Reviews / Comptes rendus
To cook a continent: Destructive extraction and the climate crisis in Africa by Nnimmo Bassey
Article first published online: 24 JAN 2013
© Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Volume 57, Issue 1, page e19, Spring / printemps 2013
How to Cite
Juergensen, O. (2013), To cook a continent: Destructive extraction and the climate crisis in Africa by Nnimmo Bassey. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 57: e19. doi: 10.1111/cag.12004
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 24 JAN 2013
To cook a continent: Destructive extraction and the climate crisis in Africa by , Pambazuka Press , Cape Town , 2012 , x + 190 pp., paper $25 ( ISBN 9781906387532 )
Nnimmo Bassey explores how the scramble for Africa's natural resources by Northern metropolitan capitalist (and increasingly Chinese) interests have not only decimated the social-political landscape but, after centuries of exploitation, have also irrevocably altered the physical landscape and climate. As Bassey correctly points out, Africans living at the margins—those who depend on rain-fed agriculture or reside in low-lying areas—will be hardest hit by industrial activities taking place thousands of kilometres away.
Bassey makes a plea for a new relationship to rectify the asymmetrical relations that have existed between Africa and the North for far too long. First, he calls for Africa to put its historical house in order and then, in the spirit of Pan-African political-economy, to collectively deal with the global political-ecology that is undermining the future of the continent, and indeed the planet. Bassey casts his analytical net widely; this is both a strength and a weakness of the book. It is a strength in that he touches upon the numerous antecedents that have undermined many resource-rich countries, ranging from the legacies of colonialism, corrupt elites, unscrupulous transnationals, proxy wars, one-sided trade deals, unchecked pollution, weak national institutions, and a general disregard for the plight of Africa as a place worth caring about. One of his strongest messages is that Africa must transform itself from within and hold its leaders to account to negotiate a better deal with the North that is reflective of the immediate need to reduce poverty and the longer-term need to address climate change. He also argues for a new deal with the people of Africa in the form of genuine democratic representation. Lastly, the North must begin to treat Africa as an equal partner, and that in the context of mitigating climate change, there is no other option.
Critical geographers will find To cook a continent loosely written in the tradition of the dependency school theorists, which saw the commodification and control over natural resources linked to the distribution (or lack thereof) of political and material power. What was once at the margin of Northern capitalism has certainly been drawn closer to the core by the very public conversations on globalization and climate change, particularly at Rio+20 (The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, June 2012). All of which help communicate to a wider global audience the link between capital and resource exploitation in far-off places, and even in places closer to home, such as Canada's tar sands, and the US's Gulf Coast.
Bassey recognizes the opening made through these global conversations and sees it as an opportunity to highlight the political-ecology of hyper-resource extraction that is currently underway in many of Africa's poorest, and often war-torn, countries. His work is loaded with commentaries on physical politicized space, “from Dakar to Mogadishu and Cape Town to Cairo,” (p. 162) although large parts of the book are dedicated to the case of Nigeria where for years he has been an environmental activist. Regrettably, Bassey misses the chance to delve more deeply into the relationships between elites and foreign interests, and how forms of resistance and political space are made understandable to the communities, civil societies, and new social movements that might lead Africa out of the backwater of resource exploitation, and onto a path of resistance and change.
These observations aside, the book should be welcomed by students and professional geographers alike, as it once again points to the need for more geographic inquiry that can help deconstruct the meta post-colonial narrative that often lacks a sense of space in its telling. The discourse around the “environment” and its link to power, poverty and identity is a powerful tool that is clearly relevant to the work of critical geographers. If democratic change is to occur from the grassroots up, as Bassey calls for, then a deeper understanding of how and where power is created, maintained, and applied is needed both in Africa and beyond its shores.