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.

Niger Delta oil pollution

Niger Delta oil pollution, photo by Ed Kashi

The African Loft has a two part interview with Wole Soyinka and Ed Kashi posted. Click over to the African Loft and watch Nigeria: Wole Soyinka and Ed Kashi on Niger Delta.
You can click on parts 1 and 2.

Kashi just published a book of photos taken in the Delta, Curse of the Black Gold. I ordered a copy and it is an extraordinary collection of photographs accompanied by lots of history and current information. Ed Kashi’s photos are also on display this summer in Rochester New York at the George Eastman House. One thing that struck me going through the book is that the Niger Delta should be one of the most beautiful regions of the world, lush and rich. It has been devastatingly polluted, neglected, and degraded by the oil business and the Nigerian government.

From Artdaily on Kashi’s book:

Even without Kashi’s powerful photographs, O’Neill’s words evoke images of despair: “Villages and towns cling to the banks, little more than heaps of mud-walled huts and rusty shacks. Groups of hungry, half-naked children and sullen, idle adults wander dirt paths. There is no electricity, no clean water, no medicine, no schools. Fishing nets hang dry; dugout canoes sit unused on muddy banks. Decades of oil spills, acid rain from gas flares, and the stripping away of mangroves for pipelines have killed off fish. Nigeria has been subverted by the very thing that gave it promise—oil.”

Niger Delta from space

Niger Delta from space

Major A. A. Mohammed (rtd), a former chief security officer to President Ibrahim Babangida, recently gave an interview to Leadership Nigeria (also at allAfrica.com here) discussing the proposed US Africa Command, and related issues of importance.  Major Mohammed has a strong background in military intelligence.  He doesn’t mince words.  About AFRICOM he says:

It is another form of colonial-imperialist agenda to siphon our resources-oil, mineral resources, forest resources and the use of our soldiers to advance their selfish interests. We know they have continuous interest in our crude oil in the Niger Delta region of our country. And believe you me, it will boomerang some day. It will.

On terrorism:

If you invade a sovereign country for the simple reason that they have what you desperately want, I consider you a terrorist also.

And of the militants in the Delta he says:

We have to look back – who formed them in the first instance, who funds them, where do they get their weapons? These are the issues. From their utterances, you can understand that those behind them are the so-called powerful political elites in the region, either former or present political office holders. They have a lot of questions to answer, but Federal Government neglects that. I know we have a very strong military capability to deal with them. The Federal Government must look inwards within the military hierarchy and those behind them. It is unbelievable that this powerful nation will be held to ransom. I do agree the region has been neglected in terms of social amenities and educational opportunities, and they are fighting a just cause, but in a wrong way and manner. Killing innocent civilians, kidnapping foreign expatriates and putting shame and disgrace to our nation, blowing pipelines and stuff like that. I believe it could be solved without even military intervention. But I want to ask one question, where are the children of their sponsors? They are schooling abroad most of them on the nation’s expenses …

His prescription:

First, Yar’Adua should allow the security agencies to do their work, if really he agrees with the rule of law. Because it is only in this country, where someone who does not know anything about oil, but tomorrow he is a captain of the oil industry. They fly the best private jets, and you cannot talk about it. If security agencies are allowed free hand to do their work, honestly speaking, they can nail anybody that breaks the law.