Pumping Energy at the Summit

21 August 2002

Johannesburg - A plural, colourful and potentially explosive blend of red-green activists, development practitioners, government officials, academicians and business executives are gathered in Johannesburg for the World Summit of Sustainable Development (WSSD). TNI is represented by an international delegation of activists and scholars from all over the world. The Energy Project's crew includes the Manager (Daniel Chavez) and the Research Co-ordinator (Ophelia Cowell), plus representatives from Southern affiliates CENSAT-Agua Viva (Tatiana Roa, from Colombia), CEUTA (Gerardo Honty, from Uruguay), Global Village (Dieudonne Thang, Cameroon), and Pelangi (Agus Sari, Indonesia). The TNI Carbon Trade Project is represented by Christina Kopernik-Steckel.

The Transnational Institute's agenda includes the participation in a series of diverse activities organised by the three main forums of the summit. The official conference will be held at the exclusive business district of Sandton, which has become a highly protected fortress where the inter-governmental agreements will be signed. Like many progressive organisations from around the world, TNI does not expect positive outcomes from this meeting, and our participation will be limited to gather information about the ongoing debates and disseminate as much as possible our concerns and proposals regarding energy and development. The NGO Forum, where the institute is expected to participate in several workshops and seminars focused on energy issues organised by progressive international networks, will be held at the industrial expo-park NASREC, far away from the official summit. The third, and rather alternative forum, will be the Global Indaba, a truly parallel gathering of radical social movements with a strong South African flavour. Instead of having a fully deliberative programme, the Global Indaba is planning popular assemblies at the grassroots level and demonstrations throughout the summit.

This week - Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 - the Energy Project co-ordinating team had an active participation at the Southern Africa Electrical Power Workers Network (SAEN), a meeting hosted by the National Union of Mining Workers (NUM) and centred on labour responses to the deepening trend of privatisation and deregulation of energy in the continent. Representatives from six African countries presented national case-studies and discussed a common agenda to counteract market-led policies and develop alternative proposals facing the neoliberal components of the 'New Partnership for African Development' (NEPAD) currently promoted by the governments of the region. TNI gave a combined presentation focused on global trends in power reforms as observed in Latin America (by Daniel Chavez) and Asia (Ophelia Cowell). The NUM has further invited the Transnational Institute to present our analysis of worldwide energy reforms and the role of international financial institutions and corporations. The one-day event will take place at the NGO Forum on August 27.

Belina (pictured) says she and her friends have had their power disconnected and so have joined the peaceful rally of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Commission to protest the arrest of 87 of its members, including dozens of pensioners like herself.

The Energy Project is also co-ordination activities with the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) and the umbrella group, the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). Last week, with hundreds of protesters that have had their electricity connections cut-off, the SECC and APF converged outside the Jeppe Magistrates Court for the sentencing of Trevor Ngwane, who had been arrested along with 87 others, including dozens of pensioners. (See the picture) Sentencing was postponed in favour of a later date, after WSSD. The SECC and the APF provide the main framework of the Global Indaba and will continue to lead in public protest.

Energy is emerging clearly as a major theme at the WSSD. The TNI Energy Project plans to produce an independent report - to be published in October - on how energy issues are approached by business, NGOs and government delegates and the long-term impacts of WSSD agreements. In support of this work, the project team will attend as many as possible relevant official, parallel, and industry side-events. All these meetings and specific research fieldwork will provide useful information to advance the production of a video documentary on energy reforms around the world. The work on the video project began last month with fieldwork in Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay, and plans to continue after South Africa in several locations in Asia and Europe. The technical aspects of the documentary are in charge of the Indian filmmaker Satya Sivaraman, who will join the TNI team in the coming days.

Both the official and civil society processes are just beginning. The final shape of the summit will be defined as thousands of workshops, seminars, corporate and inter-governmental meetings evolve until September 5. If we were to believe the promises of a just, sustainable and poverty-free world publicised in hundreds of adds around the city (the first thing we saw as we got off the plane at Jo'burg airport was a series of huge posters advertising clean energy for all, signed by automobile corporations...) all the fuzz about the summit would be justifiable. This is the first of a series of weekly newsletters to be produced by the Energy Project from Johannesburg.