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Environmental Africa

Environmental Africa

Pityful a rethoric question ran over her cheek When she reached the first hills of the Italic Mountains, she had a last view back on the skyline of her hometown Bookmarksgrove, the headline of Alphabet Village and the subline of her own road, the Line Lane.

Throw myself down teems with vapour around me, and the meridian sun strikes the upper surface of the impenetrable foliage of my trees, and but a few stray gleams steal into the inner sanctuary grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image, and the breath

A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone and feel the charm of existence.

“What on earth am I doing here?”

This question echoed in the sea of plastic that bathed over Côte d’Ivoire’s Ébrié Lagoon. Only four kilometers wide, this lagoon lasts for one hundred kilometers before becoming one with the Atlantic Ocean.

Apart from plastic bottles, all manner of waste that includes heavy metal and pesticides is usually dumped into the lagoon.

That plastic bottle, one of hundreds that are strewn in the lagoon, wonders what it is doing there because it definitely doesn’t belong there.

CanoePhoto by yukiehamada

What belongs to this lagoon is this:

Natasha, a twenty-five-year-old lady form Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, located in an area where Europe and Asia meet. Today, she is in a traditional canoe at Ébrié Lagoon. Before today, she had never set foot in Côte d’Ivoire or even in Africa. She couldn’t even name five African countries. But when her friend Olga told her about the World Traditional Canoe Championships that were being held at Ébrié Lagoon. Olga had been to this race the previous year in the inaugural championships and had vowed to keep coming back.

Natasha was riding in the canoe with Sena, a thirty-two-year-old artisanal fisherman from Lome, Togo. This was a defining feature of the Traditional Canoe Championships – people were always paired with someone from another country in order to enhance rich cultural exchange.

For the entire one-hundred kilometre length of the Lagoon, Natasha and Sena rowed next to, behind and in front of almost one thousand other traditional canoes whose riders were drawn from eighty-seven countries from all the five continents of the world. All along the shore for the entire one hundred kilometers of the Lagoon, there were djembe drummists and traditional dancers drawn from the entire Western Africa.

This Traditional Canoe World Championships earned Côte d’Ivoire’s millions of dollars in revenue. Didier, a forty-six year old who had previously earned less than twenty dollars every month by scavenging through the plastic waste that used to be at the Lagoon was now earning ten times as much both directly and indirectly from these Traditional Canoe championships. More than ten thousand other local residents had also received similar boosts in their revenue.

In 2015, the UN Environment Program produced a Report in which it clearly recommended to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, ‘Establish Ébrié Lagoon as an engine for economic revival in Abidjan.’ Instead of this lagoon being an ugly dumping ground, it could be a beautiful centre of sustainable economic activity.

This Ébrié Lagoon Traditional Canoe World Championships is just a dream. But it can be a reality. It should be a reality.

In 1968, Miriam Makeba arrived in Conakry Guinea and began her life in exile on Africa’s West Coast. Language barriers notwithstanding, she received a heroine’s welcome and found a home away from home. As she was driven from the airport, she witnessed lush fields dotted with waving palm trees prompting her to say that she had never seen such beauty in a long time.

Fatou, a middle-aged lady from the Guinea’s capital Conakry sees this beauty whenever she visits her ancestral home in Dalaba, the town where Miriam Makeba used to stay.

"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Nelson Mandela

The sun has risen bright and early. Fatou is basking in this sun as she stands at Conakry’s Bonfi Port gazing at the vast Atlantic Ocean. Although the natural spectacle before her is dripping with shimmering beauty, Fatou’s focus is on one of the small brightly-colored wooden boats that is about to dock. She is a fish seller whose fortunes for the day lie in the belly of that boat. Moments later, she leads a pack of other fish mongers to the boat. They find that the three fishermen pushing the boat into the shore’s wet sand had only managed to catch less than ten kilos of fish far from enough for their needs.

Guinea FishPhoto by sueinpng

Fatou and the fishermen who carry her hopes every dawn keep wondering why fish that was once abundant has drastically dwindled in the last few years. The World Bank has an answer that is gleaned from multiple expert opinions, “Climate change leads to rising sea temperatures, making fish stocks migrate toward colder waters away from equatorial latitudes, and contributing to shrinking fish sizes. It also influences the abundance, migratory patterns, and mortality rates of wild fish stocks.”

What then should Fatou and the fishermen do since they are victims, not perpetrators of climate change? Those international climate funds should facilitate them to be cooperative owners of deep sea shipping vessels that can venture into the deeps and catch a lot more fish for processing, export and sale to the local market. That way, they will be able to dance again with their fish in a profitable and sustainable way.

Tonight the ocean off the coast of Comoros Island’s Ngazidja Island is in a good mood. The usual ill-tempered wind is asleep, leaving behind a gentle breeze that can only stir calm waves.

With a headscarf covering her kinky hair and a kitenge wrapper covering her waist, Fatima meets the gentle waves head-on as she strides into the water. Her mind momentarily flashes back to Omar, her three year old son who is soundly sleeping at that moment. Before she left the house half an hour earlier, she tucked him in again and patted his forehead.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

Fatima is here in the Indian Ocean at 3AM not just because of Omar and his two older sisters but also because she enjoys fishing. In most parts of the world, artisanal fishery is a preserve for the men. But here in Ngazidja Island (Grand Comore) the largest of Comoros’ three islands, women are an integral part of artisanal fishery, not just as vendors but as fishers themselves.

Given the rich history of girl power in Comoros, its no wonder that Comorian women tread where other women rarely do.

Comoros 2Photo by David_Peterson

Fatima shares a name with Djoumbé Fatima, a famous Comoros queen who ruled from the tender age of five till her death. She was a shrewd politician who successfully navigated the turbulent waters of French diplomacy and interests.

As another calm wave gently massages her knees, Fatima begins the task at hand. She is accompanied with several other women from her Chindini fishing community. Although they are hunting for fish in a reef flat at low tide as opposed to the open sea like the men, they are very much part of the fishing action. Besides, as Fatima likes to say, ‘fish is fish whether it is from the deep waters or shallow waters.’

Some of Fatima’s cousins prefer reef gleaning, the practice of wading through shallow waters to collect fish that may be unlucky enough to be swimming in them.

Who runs the world?

Girls.

In Comoros Islands, these are not just lyrics from Beyonce’s song. Rather, girl power in Comoros is both a historic reality and a present day fishery reality.

Grand Comore is the largest island of Comoros Islands. Known in Swahili as Ngazidja, this island is unique for its female fishers.

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