Plant a Tree, Cook with Firewood

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

I spend the summers in America cooking outdoors; steaks, hot dogs, chicken, corn, plantain, salmon and hamburgers. I prefer the charcoal grill, but I also use gas. Charcoal-grilled steaks, medium rare are to die for. Our children strip chunks of it hot off the grill. I actually consider cooking with firewood clean cooking, certainly cleaner than the environmental degradation that we witness here in America daily, not to talk of nuclear proliferation. So, the other day I shook my head in utter disbelief when I saw someone on Facebook hawking one wimpy NGO-funded “clean energy” appliance as a viable replacement for cooking with charcoal in Africa. The contraption can’t even cook for more than one overfed environmentalist at a time, not to talk of fueling an industrial size owambe party.

Urban sprawl has caused serious environmental and social issues in black Africa but a blanket denunciation of African practices is causing unintended consequences. I think it is patronizing for Westerners to come to our homes and teach us when and how to plant trees.  They must first teach themselves how to plant trees. Here in America they have planted all these trees close to their homes; however the result is deadly each time there is a thunderstorm. These days, trees crush cars and homes during thunderstorms and we have been known to lose power for days on end. At the traffic lights, policemen control traffic after trees have downed power lines. America may be legislating itself into a third world nation thanks to her environmentalists.

Nigeria, indeed Black Africa is not managing change properly. The urban flats of my childhood were not meant for wood stoves but they were used that way. We lived in our village for a period during the Nigerian Civil War and looking back there was a method to my people’s madness. The homes we lived in were comfortable, well ventilated and designed for the kind of cooking that is being vilified today by environmentalists.

In 2004, a Kenyan, the late Wangari Maathai, was awarded the Nobel Prize for – get this – planting trees. How patronizing. My people have been planting trees all their lives well before  Shell, BP and all of those other multinational corporations discovered sweet crude in Oloibiri.  Now they say we should not use firewood because it depletes the forests and sends noxious gases up to their heaven.  I don’t know what clean cooking means in this context, but tell me, how is firewood cooking dirtier than microwave cooking? How is it dirtier than gas cooking?

I am deeply suspicious of the motives and political agenda of environmentalists when it comes to African issues. They are berating the wrong people. When Nigerians are sufficiently angry they will turn on their leaders instead of creating little schemes for coping in hell. I ask again, what is wrong with cooking by firewood? What is wrong with an awareness campaign about reforestation? Is this how they solve the problem in the West? Why the drama? Some of us suspect the truth: This is big business.

The wholesale uncritical dismissal of African values and way of life by Western liberals is getting on my nerves. In their SUVs, they traipse Africa with expensive equipment taking pictures of the devastation engineered by their forefathers.  Africa is now one huge museum to them. Why are people dying of smoke inhalation? Where are people dying? Fix the reasons and perhaps we might not need these wimpy inventions that cannot cook for more than one liberal at a time.

Nothing would please me more than to send all NGOs in Nigeria and their environmentally unfriendly begging bowls packing. You don’t see me grilling with firewood inside my bedroom. The generators kill my people more than anything else. Send all the generators packing. I think it is insulting for anyone to suggest that we did not know how to cook safely until Western liberals came along. We have to look at the context: urban sprawl, layering new systems on the old, and the dynamics and dysfunction of unbridled consumerism.

Another example: Environmentalists are now urging Africans not to eat bush meat. We should beat them over their heads with a leg of antelope! This is exactly why deer have become suburban terrorists in America. Every day, herds of deer come knocking on our doors and giving us slaps, chasing our children all over the yard, crashing into our gas guzzling SUVs, and demanding stuff. The last time a deer collided with my SUV, it cost my insurance company thousands of dollars in repairs because the stupid deer had no insurance. And the police would not let me drag the useless dead animal to the firewood at the back of our home. They measured the antlers and declared that it was illegal to kill the sob. Nonsense.

I can’t prove it but environmentalists probably mean well for Nigeria; however the first order of business if they are to be successful is to listen to us Africans. We are human beings too, we might just tell you why things are the way you have described them.