Saturday 30 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Café
While the BP leak off the coast of the US showed accidents can happen as a result of oil production even in the most developed countries, scandals involving the oil industry are more often associated with another continent - Africa. The industry is heavily criticised by environmentalists, human rights activists and fair trade advocates around the world. Big Oil is indicted for causing massive environmental damage (oil spills and gas flares in the Niger Delta); for the role of oil money in propping up repressive and corrupt regimes; and for disrupting the traditional customs and livelihoods of indigenous people such as the Ogoni and Ijaw. Transnational oil corporations are also accused of complicity in repressive crack-downs on opponents of oil extraction. November 10 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the execution of environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues: this infamous event seems to illustrate the tragic price of extracting Africa’s ‘dark nectar’. But of course there is another side to the story.
Even sceptics must concede oil production has been hugely and directly beneficial to the economies of a number of African countries, and indirectly to the continent as a whole. Nigeria is Africa’s second-largest economy, while Angola has recently overtaken it as the largest crude producer in Africa, using its own rich natural resources to recover from the ravages of civil war. Oil companies claim they have listened to criticism and are increasingly involved in providing resources to local communities. Inequality, corruption and environmental damage are often the flipside of development. Might it be that hostility to Big Oil in Africa lies more in Western disquiet with the very notion of economic growth? If growth is not to come from oil, are we saying that Nigerians should go back to the land? Is the real lesson that Nigeria must develop less?
Of course advocates of growth have to acknowledge that even in countries rich in natural resources and seemingly benefiting from development, millions of people still remain in poverty. But how much is this the fault of oil companies? And is it even right to demand that multinationals take responsibility for the internal political and social problems of sovereign states? It is surely telling that Nigeria continues to strengthen its relationship with China in return for investment that comes without the baggage of moralising critiques. Given the obvious downsides as well as the economic benefits of oil production in Africa, what balance should we put on these arguments?
Listen to session audio:
senior programme manager, Living Earth Foundation; promotes sustainable community development in Niger Delta
strategic relations manager with focus on Nigerian issues, Shell
|Joseph Hurst Croft|
executive director, Stakeholder Democracy Network; lobbyist and researcher into the political economy of violence in the Niger Delta
chief executive, Ateriba Limited; journalist, Africa Confidential
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
Shell has been operating in Nigeria for more than 50 years, through good times and bad – including three years of civil war – so it’s part of our heartland, part of the family.Barnaby Briggs, Shell World UK Magazine, June 2010
Yesterday Shell said it was going to clean up the Niger Delta, compensate local communities for past injuries, and institute a local stakeholders’ program that will help lift the region out of poverty. That sounds like good news. But what if the real victim is the truth?Paul Seaman, paulseaman.eu, 18 May 2010
The environmentalists fighting to stop the construction of a huge dam in Ethiopia must have no regard for human life.Nathalie Rothschild, spiked, 25 March 2010
“Marriage,” said George Bernard Shaw, “is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.”Tom Burgis, Financial Times, 27 February 2010
Just a glorious audit?Nicholas Shaxson, Royal Institute of International Affairs, November 2009
Crude World offers a passionate look at some of the most awful places in the world – the violent, repressive and polluted countries where oil is extracted. Peter Maass follows the journey of oil and shows how the substance sullies so much of what it touches, poisoning land and rivers, promoting political bloodshed and creating corruption on a staggering scale.
Peter Mass, Allen Lane, 1 October 2009
It succors and drowns human life. And for the last eight years, oil — and the people and places that make it — was my obsession.Peter Maass, Foreign Policy, 9 September 2009
Asian National Oil Companies in Nigeria and AngolaAlex Vines and others, Royal Institute of International Affairs, August 2009
Daily insight into the financial, economic and policy aspects of energy and the environment.Tom Burgis, Financial Times