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New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid

 
Simulation of Eko Atlantic

A simulation of the downtown in Eko Atlantic city, under construction in Lagos, Nigeria. Photograph: Eko Atlantic

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid” was written by Martin Lukacs, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 21st January 2014 06.10 UTC

It’s a sight to behold. Just off Lagos, Nigeria’s coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris’ Champs-Élysées and New York’s Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the “future Hong Kong of Africa,” anticipates Nigeria’s World Bank director.

Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose “whole purpose”, its developers say, is to “arrest the ocean’s encroachment.” Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples’ homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the “Great Wall of Lagos”, a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a “sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions,” offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.

At least that’s the official story. Other facts suggest this gleaming city will be a menacing allure to most. In congested Lagos, Africa’s largest city, there is little employment and millions work and scavenge in a vast, desperate informal economy. Sixty percent of Nigeria’s population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day. Preventable diseases are widespread; electricity and clean water hard to come by. A few kilometres down the Lagos shoreline, Nigerians eke out an existence in the aquatic slum of Makoko, built precariously on stilts over the ocean. Casting them as crime-ridden, the government regularly dismantles such slums, bulldozing homes and evicting thousands. These are hardly the people who will scoop up square footage in Eko Atlantic’s pricy new high-rises.

Those behind the project – a pair of politically connected Lebanese brothers who run a financial empire called the Chagoury Group, and a slew of African and international banks – give a picture of who will be catered to. Gilbert Chaougry was a close advisor to the notorious Nigerian dictatorship of the mid 1990s, helping the ultra-corrupt general Sani Abacha as he looted billions from public coffers. Abacha killed hundreds of demonstrators and executed environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who rose to fame protesting the despoiling of the country by Shell and other multinational oil corporations. Thus it’s fitting for whom the first 15-story office tower in Eko Atlantic is being built: a British oil and gas trading company. The city proposing to head off environmental devastation will be populated by those most responsible for it in the first place.

Location of Eko Atlantic

Eko Atlantic city will sit on ten million square metres of land built of sand dredged from the Atlantic Ocean. Photograph: Eko Atlantic

The real inspiration for Eko Atlantic comes not from these men but the dreamworlds of rampant capitalism, stoked by a successful, thirty year global campaign to claw back gains in social security and unchain corporations from regulation – what we now know as neoliberalism. In Nigeria, oil wealth plundered by a military elite spawned extreme inequalities and upended the economy. Under the IMF’s neoliberal dictates, the situation worsened: education and healthcare were gutted, industries privatized, and farmers ruined by western products dumped on their markets. The World Bank celebrated Nigeria; extreme poverty doubled. The most notorious application of the power of the Nigerian state for the interest of the rich came in 1990: an entire district of Lagos – 300,000 homes – was razed to clear the way for high-end real-estate development.

As elites in Nigeria and elsewhere have embraced such inequality as the very engine of growth, they have revived some of the most extreme forms of colonial segregation and gated leisure. Today, boutiques cannot open fast enough to serve the Nigerian millionaires buying luxury cars and yachts they’ll be able to dock in Eko Atlantic’s down-town marina.

 

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