Peter Sinkamba

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 2004
This description of Peter Sinkamba's work was prepared when Peter Sinkamba was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004 .


Peter is promoting sustainable environmental and economic policies through the effective community organization, education, and mobilization of those who are most harmed by Zambia’s destructive extractive industry: rural citizens who depend on the Zambezi and Kafue water basins for their health and livelihoods.

The New Idea

Peter is engaging Zambian citizens in the effort to hold mining companies accountable to domestic and international environmental law. He founded Citizens for a Better Environment as an organization dedicated to developing, promoting, and implementing sustainable environmental and economic policies. At its core, CBE researches and exposes the most flagrant abuses of the environment by mining companies, applying pressure to hold those responsible to account. But most importantly, CBE gets its power from the growing community of concerned citizens that, thanks to Peter’s efforts, are becoming educated about environmental policy and abuses, and are organizing around issues of social and environmental justice. While these rural Zambian populations are the most directly effected by polluted waters and depleted wildlife, they have until now remained largely outside the negotiating circle. Since many are illiterate, Peter has implemented innovative methods—weekly radio announcements or community training courses on sanitation and waste management—to spread awareness and build support. Having begun in the six mining towns on the Copperbelt Province and Kabwe in Central Province, Peter and his team are helping similar efforts across Africa.

The Problem

Zambia is famous for its wildlife, national parks, and the beauty of Victoria Falls. The country is home to two of the most vital water basins in all of Africa, the Zambezi and the Kafue. However, the health and survival of these basins are under major threat from destructive industrial practices, particularly mining. The most culpable are extractive activities such as copper, cobalt, lead, and zinc mining which deposit high levels of toxic heavy metal contaminants into the Kafue and Zambezi rivers.
Such practices have not only led to the diminishing of most forms of aquatic life in the area, but are directly harmful to the hundreds of communities dependent on these water basins for their jobs and their health as well. It is estimated that about three million of Zambia’s ten million people are directly affected by mining. In Kabwe town, more than 90,000 people have been poisoned by high levels of lead in the water, causing in the most extreme cases mental retardation in a significant fraction of the community’s children and adults.
To prevent this environmental damage and shield Zambians from harm, the government has over the years developed and instituted various legislations. However, given that the mining industry is one of the largest sources of state revenue, most mining companies deliberately flout environmental legislation because they have negotiated environmental indemnities. Furthermore, the state does not possess the appropriate enforcement and monitoring capacity to ensure businesses are cooperating with environmental laws and regulations.
Beyond this, most Zambian citizens neither have the background knowledge nor the legal support to pursue justice, especially against well-funded multinational corporations. The literacy rate in Zambia is 17 percent for men and 33 percent for women. Zambians have great affection for their environment but have not adopted effective strategies to manage it—in part because they simply aren’t informed, and also because the stresses of poverty and the attraction of immediate income outweigh long-term visions to preserve Zambia’s real environmental treasures such as wildlife, forests, and water.

The Strategy

Peter’s strategies flow from two insights. One, that previous responses to water-basin damage and associated harm to human communities had been almost conciliatory and therefore lacking sufficient force. And secondly, that efforts to reverse and prevent future harm had missed a critical constituency without whom long-term sustainable change is not possible—the water basin’s beneficiaries.
Peter’s efforts begin with a campaign to ensure mining companies who violate domestic and international law are held accountable. In terms of compensation, through his organization Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), Peter has been enforcing Zambian policies with positive results. For instance, through CBE intervention, 65 houses in which 517 persons live have been constructed in Mufurila town as compensation following subsidence of their houses as a consequence of mining activities. A Livelihood Restoration and Improvement Plan for the affected communities has been put in place. In all, US$1.7 million has been spent on this project. In another intervention, seventeen farmers were compensated by Bwana Mkubwa mine following pollution of a stream by effluents from the mine. The mine was compelled to provide alternative source of water and cash payments to each affected farmer as compensation. The community now has a piped water supply reticulation system constructed for them. Furthermore, two children who had been injured as a result of a sulphuric acid spill due to a train derailment were compensated by the Zambia Railways Company after CBE filed a case seeking damages. CBE is currently working on a case in which 350 houses will be constructed for residents of Chamboli in Kitwe whose houses have been affected by subsidence due to mining activities. A similar Livelihood Restoration and Improvement Plan like the Mufurila intervention will also be executed. These victories have helped garner public support and trust which are essential ingredients in mobilizing for future campaigns. They have also challenged the widespread belief that mining companies and their practices are untouchable.
In terms of corporate responsibility, since most of the mining companies are either wholly or partly owned by foreign investors—and since Zambia is a signatory to a host of international agreements—Peter also leverages the power of international law and norms. In May 2001 and July 2003, for instance, he lodged a complaint against the Anglo American Corporation and National Grid Transco (UK) respectively with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in London for Anglo and National Grid’s breach of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises during the privatization of the mines in Zambia. The complaints are being determined by the DTI.
In a pathbreaking effort, in conjunction with Oxford University’s Rights and Accountability Department, CBE submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights a report entitled “Zambia Deregulation and Denial of Human Rights.” The report exposes the environmental and socioeconomic costs behind the multilateral organization-driven efforts to privatize state enterprises in Zambia, including the copper mines. Through this intervention, the UN directed the Zambian government to submit a report per requirements of the UN convention.
The second element of Peter’s strategy targets the limited capacity of state monitoring and enforcement and seeks to engage citizens in the responsibility for reversing and preventing environmental damage in Zambia.
First, Peter ensures CBE’s regular involvement in government environmental regulatory processes. CBE currently sits as a member on several important policy-making committees, including the National Environmental Policy Working Group, National Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Management Committee. CBE participated in the drafting of the National Environmental Policy and National PCBs Policy and National Implementation Plan for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). On the National Solid Waste Management Committee, CBE also participated in the drafting of the National Solid Waste Policy and National Solid Waste Management Plan for the period of 2000-2010.
CBE also works with the state to research and develop new environmental legislation proposals—particularly in areas where CBE identifies gaps or inadequacies—which annually, CBE sends to the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Environment. All submissions are based on rigorous scientific field research not simple rhetoric.
Since communities affected by mining pollution have a low literacy rate and are unaware of what steps they can take to safeguard themselves and the environment against this harm, Peter and CBE have taken various steps to foster community involvement and shared responsibility. Among his initiatives are a weekly environmental awareness program on a community radio station and community awareness training programs on sanitation and waste management. Community education has proved highly beneficial as ordinary citizens have taken greater responsibility in and participated in many of the campaigns initiated by CBE. As more citizens become involved, campaigns grow in strength and credibility, putting more pressure on governments to intervene and businesses to listen and alter their harmful practices.
In 2000, CBE launched the “Save the Kafue River” campaign which was broadcast by CNN. As part of the campaign, working in conjunction with the Environmental Council of Zambia, CBE obtained commitments from 67 industries in the Copperbelt to operate within the requirement of Zambia’s Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act to minimize loads of pollutants into the Kafue River.CBE began in the six mining towns on the Copperbelt Province and Kabwe in Central Province. Today, CBE is expanding and has been invited to help neighboring countries as well.

The Person

Peter was the fifth of ten children raised in the Kafue National Park, one of the largest parks in the world and rich in biodiversity. Because his father was a tsetse fly control officer, each year the family would move to a different district within the park, getting to know the flora and fauna. Peter’s deep love for nature comes from this period of his life.
At fifteen, Peter moved to attend the Sesheke boarding school in the Western Province and was shocked at the difference between his home in Kafue and the drought-racked villages filled with starving people and very few wild animals. He was miserable, having hardly realized before that deforestation or pollution existed.
He moved to Kitwe to attend Copperbelt University at the age of 20 and encountered even worse environmental conditions. Peter found himself compelled to help other Zambians learn about the treasures which lay so near and yet were in such danger.
At Copperbelt University, Peter did mining technology coursework (1987) to understand the scientific side behind the industry that was slowly extracting Zambia’s wealth and destroying its environment in the process. He followed that with a 1990 certificate in marketing management from the University of Zambia, which honed his communication skills and taught him how to promote his ideas. A major turning point came when he sat on the Constitutional Review Commission for Zambia between 1993 and 1996. The commission requested that the people of Zambia submit proposals for environmental rights to be included in the Constitution of the Republic. Peter found it “shameful” that in three years, not a single submission was received. During his stint on the commission he took the opportunity to study the constitutions of many other countries, and in doing so he recognized that Zambians were lagging far behind the world movement of environmental awareness.
At that point he decided to educate Zambians on the importance of environmental rights, management, and protection. Seeing that international exposure was imperative both for himself and for his nascent idea, he thus began to travel and study. He sought out courses in environmental protection in Australia, Germany, and the U.S. Along the way he networked extensively, preparing himself to launch CBE upon his return home in 1998.
He has just completed his masters of philosophy degree in sustainable development planning and management (2005) at University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa.