On July 21st, Digital Democracy, Natural Justice and Oxfam hosted the Africa Forum for Earth Defenders. This two-hour virtual event brought together over 120 participants, primarily earth defenders from across the African continent, to share stories of work they are doing on the frontlines, and highlight new tools and strategies that help put power in the hands of local communities.
We began the event with a moment of silence in recognition of the earth defenders across the continent who have been killed in the past year, including Joannah Stutchbury, Esmond Bradley Martin, Esther Mwikali, Robert Kiprotich, Fikile Ntshangase, and Bazooka Rhadebe.
Next, Eva Maria Okoth of Natural Justice moderated conversations with featured speakers from Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Here are some highlights:
Pooven Moodley of Natural Justice welcomed attendees and spoke about the importance of the Earth Defenders Toolkit, both by increasing access to technology and by supporting earth defenders to work more collaboratively: “The use of digital technology that is accessible to communities is what is going to make a difference, not the technology that is sitting in the hands of experts or only a few people.”
Arnold Tsunga of the Southern Africa Network for Human Rights Defenders spoke about the real dangers of earth defender work and the state of fossil fuel extractivism on the continent, which has been further amplified by the pandemic: “In the wake of extractive industries, there are masses of evictions & frontline defenders can be killed. The dangers that African defenders face are real and a number of rights are being violated.”
Lebo Seitshiro of Saving Okavango’s Unique Life (SOUL) Alliance spoke about the struggle to resist possible oil and gas drilling in the highly biodiverse Okavango delta: “Our leaders are not able to imagine a different future, and this is unacceptable.”
After the intro conversation between Eva, Lebo and Alfred, we heard powerful testimony from leaders from across the region: Tom Bicko Ooko from the Kenya Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA); Julie Cisse from Network of Women Farmers in Rural and Peri-urban Areas, Senegal; Raoul Kitungana of Justice Pour Tous (Justice for All) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Peter Kitelo and Phoebe Ndiema, of Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples’ Development Project (CIPDP) in Kenya.
To see their full conversation, check out the video recording of the event (EN: https://youtu.be/ks4YeEEttHY; FR: https://youtu.be/8J7vIGE40mo), and this 15 minute video about Earth Defenders Toolkit.
The second half of the event featured lively breakout rooms where discussions ranged from the meaning of “earth defender”, to critical issues faced by those on the frontlines in Africa, to how the movement must grow in order to protect threatened areas and combat climate change.
We are inspired by the many conversations we’ve had since the event with participants who have reached out. If you’d like to learn more or contribute to the toolkit, visit the contribute page on the website.
A big thank you to all of the speakers!