Dubai Company’s Extensive Land Deals in Africa Spark Concerns for Indigenous Livelihoods

Dubai Company’s Extensive Land Deals in Africa Spark Concerns for Indigenous Livelihoods

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Matthew Walley’s gaze sweeps across the vast forest that has sustained his Indigenous community in Liberia for generations. Even as the morning sun casts a golden hue over the canopy, a palpable sense of unease lingers. Their ancestral lands are under threat, prompting them to organize and resist the looming possibility of losing their means of survival.

Over the past year, the Liberian government has brokered deals selling approximately 10% of the West African country’s land—equivalent to 10,931 square kilometers (4,220 square miles)—to Dubai-based company Blue Carbon. The purpose, ostensibly, is to preserve forests that might otherwise succumb to logging and farming, the primary sources of livelihood for many local communities.

Blue Carbon, which has remained unresponsive to repeated attempts at communication via email and phone, intends to capitalize on this conservation effort by selling carbon credits to polluters, allowing them to offset their emissions from burning fossil fuels. However, critics argue that this model provides scant climate benefit, branding it as “carbon colonialism.”

Activists contend that the government lacks legal jurisdiction over the land, emphasizing that Liberian law recognizes Indigenous land ownership. Nonetheless, in March 2023, the government struck a deal with Blue Carbon—months after the company’s inception—without consulting the affected local communities, who express grave concerns over the absence of safeguards.

“There is no legal framework on carbon credits in Liberia, and so we don’t have rules and regulations to advocate for ourselves as a community,” remarked Walley, whose community, Neezuin, stands to lose about 573 square kilometers to Blue Carbon.

A slew of agreements between Blue Carbon and at least five African countries could potentially grant the company control over vast swathes of land on the continent. In Kenya, Indigenous populations have already faced eviction to pave the way for other carbon credit projects, according to human rights groups like Amnesty International and Survival International.

These projects have been denounced as “culturally destructive,” lacking transparency and endangering the livelihoods and food security of rural African populations.

“Many such projects are associated with appalling human rights abuses against local communities at the hands of park rangers,” remarked Simon Counsell, an independent researcher specializing in conservation projects across Kenya, Congo, Cameroon, and other countries.

“Africa contributes the least to greenhouse gas emissions, yet its vast natural resources, such as forests, are pivotal in the fight against climate change. Indigenous populations traditionally rely on forests for their livelihoods, underscoring the tension between climate goals and economic realities.”

Cash-strapped governments in Africa are enticed by these conservation initiatives due to the revenue they generate, despite concerns about human rights violations and transparency.

Blue Carbon’s sole project under development in Zimbabwe encompasses approximately 20% of the country’s land, according to the company’s website. However, through opaque agreements, the company has potentially secured staggering amounts of land across other countries, including Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, and Zambia, since its inception in late 2022.

In Liberia, the government is obligated to obtain prior, informed consent from communities before engaging in such deals. However, activists and communities allege that former President George Weah’s administration proceeded without it.

Communities only became aware of the deal after activists mobilized against it following a leak through a network of non-governmental organizations. Although the agreement stipulated that talks with communities would take place last November, locals and activists report that they never occurred.

“There is no opposition to fighting climate change, but it must be pursued in a manner that respects people’s rights and upholds the law,” affirmed Ambulah Mamey, a Liberian activist who has helped mobilize opposition to the Blue Carbon deal.

Following protests from communities and activists, Weah’s administration halted the deal before the presidential election last year, in which he was defeated.

“We resolved to vote out the George Weah government to halt the deal, which would devastate communities. However, we are uncertain if the new government will revive it,” said Walley, the community leader. “We are awaiting their decision.”

Emmanuel Yarkpawolo, the new director of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, acknowledged that the Blue Carbon deal was hastily executed “without adequate transparency.”

He confirmed that the deal is currently on hold, and Liberia is in the process of developing regulations for selling carbon credits, which will prioritize the balance between environmental objectives and the economic well-being of its people, addressing concerns about Indigenous rights and alternative livelihoods.

In March, Blue Carbon issued invitations to developers, soliciting proposals for carbon offset projects. While the company document, shared with The Associated Press by activists, does not specify the targeted countries, it indicates that basic land information will be provided to applicants.

The opacity of this process is concerning, particularly given the substantial land holdings involved in some countries, remarked Counsell, the conservation researcher. He raised doubts about whether governments comprehend it, let alone the people residing in those areas.

“They are precisely the kind of opaque and inequitable arrangements that the U.N. should specifically guard against as it continues to develop the rules for a global carbon market,” Counsell noted.

Blue Carbon was founded by Emirati royal Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, whose private interests include fossil fuel operations. The governments or companies slated to purchase the credits generated from its carbon projects remain undisclosed.

The efficacy of carbon offsetting itself is subject to debate. One concern revolves around the concept of “additionality,” or the extent to which a project claims to reduce carbon emissions by preventing deforestation. In numerous cases, it’s plausible that such reductions would have occurred regardless.

A study conducted by Counsell and Survival International on the Northern Kenya Grassland Carbon Project—a carbon credit initiative—revealed that livestock farmers, whose livelihoods were disrupted by the project, had operated within “broadly sustainable limits.”

This parallels the practices of communities in Liberia, where they are mandated to conserve forests under government regulations. Moreover, 40% of Liberia’s forestland is already protected.

“This implies that the project, in climate terms, lacks ‘additionality,’ and any carbon credits generated do not signify genuine new carbon savings,” Counsell asserted.

Furthermore, over time, trees release stored carbon back into the atmosphere through natural processes such as aging, forest fires, or commercial use, undermining the notion of forests permanently sequestering carbon.

There’s also the issue of a “zero” climate benefit. Shielding forests in one area might result in deforestation elsewhere as communities affected by conservation projects seek alternative means of livelihood.

The Associated Press’ coverage of climate and environmental issues receives financial support from various private foundations. AP assumes sole responsibility for all content. For more information on AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters, and funded coverage areas, visit

(sources : AP news )

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