Why Africa keeps fighting over oil
Peace talks continued in Nigeria Thursday between the government and the leader of a militia group.
At one of the main forest bases of Nigerian militia leader Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the man partly responsible for pushing world oil prices over $50 a barrel this week, a small television was set up last month next to a pile of DVDs. The titles varied from action movies like "Mortal Kombat" to a film on the French Revolution.Skip to next paragraph
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The selection gives a sense of both the violence and the spirit of resistance characterizing a conflict over the control of oil fields here and the benefits from them. The country's Niger Delta region, which produces nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day and accounts for 10 percent of US crude imports, is infused with a deep popular anger over pollution and the failure of oil revenues to bring development. Mr. Dokubo-Asari, who claims to command 2,000 armed fighters, earlier this week called for the immediate withdrawal of all foreigners from the delta until the resolution of political issues, including control of the country's oil resources. Peace talks continued Thursday between Dokubo-Asari and the Nigerian government.
The dispute over natural resources is at the heart of some of the most intractable conflicts in Africa today, from Sudan to Congo to Nigeria. Even amid international efforts to bring greater transparency to the continent's resource exploration, the recent strife here is a microcosm of widespread theft and mismanagement, which observers attribute to a combination of colonial-era intervention, corrupt governments, and cynical behavior by Western policymakers and multinationals.
"Sub-Saharan African governments will receive more than $200 billion in oil revenues over the coming decade," according to Catholic Relief Services, a nongovernmental agency. "But ordinary Africans will see no such improvements so long as revenues generated by the current oil boom continue to be piped into governments lacking accountability."
International attention has focused on Dokubo-Asari since he threatened to launch an offensive known as "Operation Locust Feast" to coincide with today's 44th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Britain. He condemned the behavior of foreign oil companies and the Nigerian government and said he would not be responsible for the safety of foreigners in the delta. ChevronTexaco, the country's third-largest oil producer, said it took the threat "quite seriously" and Royal Dutch/Shell, which pumps almost half the nation's daily output, evacuated some 250 staff and shut down 28,000 barrels a day of production.
Opinions about Dokubo-Asari's motives vary, but he and his movement campaign for self-determination and resource control for the Ijaw people, the delta's largest ethnic group. His argument that the country's oil revenues have been stolen and mismanaged by politicians in Abuja, the capital, is widely echoed across the country.
Despite more than $250 billion in oil revenues since independence in 1960, Nigeria is one of the world's poorest, and a fifth of its children die before the age of 5, according to the World Bank. It is regularly judged one of the world's most corrupt countries, according to watchdog Transparency International.