Dec. 14 (GIN)—The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Peace Park is a rich ecosystem where one finds the gemsbok desert antelope, black-maned Kalahari lions and pygmy falcons. It’s known far and wide for its breathtaking wilderness, wildlife and rest camps.

Welcome to the new home of gas exploration and fracking.

Last year, natural gas frackers from the UK—Karoo Energy, formerly known as Nodding Donkey— bought exploration licenses for more than 87,000 square miles of the Botswana park, with the intention of fracking for natural gas.

South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert region will soon be added to its portfolio, according to a recent letter to shareholders.

Extraction of the area’s vast underground supplies of natural gas from coal beds requires hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by pumping water and chemicals into the coal beds at high pressure.

While government officials deny that drilling has begun, the Guardian newspaper found oil sediment on the ground near a popular camp site. There was an overwhelming smell of tar and a drill stem protruded from an apparently recently drilled hole, they said. It is not known who had carried out the drilling or when.

For more than a decade, Botswana—known as one of Africa’s best-governed states—was granting licenses for coal-bed methane extraction, despite the lack of public debate, particularly considering the serious threats these developments might pose to the environment and communities.

One such threat is the downward pressure of fracking on a community’s water table. Jeffrey Barbee, who made the film “The High Cost of Cheap Gas,” explained that a lower water table in rural Botswana could mean the difference between a community having access to water one day and not the next.

Other critics include nature scientist Gus Mills, who lived and worked in Kgalagadi for 18 years. He called fracking “another nail in the coffin of wild areas in the world.”

Olmo von Meijenfeldt, director of the South African organization Democracy Works, added succinctly, “Governments should be reluctant if not downright hostile towards extracting natural resources for a short-term benefit that will contribute to a deterioration of habitat and our long-term capacity for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.”

Meanwhile, a South African debate on fracking is gaining momentum. Public meetings have been held in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, where the Texas-based Rhino Oil and Gas has applied for natural gas exploration rights.

A new national alliance against fracking—Frack Free South Africa—has been formed and an online petition to Botswana’s President Ian Khama and Karoo Energy CEO Noel Lyons demanding an end to fracking in Kgalagadi National Park has already drawn 992 signers as of this month.

The debate, however, has failed to slow South African President Jacob Zuma, who is backing quick action on licenses for the exploration of shale gas drilling through fracking, even though a two-year study of the practice is still underway.

CLIMATE CHANGE POSES IMMINENT THREAT TO AFRICA

Dec. 14 (GIN) —While government leaders, media and climate justice activists converged in Paris to advance the fight against global warming and, as President Barack Obama said, “save the one planet we have,” extreme weather patterns were already creating havoc across the African continent.

A rare weather pattern that brought 60-degree days to the East Coast of the U.S. in December has been linked to a brutal drought in southern Africa.

An exceptionally large pool of warm water in the Pacific has bottled up cold winter air in the Arctic. This unusual El Nino weather phenomenon has left a trail of bone dry farmlands across the continent, where the rains usually start in October or November but have yet to materialize.

In Ethiopia, a drought has put 10 million people, or a tenth of the population, in a dire food emergency. In Malawi, the maize crop that 80 percent of subsistence farmers are normally growing has been devastated by a combination of floods and insufficient rains.

To the north in Guinea Bissau, rising sea water has destroyed most of the rice crops of a small community of 435 inhabitants on the north coast.

The climate agreement among 200 nations reached Saturday at the conference known as COP21, was received with cheers inside the high-level meeting rooms. But outside, disappointment and frustration was palpable.

Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey was one of thousands holding a mile-long red banner to symbolize the red line the negotiators should not cross … “We’re standing on the red line because policymakers and delegates debating at the conference of parties on climate change have ignored the crisis people are actually confronted with,” said Bassey. “They have failed to realize that every day’s delay means sentencing millions of people to death. Now they have crossed the line, the red line by not setting real targets for emission reduction.”

Writer Roberto Lovato, covering the conference for Colorlines, talked to Ruth Nyambura, a Kenya-based political ecologist with the African Biodiversity Network, who added a gender perspective to the debate. Nyambura stated, “I’m a feminist, and my readings of the color line and climate change are also informed by feminists of color like Audre Lorde, who said, ‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.’”

Lovato wrote, “Many people of color attending COP21 recognized how mostly non-White countries in the global South that have the lowest carbon footprints are suffering the droughts, floods, rising sea levels, health disparities and destroyed ecosystems brought on by emissions from 90 companies that are mostly owned by Northern countries. By sharing their stories and analyses, people of color at the COP21 amplified what many described as the issue of our time: a 21st century color line drawn by climate change.”

A blogpost labeled “We’re not done yet” was penned by the executive director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo of South Africa: “The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history.”

Naidoo agreed with the view that not enough was in the deal for the nations and people on the frontlines of climate change. He continued, “Nations that caused this problem have promised too little to help the people on the frontlines of this crisis, who are already losing their lives and livelihoods for problems they did not create.”

He then added optimistically, “Together we are challenging the fossil fuel oligarchy, we are ushering in the era of solutions and we are moving the political benchmark of what is possible.”

The deal now needs to be ratified by individual governments—at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions—before taking effect. w/pix of Kumi Naidoo

ETHIOPIANS IN THE U.S. PROTEST MISTREATMENT OF OROMOS

Dec. 14 (GIN)—The U.S.-based community of Oromos, an ethnic group from Ethiopia, is demanding an end to U.S. support for the Ethiopian government, which, they say, has been seizing land from local farmers without compensating them.

A police crackdown on the Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest community, has left dozens of students injured and several killed over the past few weeks, according to published accounts.

According to reports from the region, the conflict began in the town of Ginci, approximately 55 miles from Addis Ababa. A forest on the edge of town was being cleared for a government development project, and elementary and high school students spontaneously pushed back against the move that they believe could further displace their people.

The students formed a sudden and unexpected protest, which activists say have consisted of peaceful demonstrations, often in silence, with participants crossing their hands above their heads.

Oromo diaspora solidarity rallies have been held in Washington, D.C., London, Toronto, St. Paul, Minn. and other cities where the protesters asked the international community to intervene to stop the crime against humanity against Oromos by the Ethiopian government.

Human Rights Watch blamed the killings on security forces using excessive force and live ammunition to disperse the crowds.

The issue igniting protests is a controversial proposal, known as “the master plan,” to expand Addis Ababa into the surrounding Oromia state, which protesters say will threaten local farmers with mass evictions.

Oromia is one of the nine politically autonomous regional states in the country, and the region’s Oromo people make up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.

Ermias Legesse, a high-profile government defector, has argued that since 2000, the Addis Ababa city municipality has enacted five pieces of legislation to legalize informal settlements, allowing them to be sold to private property developers.

“Sometimes the informal settlers are given only a few days’ notices before bulldozers arrive on the scene to tear down their shabby houses and lay foundations for new investors,” Legesse said in an interview last week.

There has been limited media coverage of the ongoing protests. There are strong restrictions on the free press in Ethiopia, one of the most censored countries in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Government critics and the independent press face increased scrutiny.

Muzayan Kubsa, a Sioux Falls man originally from Ethiopia, told the Argus Leader newspaper he does not want his U.S. tax dollars to aid his home country’s government.

Kubsa is one of approximately 2,500 people in Sioux Falls who are Oromo.

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CONSENSUS BUILDS TO OUST DESPOTIC BURUNDI PREZ

Dec. 14 (GIN)—A chorus of opposition to Pierre Nkurunziza is mounting in the international community, making the likelihood of an orchestrated removal of the embattled Burundi president seem a distinct possibility.

This past Friday, Kenya Airways cancelled all service to Bujumburu International Airport, citing a “security incident.” The U.S. ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave violence-torn Burundi as soon as possible.

Earlier last week, the United Nations moved to pull Burundi back from the brink of “possible genocide,” adopting a French-drafted resolution that called for urgent talks and laid the groundwork for peacekeepers to be sent to stop the killings.

The resolution, unanimously adopted by the Security Council, cited a wave of killings, torture, arrests and other rights violations in the central African nation.

It requested that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon present options to the council within 15 days on “the future presence of the United Nations in Burundi” to help end the crisis.

Now U.N. officials are drawing up plans, including rushing U.N. peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi, or deploying a regional force under the African Union, if the violence spirals out of control.

“We know that in the worst case, what we are talking about is a possible genocide and we know that we need to do everything that we possibly can to prevent that,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, whose country chairs the Security Council this month.

“The Security Council must fully embrace its role of prevention … and not let the genie of ethnic violence out of the bottle,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.

But not all analysts see a repeat of the genocides that occurred in Burundi over the past 50 years, and some find the language of the international community overblown.

“It is essentially a political conflict,” Carina Tertsakian, a researcher on Burundi for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with Quartz news wire. “On one side is the president and the ruling party trying to cling to power and on the other side are his opponents, and those opponents include a mixture of both Hutu and Tutsi … It’s very different from what took place in Burundi in the 1990s.”

Although politicians on both sides have tried using ethnic language to whip up popular support, few Burundians are taking the bait, according to Tertsakian. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to relive that,’”she stated.

Further arguing against a new ethnic war, Patrick Hajayandi of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation pointed out that Burundi’s armed forces are now composed of both Hutu and Tutsi, and local and national government bodies, including the parliament and the senate, are split 60 percent to 40 percent between Hutu and Tutsis.

Hajayandi told the Guardian newspaper, “So far, violence and clashes have largely been limited to specific areas of the capital, with rural areas remaining relatively peaceful. In fact, the majority of Burundi’s population has shown great resistance to efforts by those wishing to incite them into generalized violence. International voices declaring a genocide—when the realities on the ground appear more like a low-intensity conflict—could become complicit in fanning the flames of further violence.”

Although the situation could deteriorate, he theorized, at the moment the window for political negotiations remains open. Ugandan mediators tasked with restoring peace should take immediate steps to re-establish a sustained dialogue between the Nkurunziza regime and the opposition, he urged.

“Dialogue is the way forward,” he reiterated, “not a foreign military intervention prompted by overblown calls of ‘genocide,’ which is likely to radicalize both parties, increasing the likelihood of an all-out civil war. In such a sensitive political climate, hyperbole can make the already precarious situation more fragile.”