Mobilizing shared power

Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA)

When the water system of Lagos, Nigeria seemed on the brink of privatization, environmental and social justice organizers based in the metropolis sprang into action. Longtime allies in tobacco campaigning, these organizers invited Corporate Accountability to join them—and the “Our Water, Our Right” campaign was born in Lagos. Six years later, neither corporate interests, the World Bank, nor the Lagos government have been able to succeed in their privatization plans. 

In fact, the campaign has been so successful that the Lagos-based organizers determined they needed a more robust platform to carry the work beyond Nigeria. And so they launched Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA). Today, CAPPA’s work is advancing water justice and environmental justice across the African region, with support from and in solidarity and friendship with Corporate Accountability.

“Our Water, Our Right” resounds across Lagos

The “Our Water, Our Right” campaign continues to win victories in Lagos, holding off water privatization and advancing water justice. CAPPA’s robust organizing and ability to earn a steady stream of media ensures that the campaign continues to make waves. 

The award-winning campaign has empowered communities all over the city to hold their own “water parliaments.” These communities carry out actions to oppose privatization and call for public solutions, sometimes in partnership with the larger campaign, and sometimes on their own. “Building this kind of grassroots power is an essential long-term strategy to make the voices and demands of the people heard,” says CAPPA Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi.

Water parliament gathering in Lagos, Nigeria.
Community members gather for a water parliament in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo credit: CAPPA

At the same time, the campaign has successfully focused international attention on the water crisis in Lagos. For example, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus attended a campaign briefing on the threat of water privatization in Lagos and the role of the World Bank. And audiences around the world learned about the Lagos water campaign in the “Troubled Water” episode of the Netflix documentary series, “Rotten.”

Additionally, three U.N. Special Rapporteurs wrote an extraordinary letter to Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. (Special Rapporteurs are high-profile and widely respected human rights experts in their fields.) Hard-hitting and direct, this letter is the strongest intervention on water privatization yet in Lagos by people affiliated with the U.N. 

As a result of all of this action, the Lagos government has recently been forced to more directly engage with the campaign and attend to the people’s demands. 

Building on the success in Lagos for a regional response

This year it became undeniable that the work in Lagos had vast potential to challenge privatization beyond a single city. And from that awareness came two breakthrough milestones.

Last fall, the “Our Water, Our Right” campaign opened two new chapters in Nigeria to counter water privatization efforts. The chapters are in Bauchi and Plateau states, two economic hubs of northern Nigeria. Both states have been the targets of water privatization pushes by the industry, Global North governments, and the World Bank. 

And most excitingly, CAPPA was born. The organizers behind the “Our Water, Our Right” campaign launched an organization that’s ready and able to advance powerful corporate campaigning—not just on water but also on climate, public health, and more—throughout the African region. 

From planning to funding, Corporate Accountability partners deeply with CAPPA. “I’m not sure CAPPA’s story can be told without talking about our relationship with Corporate Accountability,” says Oluwafemi.

For Corporate Accountability’s part, the power and organizing savvy that CAPPA brings to corporate campaigning is invaluable. “CAPPA is a leader in campaigning to challenge corporate power—not just in Africa, but globally,” says Corporate Accountability Executive Director Patti Lynn. “Their organizing is already making an outsized impact in our shared work to curb corporate abuse.”

CAPPA has already formed partnerships and working relationships with grassroots and labor organizations in nearly a dozen countries. “We are generating shared grassroots power across Africa to take down corporations seeking to extract African resources and exploit African people,” says Oluwafemi. “This a unique and necessary movement for justice.”

CAPPA"s Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi at a press conference.
CAPPA making a significant impact on the water, climate, and democracy crises through their robust organizing and media savvy. Pictured: Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi at a press conference. Photo credit: CAPPA
Lifesaving organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic

While CAPPA was being born and the “Our Water, Our Right” campaign was going strong in Lagos, the COVID-19 pandemic reached Nigeria.

Without missing a beat, Oluwafemi and the other organizers of CAPPA switched gears to attend to the urgent and dire needs of the communities they organize with.

Most critical was the need to bring to attention the abysmal functioning of the water infrastructure in Lagos in the face of the pandemic. Their official report on the situation garnered a surge of media coverage that has forced a response from the government. 

report cover shows people in Lagos carrying buckets of water for the families.
CAPPA’s report exposing the failures of the Lagos Water system during the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the government to respond.

CAPPA is also a member of the labor strategy committee for COVID-19 response in Lagos, the only civil society organization (CSO) on the committee. In this capacity, they help monitor the safety of workers at government institutions, including hospitals. 

And finally, CAPPA is also providing basic support during the pandemic to communities that lack essentials, such as water, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Make Big Polluters Pay

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the powerhouse organization didn’t waste any time developing a campaign to take on one of today’s most pressing issues: the climate crisis.

In partnership with the global campaign make Big Polluters pay, CAPPA is building regional power to hold fossil fuel corporations and other Big Polluters accountable. 

Graphic shows images of a power plant and people rising up above it, and a design of the African continent shaped like a fist.

An inspiring virtual gathering in June launched CAPPA’s campaigning to make Big Polluters pay for their role in fueling the climate crisis. Eminent human rights and environmental leader Nnimmo Bassey attended, as well as activists from close to a dozen African countries. “We are engaging at the national level to revolutionize movements around liability issues,” says Oluwafemi. And with CAPPA involved, the global movement to make Big Polluters pay is sure to see resounding successes in the years to come.

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