July 24, 2015 by John Crapper
Eko Atlantic, being built just off Lagos along Nigeria’s Coast and designed to house 250,000 is slated to be completed in 2016.
Its whole purpose, developers say, is to “arrest the ocean’s encroachment”. Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria is being hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has been regularly washing away thousands of peoples’ homes. To defend against this coastal erosion and flooding, Eko Atlantic is being built surrounded by the “Great Wall of Lagos”, a sea defense barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic is billed as a “sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions,” offering jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and designed to serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change. A city of souring buildings, with a central boulevard to match New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Here is a slick 7:43 minute video touting the luxurious promise of this exclusive city built on reclaimed land.
If you took the time to watch, it sure sounds like nirvana, right? Former President Bill Clinton sure thinks so.
In congested Lagos, Africa’s largest city, there is little employment and millions work scavenging in a vast, desperate informal economy. Sixty percent of Nigeria’s population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day. Preventable diseases are widespread; electricity and clean water hard to come by. A few kilometers down the Lagos shoreline, Nigerians eke out an existence in the aquatic slum of Makoko, built precariously on stilts over the ocean. Casting them as crime-ridden, the government regularly dismantles such slums, bulldozing homes and evicting thousands. These are hardly the people that will scoop up square footage in Eko Atlantic’s pricy new high-rises.
Those behind the project – a pair of politically connected Lebanese brothers who run a financial empire called the Chagoury Group, and a slew of African and international banks – will determine who is catered to. Gilbert Chaougry was a close advisor to the notorious Nigerian dictatorship of the mid 1990s, helping the ultra-corrupt general Sani Abacha as he looted billions from public coffers. Abacha killed hundreds of demonstrators and executed environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who rose to fame protesting the despoiling of the country by Shell and other multinational oil corporations. Thus it was fitting for whom the first 15-story office tower in Eko Atlantic was built: a British oil and gas trading company. The city proposing to head off environmental devastation will be populated by those most responsible for it in the first place.
The real inspiration for Eko Atlantic is coming not only from these men but the dreamworlds of rampant capitalism, stoked by a successful, thirty year global campaign to claw back gains in social security and unchain corporations from regulation – what has become known as neoliberalism.
In Nigeria, oil wealth plundered by a military elite spawned extreme inequalities and upended the economy. Under the IMF’s neoliberal dictates, the situation has worsened: education and healthcare have been gutted, industries privatized, and farmers ruined by western products dumped on their markets. The World Bank celebrated Nigeria; extreme poverty doubled. The most notorious application of the power of the Nigerian state for the interest of the rich came in 1990: an entire district of Lagos – 300,000 homes – was razed to clear the way for high-end real-estate development.
The wealthy and powerful are taking notice. They take climate change seriously: not as a demand to modify their behavior or question the fossil-fuel driven global economy that had made it possible, but as the biggest opportunity yet to realize their dreams of unfettered accumulation and consumption. The disaster capitalists behind Eko Atlantic are seizing on climate change to push through pro-corporate plans to build this city of their dreams, an architectural insult to the daily circumstances of ordinary Nigerians.
Eko Atlantic, a privatized green enclave for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. To be protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful will exploite the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts. Thus climate apartheid will be born.
Will this practice, starting with the elites in Nigeria, be quickly embraced elsewhere? Will the result be some of the most severe forms of colonial segregation and gated leisure being re-established? To get their way, will the rich, backed by industry and politicians, trample over environmental assessment processes in country after country?
Will Eko Atlantic start a trend in the world contrary to anything one would want to do if one took seriously climate change and resource depletion? Will the elite, like never before, use climate change to transform neighborhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands? Around the world, from Afghanistan to Arizona, China to Cairo, and in mushrooming mega-cities much like Lagos, will those able move to areas where they could live better and often more greenly – with better transport and renewable technologies, green buildings and ecological services?
Does Eko Atlantic start a moral and social secession of the rich from those in their respective countries?
This essentially utopian drive – to consume rapaciously and endlessly and to reject any semblance of collective impulse and concern – is simply incompatible with human survival. At the very moment when the world needs to confront an economy and ideology pushing the planet’s life-support systems to the breaking point, this is what the neoliberal imagination offers: a grotesque monument to the ultra-rich flight from responsibility.