To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa is yet another book about Africa’s exploitation but with a significant difference from all others. The author presents the challenge “what can be done now to end destructive exploitation in Africa?”. This is a far more superior and immediate question than “what can we do for Africa?” in which tomorrow never comes; every day, every year, every decade is always now.
The book is largely practical. Institutions of good governance are grossly underdeveloped while institutions of exploitation are overdeveloped to point of destructiveness, irresponsibility and genocide. An in-depth analysis of the forces that exploited Africa for centuries is well-rendered. Slavery (humans as a source of energy), colonial powers (Great Britain, France, Portugal etc.), neo-colonial powers, institutions and NGOs (international development ministries of economic powers, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund etc.), corrupt indigenous governments and leaders (too many to mention) are discussed in both historical and contemporary contexts. The reader is introduced to the harsh and terminal consequences of destructive exploitation across the African continent. It will provide a very sober awakening for many readers even Africans in Africa who have been systematically shielded from the historical and (practical) contemporary realities of the continent’s wanton exploitation. The political economy of Africa is given a refreshing new treatment especially the neoliberal fuelled upheavals institutional and structural reforms that have made exploitation so much easier and wanton.
To keep destructive exploitation on the continent going, Africa has to experience many evils and woes. Bassey using numerous examples presents us with experiences of dying or perniciously exploited communities. But that is not all; we are introduced or re-introduced to other sinister aspects of exploitation. African governments have to be corrupt and compliant to both transnational corporations and international NGOs. Civil wars for access to minerals have to be sponsored and kept going for as long as local resistance to extraction exists. Oil pipelines have to remain perpetually in a state of disrepair as an avoided cost of upgrading the networks. Artisan mining has to be encouraged and relied upon because it is cost-effective. People have to be displaced from their homes when it is found they sit on top of a mineral resource with inadequate compensation. Gas flaring to enable oil extraction has to contribute vast amounts of greenhouse daily for decades on end enhancing the impending approach of climate change. Death counts from man-made disasters, mining accidents, production of hitherto unknown toxic substances, the repression of resistances etc. are reduced to mere statistics; something to whip Africa with. The death, serious pollution and heinous environmental degradation are treated as “collateral” for development. Yet, development is mostly elusive on the African continent and far behind exploitation.
Apart from mineral exploitation, the book covers land grabs by North for the purpose of producing biofuels and agrofuels. Nationhood and war were once about the land. Africa’s land is now silently “grabbed” without a whisper. Climate change that appears much later in the book exposes the risks of flooding and other potential climate-related disasters. It appears as if-if Africa has any valuable resource it must be grabbed regardless of the consequences for its peoples and its lands. This is the central problem the book explores.
The solution Bassey provides to ending destructive exploitation in Africa before it is too late is ‘Keep the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole and flee the gas fracking business.’ He intuitively knows that metropolitan capitalist societies of the North will not agree to that solution; they have a lifestyle, way of life to maintain. Sponsored civil wars by Northern interests, governments and militaries to secure the mineral resources will be the first and last option. Like Mancur Olson who saw cataclysmic bloody revolution or invasion by a military enemy as the only way to get rid of corrupt vested interests that stifle economic and social progress in a nation, Nnimmo completes his solution by “waiting” for the present-day incarnations of Africa heroes past, who wanted the best for their citizens. Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral are some of such heroes. They are the ones who can keep the minerals in the ground and defend the states they govern simultaneously. But as we wait Bassey reminds us and strongly emphasises that “Resistance is Advocacy”; the resistance starts yesterday! Do something about destructive exploitation now! This appears definitively to be the central message of the book after a prodigious build up. And should be taken seriously by those who care enough about the issues explored. In this sense, it can be seen very much as an activist’s book.
From a literary perspective, Bassey’s publication compares favourably with Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges which I read immediately before To Cook a Continent. (Also see Eradicating Ecocide by Polly Higgins) The difference is that while Bassey articulates centuries of corporate and government excesses with negative environmental, economic, social and political consequences in Africa for centuries, Hedges introduces readers to similar occurrences resulting from the excesses of unrestricted “corporatocracy” and “inverted totalitarianism” in the USA, the world’s richest nation. Interestingly, both authors firmly advocate that the time to end resource exploitation and environmental degradation is now with a hint that it may already be too late.
It is a book I highly recommend to readers who are interested in Africa, development, environmental issues, social impacts of extraction, the nature of ecocide and the political economy of trade with developing nations. However, it is also a good read for those who take current affairs or activism seriously or at least more than lightly.