Cross Culture 3: Domestic Disputes in African Forestry

The Politics of Deforestation in Africa: Madagascar, Tanzania, and Uganda [Foreign Affairs]... Nadia talks about important environmental issue with permanent consequences, and whether third-party international assistance will be effective.

Middlebury professor Dr. Nadia Horning (one of the hosts of the kickoff session at Fair Trade Recycling Summit in 2013) is on of the few people talking about something important in African resource policy.

Extraction is more crucial than discard, and the most important aspect of waste is whether it influences extraction. This paper discusses the intentions and effects of external solution making.

It's a Domestic Dispute with International and Inter-generational consequences.  Plastic litter will kill a lot of individual creatures that we can see close up, but destroying and cutting road-threads through an entire habitat exposes, degrades, and destroys the entire forest system.

We feel guilt about waste like we feel guilt about negligence.

We feel guilt about consumption in a scarier way.

We feel guilt about domestic violence against a woman in a neighbor's apartment in another way.

How we need to take action, as agents of conscience, demands a little more study than we like to put in. But we at least need to agree to purge the airwaves of uncredible and false accusations.


In 2014, a blogger for the aborigine interest organization Survivor (founded 1969 to advocate for indigenous tribes in forests) took on the World Wildlife Fund for their calling for the arrest of Cameroon Baka (Pygmies) for "poaching".

We tend to think of WWF as a shorthand way to exhibit our care about an issue with an end-of-year charitable donation to a cause. An economic charitable industrial organization is developed to - in theory - marshall the concerns of all agents of conscience and to bring about change. Many journalists afforded Basel Action Group the same status 15 years ago, and a few years later, BAN did indeed register itself as a 501-c3 "charity". But it's an odd charity, showing pictures of children in places they never visited or know little about, making wildly unfactual claims about sources of waste and activity they photograph. I care as deeply about women's rights and domestic abuse as I do about the environment, but if someone is falsely accusing average people living normal lives as being in a state of emergency, calling the cops on families on picnics, they actually bastardize the enforcement process.

In Peace Corps in Cameroon, one of the most ubiquitous "bushmeat" or local hunting fare was called "Porc Epic", which for weeks I thought sounded like "Porky Pig" and thought was quite funny. Now that I know the extent of pangolin poaching, it will keep me up at night.

Pygmies no doubt may have participated in sourcing the Cameroon pangolins trade, busted in Viet Nam this year. Pangolins are endangered, and exposed by mining and forestry industries.  It's a real problem, with lots of nuance. But a pangolin hit by a car - roadkill - would not be a crime. And accusing a specific individual who had nothing to do with the pangolin's death would be.

If WWF called the police on pygmies for posting, BAN called the cops because the Pygmies ordered a meal at Burger King.

Nadia's paper describes the nuance of local relationships and calls for a far more sophisticated and localized engineering of "assistance".  Survivor calls out WWF for an immediate harm to individual pygmy tribes, who hunted sustainably for decades, and are now being offered badly needed cash to hunt for exotic international appetites. Tough subjects.

One thing international law cannot abide is liars.

Think about "third party" as a descriptor of international aid. Nadia's paper focuses on local societies who live near the forests, and who have a role in harvesting the '"fruit" of the forest - humans with intimate knowledge are the central focus. The government of the African nation is essentially a second party in a regulatory sense, and the people giving money for the timber are second parties in an economic sense.

Mining and forestry product traders, environmental donors, consumers, aid givers, international bodies, etc are all essentially third parties. The subtext is the same as we've identified in this blog - people who care about an issue mistake themselves for second parties.

Something is going wrong with the management of forests in Africa and South America, and the effect on species extinction, DNA depletion, and climate is excruciatingly clear. We feel like we are next door to a violent domestic dispute through the thin walls of a small apartment. We want to intervene, but even armed police officers find themselves ill equipped to deal with a domestic dispute over household expenses. We want the best for the children, but arresting the breadwinner or lecturing the complaint caller is just going through the motions. We can file a police report and pay a portion of our salary to police union dues, it may seem we haven't effected much else.

What we don't need is an organization calling in false reports, taking cash for being a watchdog when no crime has occurred.

Roadkill isn't poaching
Survivor vs. WWF is tricky issue because I know first hand that Pygmies who once hunted for
monkey for their own table are now hunting dozens of times as many monkeys for someone's "endangered species platter", either for tourists or nostalgic urban African consumers, or Asian expatriates, or China's growing consumer class. INTERPOL and domestic Cameroonian law enforcement have a tough case.  But no one is actually lying about what's occurring.  It's a cross-cultural issue WITHIN Cameroon, as the Baka have virtually no linguistic or cultural or social ties to the Cameroonian government.  The domestic law force may as well have been Martians to the Baka back in the 1980s.

BAN vs. Joe Benson is a far worse case.  Essentially, Basel Action Network claims to have heard violent noises through thin walls, and called on INTERPOL to commence "Project Eden" to save Africans. But BAN called on Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane, who made claims to have grown up in Agbogbloshie which were obviously false.  BAN said Agbogbloshie was a remote swamp, where hundreds of sea containers laden with millions of tons of waste were being dumped to avoid environmental fees. Story of Stuff made a simple stick figure cartoon so we could see how obvious the problem was, and donate our money to BAN.

BAN has effectively overheard a TV program through the apartment walls, and called the police to arrest the breadwinner, because BAN thought they heard violence while the family next door watched Avatar on TV. In cross-culture, it's criminal negligence.  In a just world, BAN would be held accountable for defamation of an entire society.  There's a word for that...

The Deauville Awarded Film "Blame Game", like Nadia's paper, tries to interview everyone at the scene of the e-waste "crime" BAN and Greenpeace claimed to have eyewitnessed.  It takes us into Ghana's apartment building to interview neighbors and third parties about Joe Benson's alleged and actual activities. It's worth sitting for 55 minutes just to comprehend how complicated the sale of second hand material is. But the film falls short in the extent to which it calls a duck a duck. BAN initially was mistaken in calling the police to bust down the apartment door. But they lied about the statistics, and lied about having been warned they were wrong in the accusation.  They were told about Mike Anane in 2010, but continued to promote him as a speaker at conferences.

Survivor stops short of questioning WWF's credibility. Nadia Horning stops short of condemning the intentions of international rules on African forestry. BAN has lied repeatedly, and wasted police resources on innocent TV repairmen. Charitable industrial complex is one thing... but BAN is in a class unto itself.

Pangolin called "Pork Epic" in Pidgin
It is a tragedy when international demand for timber pays for roads that cut through Africa's forest. It's a tragedy when Baka and other indigenous peoples lives are wrecked by that intrusion. It's a tragedy when the Baka begin to hunt and sell bushmeat to an international marketplace. It's a tragedy when international police are called in to arrest the indigenous. It's a tragedy when pollution from extraction is so remote that it isn't even measured or enforced against. It's a tragedy when individual agents of conscience try to do right, but spend ineffectively.

It's a tragedy when a pangolin tries to cross a mining or forest road, and his hit by a truck and killed.

When an organization takes a picture of that pangolin, and accuses an innocent TV repairman of having killed it for money, it's not a tragedy. It's a crime.

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