burning oil spill in the Niger Delta

burning oil spill in the Niger Delta, picture from the film

Click HERE to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold

Slate featured an 8 minute video using the photos of Ed Kashi and the voices of people from the Niger Delta, Curse of the Black Gold, based on Kashi’s book of the same name, Curse of the Black Gold.

In the Niger Delta, over the last 20 years there have been an average of 2 oil spills per day. N’Delta is one of the great forested wetlands of the planet, part of the lungs of the planet. It is now a lung completely clogged by oil. The oil pollution and the oil business have destroyed every other means of making a living. Oil has detroyed the land and destroyed the communities that live on the land. After years of trying to talk to the oil companies and the Nigerian Federal Government some citizens have chosen the path of armed opposition. MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger is the largest and best known. MEND has successfully shut down a great deal of Nigerian oil production. As one of the people speaking in the film says. If the government wouldn’t allow a dialogue with us before, but now it is reacting to the violence: “… that means the government respects violence, not dialogue.

The film says Nigeria has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. The US is expecting to get about 25% of its oil from Africa, chiefly Nigeria. If MEND is shutting down production, what will the US do? Will it try to negotiate a fairer distribution of wealth, and help create policies that protect the environment as part of the extraction of oil? Or will it attempt to crush any local opposition to corporate greed and environmental devastation by military means? And whether the US uses its own soldiers, Nigerian proxies, or mercenaries, will it invade another country, this time in the Niger Delta, and devastate the population for oil?

With AFRICOM, a combatant command, leading US foreign policy in Africa as has been described in this report, U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement, the answer seems fairly clear. AFRICOM planners and the mercenary corporations are focused on the Niger Delta.

Many people think there is still time to negotiate and avoid full scale confrontation. It would certainly be to US advantage in terms of its relationship with Africa and the world, and in terms of long term interests, both US and African, to take the dialogue approach. Under the present US administration, that does not seem to be on the table.

AFRICOM has made a big show of coming to Africa to help Africans, partnerships, capacity building, assisting “failed states”, etc. But as Michael Klare writes in Rising Powers Shrinking Planet:

… As in previous centuries, resource-consuming nations will extract as much of Africa’s wealth — in this case, oil, gas, and minerals — as they can, often jostling with one another for access to the most prolific sources of supply. In doing so they will repeatedly proclaim their deep interest in African development, insisting that the exploitation of raw materials will contribute to the improvement of living conditions for the masses of ordinary citizens. If past experience is any guide, however, few of those living in Africa’s resource-producing countries will see any significant benefit from the depletion of their continents natural bounty. (p.149-50)

His words are certainly holding true in the Niger Delta. I remember the optimism oil brought in the 1970s. And we can see the devastation it has brought instead in Kashi’s pictures featured in the video.

Added Sept 9: When I wrote above about invasion of the Niger Delta, I doubt the US has any desire to involve US soldiers in war fighting in the Niger Delta. Although they are training for that possibility, riverine warfare, counter insurgency, African languages etc. I think the US would prefer to use training and military assistance to get the Nigerian military to act as proxies for US corporate interests. In this way the Niger Delta can continue unchanged as a colony of the oil companies with the assistance of the Nigerian government. The US will also employ the PMCs, mercenary corporations, or may encourage the Nigerian government to employ these corporate soldiers. What we don’t see is any effort to strengthen Nigerian democracy and civilian institutions. The Pentagon is leading foreign policy. That is where the US is putting the majority of its foreign policy dollars. That concentration of money and effort in the Pentagon is what is meant by the militarization of foreign policy. The denials the US is militarizing foreign policy ignore how the money is being spent.