In a grainy video, masked soldiers from the Central African Republic (CAR) declare their intentions to leave their homeland and join the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gunning for the opposite side, a young Nigerian man tells the BBC “fighting in Ukraine is better than living here”. Leaving conflict and resource injustice at home to fight in foreign lands.
Of the many horrors this conflict reveals, one of the least discussed is this: peace in the 21st century will be inextricably linked to energy and resource security. And nowhere is this more evident than the continent from where these soldiers hail: Africa.
A ticking time bomb
As the global economy continues to smash through the ‘planetary boundaries’ – the safe limits essential for continued human existence – natural resource scarcity presents a cataclysmic threat.
The Sahara Desert has expanded by 10% in the last 100 years, driving people from their ancestral lands and into the territories and resources of others. Lake Chad, one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies, has shrivelled by 90% since the 1960s. In both cases displacement, dispute and conflict have been the result.
Functioning ecosystems provide foundations for peace and prosperity
Whilst people are forced to abandon degraded, denuded and destroyed lands the opposite is also true: communities co-exist and thrive in productive, well-managed and balanced ones.
Take the Central African Republic as one example. For decades, its eastern area of Chinko was ravaged by resource-fuelled conflict and ethnic violence. The contribution to national GDP was close to zero.
But, after a decade of investments in biodiversity, sustainable livelihoods and education a new economy is emerging. A single conservation organisation is now the country’s largest employer outside the capital city. Stability has returned. People talk of a future where they are not forced from their homes by resource conflicts, but where they are once again rightful stewards of their own lands.
The implication? Maintaining healthy and functioning ecosystems pays back in an extraordinary assortment of ways – from health and food security to job creation and political stability. It does so domestically, and it does so internationally.
When it comes to conflict, it is indisputable that prevention is better than the cure: less costly across all conceivable measures.
Global investments in peace and prosperity
To prevent the devastating resource wars of the 21st century we must price nature’s services – carbon, water, productive soil – into our global economy, reward countries fairly where we extract their resources and build capacity and empowerment among the rightful resource owners themselves - local people.
The catastrophic human and societal costs of the invasion of Ukraine, and the displacement of millions of innocent people, lays bare the horror and injustice of war. Let us safeguard Africa’s extraordinary ecosystems – its forests, savannahs and waters – as a global investment in peace and human prosperity for the decades ahead.
illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.