Oil spills in Africa: Every so often an issue crops up that makes or should make people think twice about the double standards with which world issues are treated. One such issue is the global or rather Western coverage and response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – USA.
BP, the oil company responsible for the spill has come under intense pressure from environmentalists, the people of America, the media and the American government.
In 1989 The Exon Valdez, which remains arguably the worst oil spill in American history, leaked approximately 11 million gallons of oil into Alaskan waters. Nigeria reportedly leaks as much oil as the Exon Valdez did every year. The most affected region in Nigeria is the Niger Delta. Environmentalists believe it is the most polluted ecosystem in the world. Shell alone, according to the Associated Press, spilled 4.5 million gallons of oil into the Niger Delta in 2009. Why does the world not fuss over those spills?
It is apparent judging from the massive coverage of the Gulf of Mexico spill that Westerners (Americans) fully understand the environmental hazards caused by such spills. 40% of Nigerian crude is exported to the United States, to the very people, who are up in arms about the oil spill on their door step and yet pay little attention to the greater crime that their obsession with oil causes in places like Nigeria.
The American government has placed a moratorium on further offshore drilling. As was put by Lisa Margonelli, a scholar from the New American Foundation in the New York Times recently “All oil comes from someone’s backyard, and when we don’t reduce the amount of oil we consume, and refuse to drill at home, we end up getting people to drill for us in Angola, Kazakhstan and Nigeria – places without America’s strong environmental safeguards or the resources to enforce it”. Ironically America’s moratorium can only make things worse for others.
Is America to blame though for what happens in Nigeria or Angola which are both sovereign nations? Should America and the West be held responsible for oil spills in countries they have no jurisdiction over? Perhaps a moral argument could be made to hold the West accountable for the destruction of the environment, livelihoods and the impact on the health of the people whose lives have been blighted by oil spills. Holding individual oil companies like Shell, BP, Exon Mobil to account for their destruction does not seem feasible, given that in places like Nigeria, the government owns majority shares in these oil companies. Oil spills are a drain on any oil company’s revenue. However, judging by the massive spills in Nigeria and elsewhere it goes without saying that the revenue accrued from the 60% or so oil that is not lost to spillage makes them such a huge fortune that they can afford to take spills less seriously.
The main culprits in destroying our environment as Nigerians, Angolans etc are our governments and us - Africans. Ken Saro-Wiwa and others have fought and died for bringing the damage caused by oil to the world’s attention. How many of us have seriously raised a voice or campaigned against this destruction, in a sustained way, as the Americans have in the last few weeks on their own mini environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? How often do we read either in the African blogosphere or main stream media about the damage we are doing to our oil producing areas? How many more of our youth can we afford to lose to the big cities as farms and rivers on which some depend for their livelihoods are destroyed? Those too weak and vulnerable to leave have been reduced to bunkering or drilling holes in pipelines to siphon off crude oil for sale.100’s die each year from explosions associated with bunkering.
The blame for oil spills in Africa – Nigeria, Angola and elsewhere on the continent lies with the government and us – Africans. The entire oil industry has been a curse. Corruption has thrived and permeated into other areas of our economies precisely because of the huge amounts of money that changes hands in the oil industry. Very little by way of infrastructure has been developed in the last 50 years (when oil was discovered in Nigeria).Instead a society has been created with obscenely wealthy individuals living in plush areas and the masses who still despite such great wealth and natural resources live in what is now becoming environmentally unsustainable towns and villages. The publicity given to the oil spill in the States should trigger something in us. We should, as a people stand back from petty ethnic differences and hold our leaders to account regardless of religious or ethnic affiliations. Obama has cancelled important international meetings and has been to the Gulf of Mexico himself three times in as many days to assess the damage. Should we not expect the same of our leaders?
Nii Thompson and Gabriel Lawal
images: CrossCrocodiles and Kakuoil