Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Solid Waste Management and Environmental Justice in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Solid Waste Management and Environmental Justice in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo *

Article excerpt

1.INTRODUCTION

The argument that "one out of every two urban residents is poor" in cities of the developing world can be articulated in the discussions of social and environmental inequalities occurring in the management of solid waste, particularly in the cities of the sub-Saharan African countries. The environmental inequalities discussions in the context of solid waste management (SWM) initially started in the late 1970s in the United States of America (USA), where the unequal distribution of SWM services and other environmental burdens was highly uneven and driven on racial lines (Pollock and Vittes, 1996, Massey 2004). Most studies of environmental inequality focused on issues of the management of toxic waste, solid waste and pollution in the developed world where civil rights movement, inevitably confronted environmental laws and institutions (Myers 2008, Taylor 2002). Thus, discussions and debates around environmental inequality grew out of the realisation and anger that poor communities, particularly those without overt and covert powers were either purposely or implicitly subjected to routine poisoning in the face of inadequate institutional capabilities to effectively manage solid waste which had been generated through various anthropogenic activities (Byrne et al. 2002, Agyeman et al. 2003). It is within this context that ideas, meanings, aspirations and boundaries of the EJ movement were constructed as a way of finding avenues through which individuals and groups of individuals or communities responsible for generating solid waste, regardless of racial, social or economic orientation, could be held accountable for their actions (Walker 2009).

Dominelli (2013) is of the view that over the past decades, the environmental justice paradigm has shifted the locus of the arguments to include the current unsustainable models of development, the unequal power dynamics within and across communities and national states, as well as the unequal distribution of resources, which are central to the current global socioeconomic systems of neo-liberalism (see Dominelli 2013). These attributes combine to exacerbate structural inequalities and marginalities that affect most of the poor people and low-income households thereby, reducing their capacity to mitigate and deter any risk arising from internal or external stressors. Thus, as a way to capture the new locus of debates within the environmental justice discourse, kindred labels of "environmental racism" and "environmental discrimination" have become increasingly popular and are used to reflect the highly socio-economic status and power-based systems manifested in contemporary urban governance and the provision of socioeconomic facilities (Godsil 1991, Cole 1992, Gelobter 1992, Lavelle and Coyle 1992, Capek 1993).

Although environmental justice as a discourse is rooted in the USA, the use of the term "environmental justice" has now extended far beyond its original context. Environmental justice discussions have, for example, been taken up to illustrate the lack of or uneven distribution and access as well as use of natural resources of poor households in rural areas of India, Latin America, and to some extent in sub-Saharan Africa (Meyers 2008). Bane'gas et al. (2012) and Binns et al. (2012), for example, observes that under colonial rule, thousands of black Africans were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to make way for game parks, and a lot of money was spent on preserving wildlife and protecting wild flowers, while native people lived without adequate food, shelter, and clean water. Furthermore, Cheru (2002) argues that while external actors have contributed enormously to the resource marginalisation of the African people, through governance deficits, African governments themselves bear a significant portion of the blame for successfully suppressing the avenues of democratic expression, participation and self-governance of their citizens.

From an urban area perspective, particularly with reference to healthy living conditions, environmental injustice seem to be more exacerbated in urban contexts of the developing world where the majority of the urban dwellers have taken up residence in unplanned settlements with little or no access to basic socio-economic services such as adequate housing, clean water and sanitation facilities (Abuzeid 2009, Binns et al. …

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