Two media projects in Africa are using geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offenses, track organised crime syndicates in southern Africa and redefine development reporting.
1. The Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism
The Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism is Africa’s first data journalism project focusing on environmental issues. Based in South Africa, the non-profit center combines traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools.
Oxpeckers hopes to improve the quality and impact of African environmental journalism by:
Providing a home for investigative journalists interested in environmental issues;
Launching a geo-narrative platform using cutting-edge mapping techniques and forensic data tools to improve reportage;
Stimulating transnational and transcultural investigative reportage through project or research-based Oxpecker Fellowships;
Sharing investigative resources / source documents / data, as well as specialist tools and skills through Oxpecker Manuals and workshops;
Curating specialist environmental reporting or research projects on behalf of media partners;
Publishing our own exclusive environmental investigations, in both legacy and new media, as well as through eBooks and other channels.
The project has partnered with WildLeaks, the world’s first secure online whistleblower platform dedicated to wildlife crime.
In an investigative piece titled “Angola's new resource curse,” Richard Grobler investigates the geo-political impact of Lobito Corridor between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Swiss commodity giant Trafigura, partnering with the politically connected Angolan company Cochan Limited and the mysterious China International Fund, has quietly gained total control of Angola’s railway infrastructure, fuel distribution network and iron ore deposits via a vast global network of off-shore companies registered in various tax havens.
Using funds generated by Angola’s oil sales to China, the consortium has built up a vast business empire as the DT Group. It consists of property, fuel, steel-making, shipping and logistics holdings that could have profound economic and political implications for all of south-western Africa.
China had overtaken Portugal as Angola’s top source of both imports (27,68%) and exports (46%) by late 2012, largely due to a series of oil-for-infrastructure deals that started in 2003. A confluence of interests at the centre of the DT Group has taken advantage of this position to dominate the petroleum and mining commodity trade in Angola and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
With a rebuilt deepwater port on the Atlantic coast at Lobito, replete with a new bulk ore terminal, a nearby 200,000 barrel-a-day oil refinery under construction and a new, Chinese-built railway system poised to enter the DRC’s troubled Katanga province, questions are being asked about the intentions of Angola’s DT Group.
The strategic Caminho de Ferro de Benguela (CFB), the shortest rail line linking Congolese and Zambian mining interests to European markets, could prove to be a double-edged sword for the DRC. Katanga is now at risk of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – quite literally.
2. Land Quest
Land Quest, a project based in Nairobi, Kenya run by two journalists from Europe, two from Kenya and one from the US, uses geo-mapping tools to redefine the focus and audience of development reporting.
The data portrays Kenya “as the battlefield for two competing financial interests: the flow of aid money from Europe to Kenya and multinational profits from Kenya to the Europe Union, Kenya’s second largest trading partner after China.”
Through open data, the project shows “the need for developed and developing countries to become partners in development that work together to harmonize and regulate development and private sector investments through open data.”
Land Quest investigation focuses on two hot spots in Kenya:
- Turkana, where newly discovered oil has forever changed (for better or worse) the landscape for the poorest people in Kenya and the humanitarian groups that serve them
-Lake Naivasha, where transnational agro-industrialists cultivate and export much of Europe’s annual flower supply while non-profit organizations groups protect water quality, defend labor rights and resettle internally displaced people, thanks to European donors.
Land Quest partners with newspaper El Mundo in Spain to publish their content and visualizations in Spanish, and it also makes it available in English to Kenyan media outlets.
Land Quest hopes the project:
[...] will also serve as an example of a new model of journalistic collaboration among media in the developed and developing world in a globalized media environment in need of in-depth international reporting.
One of the project's story on its website is about Kenya's “rose slaves” (workers in flower plantations) in Naivasha, one of the two towns the project focuses on:
The sun frames the workday. At dawn the workers begin to make their way toward the greenhouses. Many walk several kilometres; the lucky ones travel by bus or matatu, a mini-bus that carries dozens of passengers. The workday ends at dusk. For twelve hours of work, they make less than 40 Kenyan shillings, roughly 0.33 euros a day. In Spain, the price of a bouquet of Kenyan roses at a florist costs around 30 euros.
The majority of the workers live in areas and shantytowns near the plantations. Some of the neighbourhoods are built by the company. In exchange, they deduct rent and utilities from the employees’ salaries, according to Silas Mwiti, a freelance journalist that covers the Naivasha region. It’s common to see livestock and small vegetable gardens used to supplement a family’s income.
All of the days are the same: on the equator, the sun’s hours don’t vary. This phenomenon, combined with the humidity of the lake and the equatorial temperatures, increases the efficiency of plant growth. The only changes are in the ownership of the plantations.
Historically, Kenya’s flower business has been in the hands of Dutch business owners that are nevertheless selling their companies to new investors. In particular, this involves rich Indian residents that arrived with the British colonists and remained in the country after independence. They represent a powerful minority that also controls key businesses like banks and supermarkets.
Another article looks at the conflict of interests in northwest desert town Turkana between business interests and foreign aid:
John Ebenyo Ewesit, the Oxfam human rights project manager witnessed the Tullow tents appear overnight. He said their local governance projects were of no use in mediating oil negotiations. The government called a placatory meeting to announce the arrival of Tullow after the fact, he explained. Now there are two parallel systems: national coordination with the county commissioners appointed by the national government, and county and ward level government who were all left out of the equation as the national ministries of energy and mining moved in. “It’s still total confusion from a governance perspective.”
Now, local government officials fly in and out of Turkana for free on Tullow-operated aircraft, while decisions are made in Nairobi. And all the while, the stakes have gotten higher.
Real concerns for the environment include the dumping of industrial and human waste that could poison grazing lands. Oil extraction requires large quantities of water,so new water discoveries could be diverted to either oil or agro-industry instead of the public. The oil drilling itself could contaminate water aquifers, which are found in the same geological structures but at different depths.Community advocacy could be silenced by the para-military protection pledged to Tullow by the Government of Kenya in a recent confidential Memorandum of Understanding to end recent protests that was leaked to the Land Quest team. Pastoralists displaced by fenced-off drilling sites have no where to go.
The Kenya Oil & Gas Working Group, a network of civil society organizations that form the Community Action for Nature Conservation seeks to level the playing field for community, government, private sector and CSOs, but they too, are stumped.Their grassroots approach of engaging local communities in the discussion does not work when all meetings and decisions are being help in Nairobi. Even the community forums convened in Turkana have little effect, as the county government is no longer calling the shots.
Land Quest's investigation was financed by the European Journalism Centre and the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme. The Africa Media Initiative provided the funding for EcoLab to develop the mapping platform. Internews in Kenya provided equipment and facilities for the investigation in Nairobi as well as the inspiration and a home for the project.