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.”

Gazprom billboard near Russian parliament, and map of Libya

Gazprom billboard near Russian parliament, and map of Libya

Asia Times has a story about how Russia is outmanuevering US energy policy in Africa and around the globe.

Russia’s energy drive leaves US reeling
By M K Bhadrakumar

… But what has truly incensed the Bush administration are Gazprom’s dramatic inroads into Africa.

Russian giant Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, has announced plans to build a pipeline across the Mediterranean to pump Libyan gas to Europe. This is the final lap of a Kremlin strategy that involves Gazprom handling the entire output of Libya’s gas, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) designated for export to Europe and the US.
Look at Gazprom’s terse announcement in Moscow on July 9, “The Libyan side positively evaluated Gazprom’s proposal to buy all future volumes of gas, oil and liquefied natural gas assigned for export at competitive prices.” … Putin visits Tripoli in April, less than a month before he left office, and the two erstwhile colonels decided to jointly handle all of Libya’s energy resources.

And Gazprom seeks to buy exploration licenses in Nigeria and proposes to build a pipeline from there to Algeria, and with Algeria, Gazprom is developing a proposal on “joint” marketing of gas in Europe. US officials have gone ballistic. “The monopolistic Gazprom is behaving like a monopolist does. It tries to gain control of the market as much as possible and to stifle competition. And that’s clearly what is going on,” thundered Matthew Bryza, US deputy assistant secretary of state for Eurasian affairs. “The Kremlin wants Gazprom to be a dominant force in global energy, and the dominant force in global gas. Tying up gas resources in Central Asia and Africa is part of that,” he added. The plan is for Gazprom to dominate “in every corner of the planet”, he alleged.

This is pretty funny coming from a country that seeks Full Spectrum Dominance (wikipedia definition) of the planet, in large part to dominate the oil markets.  It is also pretty funny to hear the representatives of Big Oil, the Bush administration, complaining about energy monopoly.

Washington was relieved to see the back of Putin’s presidency, but it now transpires that Gazprom may have only stepped up the pace of overtures under Medvedev’s astute guidance. Besides, with its new assets in Africa, Gazprom will soon be knocking for access to the US market through supplies of LNG. The European and international companies which have been traditionally present in the African market will be compelled to play a role alongside Gazprom.

… Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller suddenly arrived in Tehran on Monday and discussed with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad the setting up of an organization of gas-producing countries.

… During the visit, an agreement was signed on the development of Iran’s oil and gas fields by Russian companies; on Russian participation in the transfer of Iran’s Caspian Sea crude oil to the Oman Sea; cooperation in the development of Iran’s fabulous North Azadegan oil field; and, possible participation of Gazprom in the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Evidently, Moscow took a deliberate decision to press ahead with Iran in energy cooperation in the full glare of world publicity in complete disregard of US displeasure. Tehran loved it.

… By now it must be obvious to the Bush administration that the youthful-looking, post-communist lawyer-president who took over from Putin has lost no time drilling a hole through the entire US strategy to weaken Gazprom’s grip over the supply of gas to Europe.

… The geopolitics of energy security are a highly sensitive subject for the Bush administration, whose profound links with Big Oil are legion. It is a tremendous loss of face for the Bush-Cheney-Rice combine that Moscow is outwitting the US on the energy front.

Showing its inability to learn, the Bush administration continues its plans to address unrest in the Niger Delta with AFRICOM, expanding and militarizing the conflict. From Michael Klare:

… Although department of defence officials are loath to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between Africom’s formation and a growing US reliance on that continent’s oil, they are less inhibited in private briefings. At a 19 February meeting at the National Defence University, Africom deputy commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated that “oil disruption” in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new organisation.

Britain seems to be planning to join in this military approach: Britain to train army in Nigeria to combat delta rebels.  Every military ruler of Nigeria trained at Sandhurst, except Abacha.  Military training and cooperation does not have a positive history relative to democracy.  The UN envoy who was supposed to negotiate with MEND and the rebels in the Delta, Ibrahim Gambari, was revealed to be a close crony of Abacha.

It was Gambari who told the United Nations that Ken Saro-Wiwa should be hung because he was “a mere common criminal”. It is therefore a certain sign of the bad faith of Nigeria’s negotiation that they pressed for Gambari to be appointed mediator with the rebels.

Gambari has resigned because of the resulting controversy, and plans for talks in the Delta have been suspended.

Supporting bad faith negotiation and military bullying will not win hearts and minds, or even control on the ground.  The US needs to rethink its approach, especially if energy security remains a US goal.

The rebellion in the Niger Delta is not a spontaneous evil, a mindless outbreak of anarchic violence that must be met with still more violence. It is paused by the grinding poverty and economic ruination of one of the most economically productive regions on earth, with the profits channelled to billionaires in Nigeria and to big oil.

As the Asia Times article points out, the energy action is global, and the players are big.  The US does not necessarily have the advantage.  So the US needs to take some of the actual facts into account, and to smarten up its approach.

Nollywood filmmakers

From Welcome to Nollywood

I had a real day off yesterday and took advantage of the chance to do nothing. There was nobody around, and no pressing things that needed to be done. My local cable tv carries MHz Networks that includes a channel of Nigerian news and features from NTA (website still needs some work.) I turned it on just by chance, and found a number of items that interested me. I watched an hour long report on Nigerian agriculture, discussing working towards food security. I enjoyed the pictures of farming, but don’t think there was much new information there. I can get Ghana TV online through a subscription, but it is nice to to get African TV coming in over the cable. SABC News from South Africa is also on MHz.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I had a bunch of friends from Calabar. I still hear from a couple of them from time to time, but most went back to Nigeria and I lost touch. I’ve never been much at writing letters, though I do like email. I enjoyed reading recently about how Calabar is a model for a clean and well kept town, Nigeria: Calabar – Why so Clean?

Otherwise, I spent the time outside just taking in the view. It was not a productive day, but very pleasant.

I also spent some of the day listening online to Radio Palmwine, mostly the Igbo channel. All the channels are good, but I particularly enjoy the music on the Igbo channel and listen fairly regularly. It is one of the more user friendly internet radio stations.

AfroPop carried an entertaining documentary on PBS about Nollywood, Welcome to Nollywood which I recorded and watched. It will be shown on some other PBS stations around the US, schedule here.
WGBXW * 7/4/08 Fri 11:00 AM Boston MA
WETADT4 * 7/4/08 Fri 11:00 AM Washington DC
WQED * 7/6/08 Sun 5:00 PM Pittsburgh PA
WETADT4 * 7/6/08 Sun 11:00 PM Washington DC
WETADT4 * 7/7/08 Mon 10:00 AM Washington DC
WETADT4 * 7/7/08 Mon 4:00 PM Washington DC
KVIE7 * 7/15/08 Tue 12:00 AM Sacramento Stockton Modesto CA
KVIEDT2 * 7/15/08 Tue 12:00 AM Sacramento Stockton Modesto CA

From an interview with the filmmaker Jamie Meltzer:

The lessons of Nollywood that I took, and anyone making films — whether they’re documentary or not — can take, is that there’s really no excuse and no obstacle that you can’t overcome. They show that by building this industry in this completely inhospitable environment that’s actively against them in a lot of ways — the heat, the traffic, the lack of infrastructure. But they have managed to create a thriving industry that you don’t see all around the world, an industry that can stand up to the cultural influence of Hollywood and the larger film industries …

… Nollywood exists entirely due to the digital video revolution. Everything they shoot is on digital video cameras, edited on digital nonlinear [systems] and distributed on video CDs. It’s an entirely digital system, and in that sense it’s far ahead of what Hollywood is.

Bonga FPSO vessel

Shell’s $3.6 billion “Bonga” Floating Production, Storage, and Offloading vessel (FPSO), 120km from shore in 1000m deep water, was recently attacked by MEND militants.

The Oil Drum has a post on the significance of MEND’s recent successful attack on the Bonga offshore oil platform. I’d been wondering a bit about the implications. This article spells them out.
Analysts previously believed these offshore facilities were out of MEND’s reach.
This assumption–that far offshore facilities are beyond the reach of militants–must now be reconsidered. The week’s most successful attack, shutting in 225,000 barrels per day, came against Shell’s Bonga facility. At 120 km offshore, the Bonga attack demonstrated a new militant capability in the offshore environment. As Nigeria is one of the few states with the geological potential to significantly increase oil production and exports, the Bonga attack may prove to be an extremely important development.

MEND has already demonstrated its capability to shut in large portions of Nigeria’s onshore oil production, and now it is threatening to re-attack offshore facilities, urging expatriate workers to abandon them immediately. Nigeria’s onshore production is already mature, and government hopes of raising total production to 4 million barrels per day are entirely dependent on the success of the offshore sector. If MEND can continue to interrupt offshore production, the prospects for any increase in production from Nigeria look dim. The situation in Nigeria is critical as Nigeria is one of the few states with the potential to significantly increase both production and exports.

I predicted a year ago that MEND would increasingly focus on Nigeria’s offshore facilities for two reasons: 1) to differentiate their ideologically-grounded struggle from the privateers and criminal bunkering that is also interrupting Nigerian production; and 2) as a result of the innovation that naturally results from their decentralized structure. While this most recent attack showcases MEND’s ability to operate in the deepwater environment, it also shows MEND’s potential to greatly increase the impact of future offshore attacks. MEND’s press release stated that their goal was to gain access to and destroy the facility’s main control room, but that they were unable to do so. MEND’s limited success, however, most likely identified to the group the specific capabilities, training, and equipment it will need to better succeed in the future. This process of tactical improvement forms a larger cycle of innovation (an OODA Loop).

The recent attack highlights three significant and separate advances by MEND: targeting, naval equipment, and training. By attacking far-offshore infrastructure that was previously considered beyond its reach, and by selecting projects that are key to the Nigerian government’s revenue plans, MEND has accurately identified a very high return on investment target. This demonstrates an advancement in their ability to pursue “effects-based targeting”—that is, the ability to carefully select targets that produce the desired ultimate (here, political) effect. For MEND, the desired effect is to force the Nigerian government to better meet the needs of the Niger Delta peoples. Previous tactics of kidnapping and attacking pipelines were imperfect choices for several reasons: they spawned criminal activity within the Delta, they increased pollution in the already polluted Delta region, and they did not effectively compel the desired action on the part of the Nigerian government. While it is yet to be seen if the current targeting choices will be more successful, in my opinion they represent an advancement in skill.

Finally, it is important to discuss the potential tactical race between offshore defenses and militant offensive capability. This is a situation of competing OODA loops–whichever side can innovate and learn from past experiences most quickly will prevail. Here, MEND enjoys two significant advantages over offshore operators. First, the decentralized nature of MEND allows it to try many different approaches, accepting failure of the vast majority of attempts. MEND can try 50 different ways to attack an offshore facility–only one needs to succeed to inflict massive losses that provides a high ROI on its investment. Oil companies, on the other hand, have one opportunity to get their defenses right or they risk losing a multi-billion dollar facility. While oil companies do have the opportunity to learn from past militant mistakes, they don’t have the luxury of learning from successful militant tactics without great cost. Second, oil platforms are fixed assets. While MEND can choose the specific target, time of attack, mode of attack, and staging area at will, oil companies must defend all fixed position at all times, and as a result permanently cede the initiative to their opponents. Any armchair general will recognize that this is an unenviable situation that heavily favors MEND.

MEND has made it clear that its recent choice of target was not chance. It stated in its press release that “The location for today’s attack was deliberately chosen to remove any notion that off-shore oil exploration is far from our reach.” Rebels followed up the Bonga attack by announcing a unilateral truce June 22nd to “give peace and dialog another chance.” This suggests we will have at least a short break before the next offshore attack. Unfortunately, it will also allow MEND time to integrate lessons learned from the Bonga attack and to prepare for the next wave of operations. This break is also an important political step for MEND to maintain its image as legitimate and principled freedom fighters in the eyes of the Delta peoples, and not merely a group of criminal thugs. It should not be viewed as a sign of either weakness or abandoning plans to conduct further offshore attacks. This reading of the “truce” is supported by the concurrent strike by Nigerian oil workers that named Shell as an “enemy of the Nigerian people.” Assuming that the Nigerian government won’t meet MEND’s minimum demands, we are likely to find out within a few months just how much offshore capability MEND has…
There are a number of comments following the article that are noteworthy:
… The way I see it – the only answer for these governments is to do what we did during the depression – massive public works projects. Will they do it – probably not! So – look for more troubles.

Your point underscores two alternative “geopolitical feedback loops”:
A) In the eyes of the average citizen, government fails to adequately distribute oil revenues. Result: violence, lower production & exports at higher cost.
or
B) Government does its best to use oil wealth for the benefit of its citizens, and in doing so realizes that limiting production now to a certain extent 1) maximizes revenues, and 2) preserves oil wealth for future generations when it will likely be more valuable. Result: lower production & exports.
It’s not a strictly A or B situation, but the danger (from the sense of oil supply) of avoiding one scenario is that the alternative may be just as bad, or worse… I agree that A is the most likely, but what happens if MEND “wins”? While they may fail at pursuing their own best interest due to corruption, short-sightedness, etc., their best interest may actually be to maintain lower levels of production…

Not to mention if you take option B, the US will call you a tyrant and accuse you of supporting terrorism. :)

… (B) won’t necessarily improve the export situation either. It would, I think, greatly improve the lives of the locals, but but it violates one of my laws of human behavior: any solution that requires many people to suddenly behave better than they have in the past is doomed to failure…

… My opinion is that Chevron, Shell, and Nigeria will not meet MEND’s minimum demands. If it is politically tenable to do so, the Nigerian government may try to placate MEND, but if past efforts to placate militants are any indication, this will be nothing but token gestures. Likewise, Shell and Chevron will probably continue their current policy of projects among the Delta communities. These can be viewed as either genuine efforts to compensate the Delta peoples for the resource extracted and environmental damage incurred, or they can be viewed as token gestures intended to temporarily buy them off–I don’t have any insight into the intent of the policies, but I do know that both Shell and Chevron are corporations with fiduciary duties to their shareholders that trump any perceived duty to the Delta peoples. To the extent that duty to shareholders to maximize profit is mutually exclusive of duty to Delta peoples, the former will win.
In my own pipedream best case scenario, the FG would employ youth to clean and build the cities, like the massive public works projects mentioned above. That does actually work, at least it did in the US. But I don’t see much of a will for it anywhere. Even in the US the Republicans have spent half a century persuading the voters that investment in the country and its people did not work and will not work, despite the evidence. And a lot of people have bought it.
One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.
Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.
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