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Wildfires scorch Africa but world’s media stay focused on Brazil’s blazes

Wildfires scorch Africa but world’s media stay focused on Brazil’s blazes
Forest fires are tearing through the Amazon rainforest, prompting worldwide protests and demands for action to protect the “lungs of the world.” But, away from the spotlight, the Brazilian fires are dwarfed by blazes in Africa.

Fires visible from space are currently burning up the Amazon rainforest at a rate of three football fields per minute, according to Brazilian satellite data. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported an 83 percent increase in wildfires on last year, with more than 72,000 fires spotted, 9,000 last week alone.

With the forest burning, protesters around the world have gathered outside Brazilian embassies, demanding Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro take stronger action against the blazes. The demonstrators, many affiliated with eco-warriors Extinction Rebellion, blame Bolsonaro’s pro-logging, pro-mining development policies for the fires, and accuse him of condoning the deliberate razing of forest for grassland.

As protesters in London chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Bolsonaro’s got to go!” two even bigger blazes burned unnoticed in Africa. Over Thursday and Friday, more fires were recorded in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo than in Brazil, Bloomberg reported, citing NASA satellite data. In those two days alone, 6,902 fires were recorded in Angola and 3,395 in the DRC. 2,127 were spotted in Brazil in the same period.

However, nobody marched in London chanting “Félix Tshisekedi’s got to go!” Nor did Extinction Rebellion – a well organized group of activists that brought London’s traffic to a standstill in April – take the tube one stop west from the Brazilian Embassy to picket the Angolan consulate.

Blanket media coverage has been successful in forcing the burning of the Amazon into the public consciousness. Protest campaigns have been guided by pleas from social media influencers, while French President Emmanuel Macron declared “our house is burning,” and promised to put the Brazilian blazes at the top of the agenda as he hosts this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz. 

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While wildfires in Central Africa are a common occurrence this time of year, Bolsonaro insists that the Amazonian inferno is also part of the natural rhythm of life in the rainforest. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada,” he told reporters, referring to the long-established practice of burning away overgrown farmland before replanting

NASA also reported earlier this week that the number and severity of fires were average for the last 15 years.

“Forest fires exist in the whole world,” Bolsonaro said on Friday, after EU leaders threatened economic sanctions on Brazil. Still, the Brazilian leader has evidently deemed the problem serious enough to send in the army, deploying troops to prevent more deliberate blazes and combat further outbreaks.

In Africa, it’s more difficult to know what’s happening, as next to no news reports on the fires in Angola and the DRC have surfaced in the west. No hashtag campaigns or mass demonstrations have broken out, and the issue has not been placed on the G7 leaders’ agenda.

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