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Nigeria: Curse of the Black Gold
Jul 16, 2008 (080716)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"This book lays out the dynamics of oil and development in Nigeria
and Africa. It reveals the complicity in this perfect storm of
international oil companies, foreign governments, corrupt
oil-producing states and U.S. consumers. ... the future of oil in
Nigeria is now in question in an unprecedented way. As we speak,
something like 25 percent of Nigerian oil is locked in or deferred
because of the attacks by militants." - Michael Watts
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a commentary and
interview from Alternet on the new book Curse of the Black Gold,
edited by Michael Watts with photos by Ed Kashi and contributions
by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Nigerian journalists, and human
rights activists. For the full commentary, and a slideshow,
The book is available on-line from
Powell's Books (http://tinyurl.com/5sbp85).
You can also find this and many more links and books for browsing
at the new AfricaFocus Bookshop -
Curse of the Black Gold is also available in South Africa through
Read the announcement for the bookshop directly below, as well as
a note on how you can suggest your own sets of books to include.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
About AfricaFocus Bookshop
This AfricaFocus Bookshop is an experiment. If it works, it will
both be useful to readers and provide a modest flow of revenue
needed to support AfricaFocus. If it does prove to be useful, I
will put more time into expanding it and maintaining it with
regular updates. That depends on whether you like it, and whether
you sometimes buy a book through these bookshop links (see below on
how you can also suggest additional books to be included).
What I have done to start, using the latest tools available from
Amazon, is to put up a selection of books I think AfricaFocus
readers might find of interest. Some are classics, some new
releases. Some I strongly recommend to readers, some I included
just because they look interesting enough to pick up and look
For many of these books, you can actually look inside and browse
without buying the book or leaving your computer. More and more
publishers are using Amazon's "look inside the book" feature. You
can check out the table of contents and sample pages, almost as if
you were browsing in a physical bookstore.
Like many of you, I am also concerned about the survival of local
independent bookstores, and I do visit - and buy books from - the
ones in Washington, DC. But the fact is that few physical
bookstores anywhere - in North America, Europe, or even in Africa
- have a wide range of books on African topics. So I hope you will
find this on-line bookshop useful enough to browse - and perhaps to
If you buy through links to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, featured on
this site, AfricaFocus will receive a small percentage of the list
price as a "referral" fee. The same applies to the independent
unionized bookstore Powell's Books, based in Portland, Oregon, and
to Kalahari.net in South Africa. I haven't added on-line shops in
other countries yet; about 50% of AfricaFocus website visitors are
in the USA, UK, or South Africa, and the remaining 50% of visitors
come from more than 190 other countries. But if you have a favorite
on-line bookshop in another country to recommend, please let me
I have also included links to two key publishers and distributors
of African Books, Africa World Press and African Books Collective,
and of course to the website for my own recent co-edited book No
Enjoy browsing and come back again!
- William Minter, Editor, AfricaFocus Bulletin
Suggest a set of books for AfricaFocus Bookshop
I don't expect to have time to change or add new "featured books"
regularly. So for now I am reserving that place for ones that I
strongly recommend to readers. But it is relatively easy to add an
additional set of books for an Amazon carousel or Ferris wheel
(assuming they are all on Amazon). The ones on there to start are
my selections. I know many AfricaFocus readers are well informed
about African issues, and I would like to include some from you as
well. Feel free to suggest books on current African issues,
fiction, or other topics of possible interest to AfricaFocus
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available on Amazon, with an image of the cover.
If you have a set of books you want to suggest, on a specific topic
or country - a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 10 - just send me an
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and where you live (city and country). Send me your suggestion at
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Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta
Africa: The Next Victim in Our Quest for Cheap Oil
By Scott Thill, AlterNet
[Scott Thill runs the online mag http://morphizm.com. His writing
has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.]
Whether or not we have fully arrived at peak oil can be left to the
nitpickers and bean counters to decide. What we know for sure is
that the cost of black gold has exponentially risen in just a few
short years, and the global economy it is built upon is currently
straddling a razor waiting for the inevitable slice. That final cut
may come from Nigeria, where all the major oil companies have done
business, dirty and otherwise, for the last five decades, degrading
the environment and depressing the general population along the
That disturbing feedback loop is the subject of the new book Curse
of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta, which
juxtaposes the arresting graphics of award-winning photojournalist
Ed Kashi with the geopolitical insights of UC Berkeley professor
Michael Watts to present Africa's most populous nation as a
possible epicenter for the full-blown resource wars to come. ...
They are wars that are already well under way. In mid-June, a Shell
facility was attacked by local militants, disrupting production and
sending the already sky-high price of oil to further heights before
coming back online a week later. Attacks like those have increased
in frequency, as Nigerian factions have fought for control of the
nation's lucrative petroleum resources, which are the largest in
The problem, especially as indigenous populations caught between
Nigeria's prosperous rich and their oil industry's environmental
devastation see it, is that viable land and resources have been
wasted on a handful while the majority of the country falls into
further disrepair and depression. From natural gas flares and oil
spills to the destruction of native plants, animal species and
other salable commodities, Nigeria's oil industry has wreaked havoc
across the land and its people.
And it's only getting worse. And if you think it doesn't affect
America, think again.
"The United States has been concerned with its own post-1945 global
oil strategy, involving Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela," Watts
explains in our interview below. "But this strategy has fallen
apart, and now Africa plays a key role at a time when oil is beyond
$100 a barrel."
It is a role that will only expand, as increasing demand,
ass-backward environmental policy and diminishing resources send
nations and multinationals scattering for control of what's left of
Earth's black gold. America's disastrous war in Iraq is one example
of this panic at work. President Bush's 2006 plan to establish the
United States African Command (AFRICOM), an ominous Department of
Defense program to network operations and combatant command across
the African continent, is another such example, especially since
not one African country has come forward to offer America
permission to build a base on its territory. For now, AFRICOM is on
the outside looking in on Africa from a base in Germany, an
arrangement that can be seen both as a geopolitical reality and as
a suitable metaphor for U.S.-African relations throughout history.
But the United States won't be outside Africa for long, as climate
crisis and peak oil take further hold. And when it comes calling,
it will most likely call on Nigeria first.
Scott Thill: What is the nature of Nigeria's oil industry, and when
did it get started?
Michael Watts: Commercial oil production began in 1956, and the
first exports in 1958. Since that time, perhaps $600 billion in oil
revenues have been accrued by the Nigerian government. The
government takes a share through a legal joint venture contract
with the international oil companies of about 80 percent of the
value of each barrel of oil. Since oil accounts for 90 percent of
all Nigerian exports and 80 percent of government revenue, and
about half of GDP, oil is the Nigerian economy. The country is a
classical petro-state dependent upon one resource. The book shows
how this vast wealth has been stolen: Estimates from the World Bank
vary from $100 (billion) to $200 billion. It has also been wasted.
The International Monetary Fund says that oil has probably not
added to the standard of living of average Nigerians. This is a
ST: What has been the ecological impact, especially to the
MW: The ecological impact has been felt in the Niger Delta, which
is the oil-producing region. According to the World Wildlife Fund,
it is one of the most polluted places on the face of the Earth.
Nigeria has the highest gas flaring rates in the world; until
recently, over 80 percent was flared as a product of drilling. The
consequences for carbon emissions, air pollution and public health
are severe. Plus, there are roughly 300 oil spills a year, and over
7,000 since 1960.
ST: Between conflict in Africa and the Middle East, this battle is
going to heat up as peak oil and climate change kicks in. When do
you see that happening?
MW: The future of Nigeria and the Niger Delta in the short and
medium term will be that more oil and gas will be produced. There
are perhaps 40 more years of oil left, much of that offshore in
deep water, and the government and oil companies will continue to
produce it at high prices.
ST: What's America's stake in the region?
MW: Nigeria is a major supplier to the U.S. market, as well as a
major plank in America's energy security policy. The Gulf of Guinea
in West Africa is a major new oil supply area in the context of the
instabilities in Venezuela and the Middle East. It will be business
as usual. And the establishment of AFRICOM is part of the U.S.
ST: But AFRICOM is entering enemy territory, is it not?
MW: We document in the book how the consequences and costs incurred
by the oil-producing region over the last 30 years, including
neglect and marginalization by the federal government, have
produced resistance to both the industry and government from below.
Since 1999, it has developed into something like an oil insurgency
led by militant groups. So the future of oil in Nigeria is now in
question in an unprecedented way. As we speak, something like 25
percent of Nigerian oil is locked in or deferred because of the
attacks by militants. Can the companies and the government operate
under these circumstances, in which oil workers are taken as
hostages and federal forces cannot control the fields?
ST: It seems that this is precisely why AFRICOM was launched.
MW: The insurgents have shown that they can close down the
industry. The new government in 2007 was expected to enter into
negotiations with the militants, but that has broken down. So the
future is very much an open question. If Nigeria were to enter into
a deeper conflict, the implications for the world oil market and
oil producers would be catastrophic.
ST: What drew you to this project?
MW: I have worked in Nigeria as a scholar for 30 years and written
about oil issues. I drew Ed Kashi into the project several years
ago, and he realized that there was an important and untold story
here about African oil, its growing global significance and the
costs of oil-based development compounded by geostrategic interests
by global powers. The story has since forced its way onto the pages
of the international press, first with the struggles of Ken
Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people in the early '90s, but mostly since
1998 when these popular struggles assumed a militant cast. With the
emergence of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta
(MEND) in 2006, it has become clear that the Nigerian, and African,
oil story is of enormous consequence.
ST: Is Africa the unsung warrior of our resource wars?
MW: The United States has been concerned with its own post-1945
global oil strategy, involving Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela.
But this strategy has fallen apart, and now Africa plays a key role
at a time when oil is beyond $100 a barrel. So yes, the African oil
story -- the consequences, the oil companies, the geopolitics --
all of this is largely an untold story.
ST: What have you learned from your experience on the book?
MW: I have learned several things. The first is that oil is not
always a curse, meaning that oil dependency does not always produce
poverty or conflict or corruption. It did not in Norway or the U.K.
But vast oil wealth captured by oil-producing governments always
places the question of how that wealth is to be allocated and spent
at the center. If oil is inserted into a corrupt federal system,
then the combination of non-transparent Big Oil and authoritarian
Big Government produces a perfect storm of violence, corruption,
ecological destruction and poverty. And this storm will have a huge
ST: Are you hoping your book prepares us for that blowback?
MW: I hope that this book lays out the dynamics of oil and
development in Nigeria and Africa, that it reveals the complicity
in this perfect storm of international oil companies, foreign
governments, corrupt oil-producing states and U.S. consumers.
Perhaps in the same way that the "blood diamonds" issue showed our
complicity and need to assess the conditions under which the
resources we use are produced. In a sense, this book documents
I hope that the book will contribute in some way to the struggle in
Nigeria for a more democratic and transparent political system in
which oil wealth can be deployed for productive purposes in a
socially and ecologically just way. I also hope it contributes to
a much wider debate in the U.S., and everywhere else, about the
consequences of dependency, as well as the vast costs of
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