ED KASHI
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April 15, 2009

Natasha probably speaks for many of us when she writes in her recently submitted essay, “Before reading Curse of the Black Gold, I knew very little about how the United States gets its oil, and I knew even less about the processes that happen in order for the oil to reach the United States.” She continues in her essay to examine photographs which give her a new perspective on everyday frustrations faced by Nigerians.

Natasha notes “…local youth guard the first wellhead that was drilled in the Niger Delta. Oil was a failure in this region of Olobiri and the wellhead is a monument representing the lack of success that caused much frustration to those who live in the region. The youth are disposable. They are paid ‘standby’ [paid by oil companies to do nothing] even with an unsuccessful wellhead.”

“In another picture…a woman is baking in a gas flare caused by leaky pipelines. Human beings are not meant to live in these conditions. However,…these occurrences are so common that they have learned to live around these leaks. … The local Urohobo people were living there before the oil companies…[and] they cannot just get up and leave. There is also a picture that shows children playing in the polluted waters of Finima. They have adapted to these dangerous conditions, and worst of all, the parents are watching their children literally play with fire and swim in oil.”

Natasha: “There is a lack of opportunity for youths in places like these, …an infinite cycle of violence and corruption…The oil companies step in and lower the standard of living for many locals. …The youths then turn to each other and start looking for standby jobs that pay them to do nothing. In effect, they are feeding the fire of the oil companies by accepting their money. This also causes the ungovernability of the Niger Delta because everything is fueled by corruption and most people advocate it through violence because they don’t know any better.”

Natasha, thank you for sharing.

To read the essay in its entirety, click below.

Natasha Wad
April 4, 2009
History 247.002
Pedro Monaville

Curse of the Black Gold

“Nigeria is not a country, it is a profession” (43). The violence and corruption in the Niger Delta is a result of this mindset. Oil companies and even locals think of Nigeria as a profession. The country is vulnerable to powerful people and companies that have the means to take advantage of the country’s resources. The violence in Nigeria is brought by the oil industry and is astonishingly underrepresented. The amount of corruption in Nigeria is much higher than I ever thought. The intense corruption resembles colonial Africa during the slave trade. The book and lecture by Michael Watts and Ed Kashi helped me understand the extent of the violence in the Niger Delta and why there is this notion that the Niger Delta is ungovernable.

Before reading Curse of the Black Gold, I knew very little about how the United States gets its oil, and I knew even less about the processes that happen in order for the oil to reach the United States. When Ed Kashi and Michael Watts lectured to our class, they introduced new perspectives about oil in Africa. Michael made a very touching argument about how the extent of American’s concerns about oil is the price, while there are much more horrible things that happen so that we can drive our gas-guzzling SUVs.

The demand for oil in the US causes an enormous amount of violence in the Niger Delta. Powerful countries like the US and countries in Europe have only provoked violence in Nigeria by creating room for corruption. The corruption has come from three main sources. The first is that corruption has flowed downward and become decentralized. It is no longer the state that has ultimate control because the violent youth groups have emerged. Second, the state military does not have a monopoly over the advanced weapons. These weapons are now available to notoriously armed forces, which pose a threat to state power. Thirdly, the rule of a new political class, known as Godfathers, has emerged as machine politicians (46). The intense corruption goes hand in hand with the notion that the Niger Delta is “ungovernable”. One reason this idea has been adopted is that there are so many violent youth groups competing for power under the oil companies. The companies pay youth groups to do nothing; this is called “standby”. There is no state power in Nigeria because too many different groups are trying to come into power using violence in an effort to build strong rapports with the oil industry. Another reason the Niger Delta is ungovernable is because The Oil companies function as a government (46). No country can succeed under the control of the Oil industry. The only reason these companies are considered governing bodies is because they are the ones who have the most money and power in the country. They aren’t actually doing a good job of governing because they aren’t acting in the best interests of the people. Although oil companies act as a terrible governing body, they are constitutionally inclined to pay the region in which they operate money for occupying their land (46). On page 45 in Curse of the Black Gold, local youth guard the first wellhead that was drilled in the Niger Delta. Oil was a failure in this region of Olobiri and the wellhead is a monument representing the lack of success that caused much frustration to those who live in the region. The youth are disposable. They are paid standby even with an unsuccessful wellhead.

As Ed Kashi and Michael Watts explained in their lecture, the oil companies have an obligation to give money to “community development”. They do so by paying local chiefs the allocated money and their responsibility to “community development” is done, but who knows where the money really goes. For example, Shell spends about $60 million on community development each year, but cash payments amount to more than double that amount (46). I never fully understood why the oil companies had such a bad reputation, but now I see these companies in Nigeria as a corrupt dictatorship. US oil companies come to places like Africa because these poor places are extremely vulnerable. The people living there don’t always know their rights and don’t realize that they are getting ripped off. Meanwhile, so many of the Nigerians are still very poor and starving while the powerful nations take advantage of them and make millions off of their suffering.

In another picture from the pamphlet we received at Michael Watt’s lecture, a woman is baking in a gas flare caused by leaky pipelines. Human beings are not meant to live in these conditions. However, this picture depicts that these occurrences are so common that they have learned to live around these leaks. The lifespan of the people who live around the oil spills and gas flares is short, but there is very little for them to do. The local Urohobo people were living there before the oil companies stepped in and planted
their operations they cannot just get up and leave. There is also a picture that shows children playing in the polluted waters of Finima. They have adapted to these dangerous conditions, and worst of all, the parents are watching their children literally play with fire and swim in oil.

There is a lack of opportunity for youths in places like these, which causes them to band together and form youth groups. There is an infinite cycle of violence and corruption that I have seen in this book. The oil companies step in and lower the standard of living for many locals. By doing so, the youths of the community are more likely to lose their family members who work in these bad conditions. The youths then turn to each other and start looking for standby jobs that pay them to do nothing. In effect, they are feeding the fire of the oil companies by accepting their money. This also causes the ungovernability of the Niger Delta because everything is fueled by corruption and most people advocate it through violence because they don’t know any better.

Categories: Educational, Shout Outs

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