Longform

Golden Opportunity: The Amazing True Story of a Scheme to Enrich a Continent

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The office belonged to Environmental Services Inc., a consulting firm headed by Isaac Rhodes Robinson Jr., a rotund Southerner with a mop of gray-white hair. Robinson is Julius Jackson's longtime partner, and his company specializes in helping builders meet environmental standards while plowing ahead with their projects. Through a process called mitigation, developers are often given permission to build on one land so long as they conserve another, comparable land at another site. Some developers just buy mitigation credits, paying someone else to do the conserving. Environmentalists say it's essentially a shell game, but it is totally legal. For all the talk about spiritual kinship, Robinson and Jackson — like any smart businessmen — simply take advantage of the opportunities before them.

Environmental Services is behind one of the first deals to go through under the Winds of Change banner. Robinson did not respond to interview requests, but in the conference room, he revealed a few details: They were moving a million acres of tribal-owned forested land onto the global carbon-credits market to make money for the landowners. Carbon credits work like mitigation credits: Companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can "offset" them by buying carbon credits; the money is ostensibly used to preserve tracts of forest in some other locale.

To date, this is the only Winds of Change project that has been disclosed in detail. Jackson told the crowd that investment opportunities would be announced as they became available and that the global accounting firm Deloitte & Touche had been retained to oversee every dollar that goes in and out, to maintain transparency.

"This moment will be a turning point," the archbishop said as he took the podium. He again quoted the Exodus verse about driving the locusts out of Africa. He said he was committed to making sure the project was well-administered: "As an archbishop, I have to be unashamedly ethical and be a good steward. We want Africa to thrive. That is my vision. That is my dream."

After leaving the podium, he explained why he had chosen Dozier to lead his economic mission.

"He is a pastor who is close to some of the people we're working with," he said, adding, "He can articulate the biblical values of transparency, honesty, and showing 'love your neighbor.' Sometimes I do not agree with him in terms of content, but he is speaking where it can be heard."

Eventually, the executives led Makgoba back down the hallway, where he paused to answer a final question. Would his initiative take him to other places like this around the world, to partner with other businesses? Was Jacksonville, Florida, just one stop of many?

"No," said the successor to Desmond Tutu, smiling warmly. "This is our home. It is our Bethlehem." With that, he followed his hosts downstairs and rode off to dinner in a silver Chevy Tahoe.

Dozier missed the news conference. His delayed flight was just touching down as the event ended. He would meet the archbishop at dinner. But if anyone had noticed his absence, no one had made a big deal out of it.


"They didn't even mention me," said Dozier, back in his church a week later. He sounded frustrated: His controversial past had started to worry the project's organizers.

Dozier had believed that the archbishop knew what he was getting when he signed him up. "The archbishop was looking for a partner who would have the combination of being conservative — very conservative — and involved in the political struggle."

He pulled up a printout of an email Jackson had sent to all of his partners, including Dozier, the Bafokeng, and the archbishop. It urged them not to speak directly to the media.

"Please don't give the media the opportunity to get information that, as we know, they can spin in a way that does not edify the archbishop's cause," Jackson had written. "We want this to maintain a media focus of what can be accomplished in Africa, and not about the roles of the individuals or companies involved."

Dozier realized that Jackson was nervous about the fate of the endeavor. "I think Julius is afraid something's going to nip it in the bud," he said. Some more of Dozier's old quotes, dug up, rehashed, and associated with the archbishop, would not "edify" the cause. But he was still confident, denying that he was a liability: "It would be so easy for the archbishop or Julius Jackson to say, 'You know what? Reverend Dozier is bad for this project, so let's dismiss him.' "

If the archbishop and Jackson had wanted a less-controversial pastor to spread the word about the Winds of Change, they would have had some willing volunteers. The Right Reverend Leo Frade, bishop for the Episcopal church in Miami and Southeast Florida, had been watching the archbishop's plan with interest as a fellow member of the Anglican Communion. Late last year, he even thought he might be asked to help. But then he learned that Dozier had been appointed.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph