A development movie suggestion: “Darwin’s Nightmare”

Recommendation #2 – Darwin’s Nightmare is a 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary.

Darwin’s Nightmare was written and directed by Hubert Sauper, an Austrian filmmaker, on the effect of the Nile perch in the fishing industry and the biodiversity in the Lake Victoria, the 9th largest lake in the world, located in Tanzania.

This predatory fish, that can grow up to 2 meters long, was introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950s to boost the fishing industry. The introduction of this fish, that has similar environmental impacts to the eucalyptus, caused an economic boom, but also drove hundreds of species of native cichlids (a family of sweet water and smaller fishes) to near extinction.

Despite the ecological damage inflicted by the Nile Perch, it’s significant demand from the European market has led this issue to be overlooked. To fulfil this large demand, many cargo planes from abroad help to export up to 55 tons of fish per day for consumption in wealthier countries. At the same time, this lack of other fishes has left residents with limited food for themselves and need to resort to the discarded carcasses that the planes won’t take.

Despite all this, the most significant finding from the documentary is the exposure of other, more darker uses for the planes. They show evidence’s that the ‘empty’ planes entering the country are actually filled with weapons and ammunition to support civil war in Africa, using the fish trade as a smokescreen to mask the real motive for the flights.

How can these irresistible offers that promise ‘cheap’ growth, but with negative impacts, be refused by the poorer countries?  Moreover, are these international commercial activities doomed to become associated with political interests?

Victoire Girard is a researcher at Nova School of Business and Economics. She holds a PhD in economics from Paris 1 Pantéhon-Sorbonne University. Her research is in Development Economics and Political Economy, with a focus on inequalities, identities, violence, and the local impact of natural resources extraction. She exploits large household surveys and other geocoded data that are from Burkina Faso, India, Kazakhstan, or Pan-African. Victoire has taught in the Universities of Orléans and Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She has been an invited researcher at the economics departments of Brown University and of the University of Geneva and she has consulted for the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER). Know more about Professor Victoire’s work here.

Written by Gonçalo Amaro, MSc in Economics, student of the Master in Economics at Nova SBE and member of the  NOVAFRICA Student Group.