; that does not live to kill. Perhaps the change will be procured by calamity, perhaps by apocalypse. Perhaps it might even be procured, far from Copenhagen, far from state houses and parliaments, by people on Everyday Street, by the messianic evangelism of an idea whose time has come.

Perhaps the media, even literature will have a role to play.



By making no teddy-bear concessions to the conventional Christmas spirit, this issue of African Writing is probably more true to the real meaning of the season. If the original Christmas was God personally intervening in the catastrophe of the human race, this is the time and season for a personal engagement in the issues of mankind’s physical, if not eternal, redemption.

Two contributions in this issue pick over the remains of old wars: Grace Kim’s review of Murambi The Book of Bones, and Yousif Izzat Al-Mahri’s story, which takes us through an ashen Darfuri landscape that is the usual aftermath of war.

As always, the most evocative literature picks up the little man. Among many others, Sola Osofisan’s elegiac The Last Storyteller, Richard Ugbede Ali's love poetry, and the gentle bridling from Abdifatah Shafat’s The Rogue Son bring this personal dimension to the broad brush of No. 8’s canvas.

We publish three interviews with writers, Tayari Jones (speaking with Rudolf Okonkwo), Nii Ayikwei Parke, as well as Petina Gappah, who, fresh from her Guardian Debut Writer’s award, explains to Emmanuel Sigauke why she declines the ‘African Writer’ handle. Tolu Ogunlesi weighs in on the Identity issue with his essay, We are all Africans; as indeed, does Tayari Jones. As usual we are always happy to read emails from you, but from this issue, we also invite readers to share their feedback on any stories in the magazine on our virginal Facebook page as well as on other social networks. This is a rich offering from some fourteen countries across Africa and the world, and our contributors will appreciate your feedback.

No.8 was regretfully overdue, but African Writing will be on its best behaviour in 2010, we promise. We thank all our contributors on this issue and through the year. We salute our subscribers for their support and forbearance. Special thanks are due to Rudolf Okonkwo, Isabella Morris, Ivor W. Hartmann, Belinda Otas, Tolu Ogunlesi, and Cheluchi Onyemelukwe. Against all odds, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and an inspiring New Year.

Chuma Nwokolo,

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