Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 22:24 PM EDT, 2 February 2012
TANZANIA, East Africa – When one thinks of Neo-Colonialism in emerging economies, the traditional natural resources usually come to mind – minerals, timber, water rights, and oil. The expansion in Africa by oil companies has increased in recent years as the demand for this finite resource increases.
America is still the largest consumer of crude oil and petroleum-based products. According to a PBS Special Report on the Alaskan pipeline America, followed by the two powerhouses of the emerging economic markets – China and India are now the largest consumers.
“The United States consumes an average of 20.6 million barrels of oil a day. Forty percent of that — 9.1 million barrels — is used to power motor vehicles. So how do these numbers measure up globally?
The most recent figures show that China, with a population more than four times that of the United States, consumes nearly seven million barrels a day. However, China’s thirst for oil is growing quickly, with India coming up fast behind.
Russia uses nearly three million barrels of oil a day and Canada just over two million. Americans use more oil for their motor vehicles than the total combined amounts used by Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom and France. The U.S. represents about five percent of the human population, but it consumes a quarter of the world’s oil.” (Source: PBS: The American Experience, ‘The Alaskan Pipeline.’)
Although, most people know at an intuitive level that Americans are the most gluttonous consumers of this product, to actually read the numbers is stupefying. However, we are all to blame, even I am, because I drive a truck which takes nearly $60 to fill up. I will not go into the reasons why I drive a truck because any explanation will seem self-serving. But, in the interest of full disclosure I felt that it I should accuse myself as I condemn the large oil companies that provide me with this privilege.
As a child I lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and I clearly remember playing in the white sands of Bahari Beach, when my imaginary meanderings would be abruptly interrupted by a vision at the horizon. I would gape in awe at the supertankers moored off the coast in the deeper waters of the Indian Ocean that stretched before me.
What I didn’t realize then, but know now, was that the large globs of oil which washed ashore hours after their departures were a consequence of the illegal practice of oil tanker operators washing out the tanks in preparation of receiving the next cargo load. This was done by filling the tanks with water and then pumping the resulting mixture of oil and water into the sea.
Because many African nations were not in a position to enforce international rules to prevent oil pollution on their shores, many oil tanker operators would opt to empty the oil cargo or fuel tanks used for ballast water into the ocean off the coast of African nations without fear of sanction. Consequently, oil was discharged into the sea when tankers flushed out the oil-contaminated ballast water to replace it with new oil. (Source: Global Marine Oil Pollution Information Gateway)
As a child I thought of these black, bulbous balls as something to add to my list of playthings. As an adult who witnessed the carnage caused by the Exxon Valdez and most recently the BP Oil spill disaster, I cringe at the memory of my childish naiveté.
What has not changed is the continued interests by foreign oil companies in rich natural resources of East Africa and other countries of the Continent. PR Newswire recently reported that Royal Dutch Shell, the largest European oil company, has initiated a hostile takeover bid for Cove Energy.
If successful, Royal Dutch Shell which is currently active in Tanzania, could expand it holding’s in the region to include Kenya and Mozambique. Cove Energy’s presence in both of these countries would facilitate Shell’s strategic mission of sustainable growth by exploiting the recently gas discoveries in the latter two countries. In addition to this upside for Shell, the downside for Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique is diminished control over these natural resources and a high risk of environmental pollution.
In November 2011 the Guardian UK reported that Shell must pay $1bn to deal with Niger Delta oil spills. At that time Amnesty International issued a report “to mark the 16th anniversary of the execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by Nigerian authorities” in which it detailed the breadth of the adverse impact the oil had on Bodo, Ogoniland.
Like the BP Oil spill off the coast of Louisiana in the US, the Royal Dutch Shell spill in Nigeria also caused environmental damage, economic damage, and health issues for the nearly 69,000 people who lived in the region. “The prolonged failure of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria to clean up the oil that was spilled, continues to have catastrophic consequences,” according to the Amnesty International report.
I researching for this post, I discovered an incredible website for an organization called Cultural Survival. On 4 March 2010, they published an article titled ”Sharing” the Wealth? Minerals, oil, timber, and now medicines and genetic wealth – all are fair game for governments and corporations,” which I felt added more depth to this post and provided an alternate view on this troubling movement.
The except which follows enumerates the complexity of this issue, and I highly recommend that you follow the link above to read the article in its entirety on their website.
“The natural resources located in some of the Earth’s most remote placed became open to appropriation when a number of new states sprung up in the post-World War II, postcolonial period of this century, Elites and dominant groups, empowered to maintain security and promote trade, stole natural resources from indigenous nations, igniting open conflict. These clashes led to the need to military assistance, which in turn led to debt and – full circle now – the need to appropriate more saleable resources to pay off the debts.”
The report continues by stating:
“States have traditionally received considerable help from other states in appropriating the resources of nation peoples. Ten World Bank – funded colonization project in sub-Saharan Africa financed the occupation of “unoccupied” areas in a number of African countries. Subsequent problems arose; in each instance the areas were already occupied by people who had been living there for generations.
This experience is the rule, not the exception, Worldwide, development industries help states to seize resources and put them up for sale on the world market – through “obvious” projects such as miming, oil exploration, and hydroelectric development, more “subtle” projects such as colonization (which takes land), transportation (which eventually takes land, timber, minerals, and/or other resources), and credit (which finances the appropriation and/or processing of saleable resources).”
The battle against Neo-Colonialism will not occur without significant collateral damages. In order to effect big changes, we each have to make small changes in our lives and actions. It is not always easy or expeditious to take big actions like giving up one’s car when it is needed for transportation to work and to take children to school.
I do not advocate this course of action for myself or anyone else. But what is necessary is for us to take the time to become aware of these issues. To realize that though the citizens of these countries are most at risk because of the actions of these multinationals, ultimately it will impact us,because but for a happenstance of birth, we could be them.
Just because we live in America doesn’t mean that we are safe from the amoral vagaries of corporation. The last few years have should have disabused us of this belief. Whereas we thought we were different from ‘others,’ we need only look at the Native American culture and people who suffered great loss of land and natural resources as a direct result of Colonialism in America. Just because we don’t have something today that is coveted by corporations, doesn’t mean this will always be the case.
It is important to remember the quote attributed to Martin Niemöller which I have referenced before:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
- BP Seeks Oil Spill Settlement (huffingtonpost.com)
- U.S. Approves Shell’s Arctic Oil Spill Response Plan (gcaptain.com)
- Shell oil spill off Nigeria likely worst in a decade (telegraph.co.uk)
- Royal Dutch Shell says Nigeria spill contained (seattlepi.com)
- You: Royal Dutch Shell says worst Nigeria offshore oil spill in more than a decade now contained (washingtonpost.com)