|Title||Conflict Minerals Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo|
|Date released (year)||2011|
|Keywords/tags||Minerals, mining, civil war, violence|
|Link to film||http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYqrflGpTRE
|Synopsis||The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world and thanks to an insanely complicated mix of politics, armed conflict, and corruption… it’s also one of the most under-reported. It also happens to be home to a nondescript black rock known as Coltan… a vital ingredient in the production of nearly every cell phone and computer on the planet. Without Coltan, our technology-driven lives would come to a screeching halt, and Congo has 80% of the world’s supply. Since the mid nineteen-nineties, armed groups have used these minerals to fund a series of fantastically complicated and horrifically violent wars.
Vice founder Suroosh Alvi travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo and makes one of the most grueling treks of his life to see first-hand where this so-called “conflict mineral” comes from and to meet some of the rebels involved in the seemingly never-ending conflict in Eastern Congo.
|Reviews/discussion||From the BBC: The Human Cost of Coltan Mining
It was midnight when Elise and her husband were woken by armed men in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Soldiers of DR Congo’s National Army burst into their shack, sent the husband into another room, and then raped the mother of five at gunpoint.
“They put their guns on my chest and said: ‘Don’t talk, don’t cry, don’t complain’… then they started to rape me,” she said.
The perpetrators were not the feared militia of the FDLR, who are currently the focus of a major military operation in South Kivu.
They were from the FARDC – the National Army that now controls this area in eastern DR Congo.
It is an area carpeted with minerals such as coltan and cassiterite, which are used in the production of consumer durables and gadgets sold in the rich world.
But people are now beginning to ask: what is the human cost of a mobile phone?
Scarred for life
In Shabunda territory, where Elise was attacked, there have been 112 rapes reported since April, when the military operation started.
These official figures are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, because most sexual crimes go unreported here.
Since 2006 there have been 2,883 recorded rapes in the Shabunda territory.
Many of the women have not only been sexually violated but physically scarred for life.
And Shabunda is just one territory out of eight in the province of South Kivu – a tiny pin-prick in this vast country.
“Sexual attacks peak when there’s fighting,” said Shabunda-based human rights activist Papy Bwalinga Kashama.
“The reason the military and militia are fighting is to control the mines,” he said.
Civilians get caught in the middle. Control the men with guns who guard and earn tax from the mines, he argued, and you reduce the terrible violations endured by women.
It may sound simplistic, but he has a point.
In the mining area of Nyabembe, rusting pieces of mining machinery poke out from a thick layer of grass.
They reflect a time in the mid-1970s, when commercial mining was carried out in this area – a two-and-a-half hour motorbike ride from the town of Lulingu.
Five years of civil war, followed by protracted skirmishes with the militia, saw those operations move out and freelance miners move in.
These men are now exposed to predatory militias and also the military who demand a cut from what they dig.
When they are not exacting local taxes, the gunmen move into the village and terrify the local population – stealing, killing and raping.
“They take what they want, even our women, and there is nothing we can do about it,” sighed Simon, a young teacher who has swapped his school books for a shovel, because it is the only way to make a living.
Blood on their hands?
Global electronics and metals giants now face uncomfortable questions: Are they inadvertently fuelling the conflict in eastern DR Congo? Are they buttressing a market by sourcing supplies from militarised zones (a practice that is not illegal but ethically questionable)?
“There is nowhere and no-one we won’t buy from,” said Masumbuko Moari, who represents middlemen who supply to the big exporters.
He laughed when I suggested they might have blood on their hands as a result of buying from the men with guns.
“That’s a political issue,” he said, and our conversation ended.
With mining being the only game in town, radical change is bound to be resisted.
And that is the argument that international purchasers of minerals use, to justify their trade: so many jobs depend on it.
During a recent visit to South Kivu, DR Congo’s Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito admitted to the BBC that there was a genuine problem about militarised mining.
“We want people and companies to be able to work in good conditions,” he said. “Once the environment improves, the army won’t be in a position to exploit the mines.
“It’s an abnormal situation at the moment because the government doesn’t have full control.”
The Congolese government faces international pressure to address military exploitation of DR Congo’s mines.
It claims to control 80% of the mines but if you are prepared to ride by motorbike for a few hours, or trek through the forests on foot, it is not hard to find mines in the hands of men with guns.
Under the wire
During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to the country, grand statements were made to get the military out of the mines, but change requires clear political will.
“We have to destroy the commercial circus of the mines, by reasserting the control of the state,” said Mabolia Yenga, a mines trouble-shooter who advises DR Congo’s ministry of mines.
Commercialising the mining sector is not a magic bullet, but it might be a start if the big operators are closely watched.
Mr Yenga believes that for minerals like coltan and cassiterite, a process of certification to ensure the mining does not fund violence – such as with the Kimberley process for diamonds – is long overdue.
But such a process would require input from DR Congo’s neighbours, which act as transit points for illicit exports.
Neighbours such as Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda have long been accused of benefiting from DR Congo’s mines, operating “under the wire” and gaining from the country’s instability.
The Congolese government wants to invite mining companies back in and use the tax revenues from mining to rebuild this shattered country.
It is a hard message to sell to a population which has seen virtually no infrastructural growth from its mineral riches – simply war.
But it may be a small step to making mining more transparent in DR Congo. It may also help to ensure that some of the 1.8bn mobile phones in the world are a little “cleaner”.
An excellent book on this topic:
Michael Nest, 2011, Coltan. Wiley Press. http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745649313
A decade ago no one except geologists had heard of tantalum or ‘coltan’ – an obscure mineral that is an essential ingredient in mobile phones and laptops. Then, in 2000, reports began to leak out of Congo: of mines deep in the jungle where coltan was extracted in brutal conditions watched over by warlords. The United Nations sent a team to investigate, and its exposé of the relationship between violence and the exploitation of coltan and other natural resources contributed to a re-examination of scholarship on the motivations and strategies of armed groups.
The politics of coltan encompass rebel militias, transnational corporations, determined activists, Hollywood celebrities, the rise of China, and the latest iGadget. Drawing on Congolese and activist voices, Nest analyses the two issues that define coltan politics: the relationship between coltan and violence in the Congo, and contestation between activists and corporations to reshape the global tantalum supply chain. The way production and trade of coltan is organised creates opportunities for armed groups, but the Congo wars are not solely, or even primarily, about coltan or minerals generally. Nest argues the political significance of coltan lies not in its causal link to violence, but in activists’ skillful use of mobile phones as a symbol of how ordinary people and transnational corporations far from Africa are implicated in Congo’s coltan industry and therefore its conflict. Nest examines the challenges coltan initiatives face in an activist ‘marketplace’ crowded with competing justice issues, and identifies lessons from coltan initiatives for the geopolitics of global resources more generally.
|Links to other resources||Dena Montague (2002) Stolen Goods: Coltan and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. SAIS Review 22.1 (2002) 103-118 [Access article in PDF]
Click here to help: http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/Watch more VICE documentaries here: http://bit.ly/VICE-Presents
See Blood Coltan:https://ejoltdocumentaries.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/blood-coltan/
|Title||Colonialism in 10 Minutes: The Scramble For Africa|
|Director(s)||Jesse James Miller and Pete McCormack|
|Date released (year)||2006|
|Production company||Mindset Media|
|Keywords/tags||Colonialism, civil war, natural resources|
|Link to film||http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAJ7XmTFs4A
|Synopsis||An excerpt from the film Uganda Rising showing in a brief overview the utter decimation of Africa that took place via colonialism and the so-called “Scramble For Africa.”
For two decades, the Acholi people of Northern Uganda have been caught in a civil war between a rebel group whose main objective is inhumane terror and a government whose military response has often increased misery and suffering. Over 1.5 million people have been displaced into camps and over 25,000 children have been abducted to be used as soldiers and sex slaves.
And yet through it all, every day across Acholi-land something remarkable happens. Against a backdrop of dismal statistics, miniscule opportunity and unpredictable terror, in a part of Uganda forgotten by the world, children who have never known peace, face the day as if to live this way is normal, as if they still believe in the future. These children are the embodiment of resilience and hope. This film is the story of Uganda, her stolen children, and the fight to be free.
Uganda Rising is a feature-length documentary solely produced by Mindset Foundation (formerly Mindset Media Society). Shooting for the production began in 2004 and completed in April 2006. Uganda Rising had its world premiere at the 2006 HotDocs International Film Festival on May 14th in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The film has since been invited to participate in many prestigious film festivals such as Hollywood International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival and the Paris International Human Rights Film Festival. The film was the recipient of many Best Documentary awards at festivals such as the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and Wt Os International
The Colonization of Africa
Ehiedu E. G. Iweriebor – Hunter College
Between the 1870s and 1900, Africa faced European imperialist aggression, diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual conquest and colonization. At the same time, African societies put up various forms of resistance against the attempt to colonize their countries and impose foreign domination. By the early twentieth century, however, much of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonized by European powers.
The European imperialist push into Africa was motivated by three main factors, economic, political, and social. It developed in the nineteenth century following the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade, its abolition and suppression, as well as the expansion of the European capitalist Industrial Revolution. The imperatives of capitalist industrialization—including the demand for assured sources of raw materials, the search for guaranteed markets and profitable investment outlets—spurred the European scramble and the partition and eventual conquest of Africa. Thus the primary motivation for European intrusion was economic.
|Links to other resources||World Bank Refuses to Stop Funding African Land Grabs, October 8, 2012, African Globe. Source: http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/world-bank-refuses-stop-funding-african-land-grabs
Thomas Pakenham (1992) The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912. See: http://www.amazon.com/Scramble-Africa-Conquest-Continent-1876-1912/dp/0380719991
|Title||Africa: States of independence – the scramble for Africa|
|Date released (year)||2010
|Link to film||http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/2010/08/2010831112927318164.html|
|Synopsis||Seventeen African nations gained their independence in 1960, but the dreams of the independence era were short-lived.
This film tells the story of some of those countries – stories of mass exploitation, of the ecstasy of independence and of how – with liberation – a new, covert scramble for resources was born.
|Reviews/discussion||Whether in bustling cities or remote villages, the 1880s and 1890s were years of terrifying upheaval for Africans. Fleet upon fleet of foreign soldiers armed with new weaponry – and a sense of entitlement – descended, seemingly overnight.
In the space of just 20 years, 90 per cent of Africa was brought under European occupation. Europe had captured a continent.
Europe was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. The advent of the machine was transforming the cities there into the workshop of the world – a workshop in need of raw materials. It was the dawn of industrial-scale production, modern capitalist economies and mass international trade. And in this new industrial era the value of Africa rocketed – not only for its materials and as a strategic trade route, but also as a market for the goods Europe now produced in bulk.
But the scramble for Africa was not just about economics. Colonialism had become the fast-track to political supremacy in Europe. Rival European powers convened in the German capital and in February 1885 signed the Act of Berlin – an agreement to abolish slavery and allow free trade. The act also drew new borders on the map of Africa, awarding territory to each European power – thus legalising the scramble for Africa.
But with the Second World War – which saw the peak of Europe’s dependency on African troops – a powerful genie was released from a bottle – African nationalism. The tipping point came on February 3, 1960, when Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, gave his ‘wind of change’ speech. Within 10 months, Britain had surrendered two key African territories and France 14. The rate of decolonisation when it arrived was breathtaking.
Seventeen African nations gained their independence in 1960, but the dreams of the independence era were short-lived. Africa … states of independence tells the story of some of those countries – stories of mass exploitation, of the ecstasy of independence and of how – with liberation – a new, covert scramble for resources was born.
BRICS bloc’s rising ‘sub-imperialism’
Is this the latest threat to Africa?
2012-11-29, Issue 608
Like Berlin in 1884-85, the BRICS Durban summit is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened – now as then – by what will be derided as ‘Western’ concerns about democracy and human rights.
The heads of state of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) network of governments are coming to Durban, South Africa, in four months, meeting on March 26-27 at the International Convention Centre (ICC), Africa’s largest venue. Given their recent performance, it is reasonable to expect another “1%” summit, wreaking socioeconomic and ecological havoc. And that means it is time for the first BRICS countersummit, to critique top-down “sub-imperialist” bloc formation, and to offer bottom-up alternatives.
After all, we have had some bad experiences at the Durban ICC.
In 2001, in spite of demands by 10,000 protesters, the United Nations World Conference Against Racism refused to grapple with reparations for slavery and colonialism or with apartheid-Israel’s racism against Palestinians (hence Tel Aviv’s current ethnic cleansing of Gaza goes unpunished).
The African Union got off to a bad start here, with its 2002 launch, due to reliance on the neoliberal New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) promoted by Pretoria.
The 2003 World Economic Forum’s African regional meeting hastened governments’ supplication to multinational corporate interests in spite of protests.
In 2011, Durban’s UN COP17 climate summit – better known as the ‘Conference of Polluters’ – featured Washington’s sabotage, with no new emissions cuts and an attempted revival of the non-solution called ‘carbon trading’, also called ‘the privatisation of the air’.
Like Berlin in 1884-85, the BRICS Durban summit is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened – now as then – by what will be derided as “Western” concerns about democracy and human rights. Reading between the lines, its resolutions will:
– support favoured corporations’ extraction and land-grab strategies;
– worsen Africa’s retail-driven deindustrialisation (South Africa’s Shoprite and Makro – soon to be run by Walmart – are already notorious in many capital cities for importing even simple products that could be supplied locally);
– revive failed projects such as Nepad; and
– confirm the financing of both land grabbing and the extension of neocolonial infrastructure through a new ‘BRICS Development Bank’, likely to be based just north of Johannesburg where the Development Bank of Southern Africa already does so much damage following Washington’s script.
The question is whether in exchange for the Durban summit amplifying such destructive tendencies, which appears certain, can those few of Africa’s elites who may be invited leverage any greater influence in world economic management via the BRICS? With South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s regular critiques of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is certainly potential for BRICS to “talk left” about the global-governance democracy deficit.
But watch the ‘walk right’ carefully. In the vote for World Bank president earlier this year, for example, Pretoria’s choice was hard-core Washington ideologue Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister who with IMF managing director Christine Lagarde catalysed the Occupy movement’s near revolution in January, with a removal of petrol subsidies. Brasilia chose the moderate economist Jose Antonio Ocampo and Moscow backed Washington’s choice: Jim Yong Kim.
This was a repeat of the prior year’s fiasco in the race for IMF managing director, won by Lagarde in spite of ongoing corruption investigations against her by French courts, because the Third World was divided and conquered. BRICS appeared in both cases as incompetent, unable to even agree on a sole candidate, much less win their case in Washington.
Yet in July, BRICS treasuries sent US$100 billion in new capital to the IMF, which was seeking new systems of bail-out for banks exposed in Europe. South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion, a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Explaining the South African contribution – initially he said it would be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more “nasty” [sic] to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough.
And the result of this BRICS intervention is that China gains IMF voting power, but Africa actually loses a substantial fraction of its share. Even Gordhan admitted at last month’s Tokyo meeting of the IMF and world Bank that it is likely “the vast majority of emerging and developing countries will lose quota shares – an outcome that will perpetuate the democratic deficit.” And given “the crisis of legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness of the IMF”, it “is simply untenable” that Africa only has two seats for its 45 member countries.
Likewise, South Africa’s role in Africa has been “nasty”, as confirmed when Nepad was deemed “philosophically spot on” by lead US State Department Africa official Walter Kansteiner in 2003, and foisted privatisation of even basic services on the continent. In a telling incident this year, the Johannesburg parastatal firm Rand Water was forced to leave Ghana after failing – with a Dutch for-profit partner (Aqua Vitens) – to improve Accra’s water supply, as also happened in Maputo, Mozambique, (Saur from Paris) and Dar es Salaam (Biwater from London) in Tanzania.
As a matter of principle, BRICS appears hell bent on promoting the further commodification of life, at a time when the greatest victory won by ordinary Africans in the last decade is under attack: the winning of the Treatment Action Campaign’s demand for affordable access to AIDS medicines, via India’s cheap generic versions of drugs. A decade ago, they cost $10,000 per person per year and only a tiny fraction of desperate people received the medicines. Now, more than 1.5 million South Africans – and millions more in the rest of Africa – get treatment, thus raising the South Africa’s average life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today, according to reliable statistics released this month.
However, in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production, as well as making deep cuts in his own government’s aid commitment to fund African healthcare. In Durban, the city that is home to the most HIV+ people in the world, Obama’s move resulted in this year’s closure of AIDS public treatment centres at three crucial sites. One was the city’s McCord Hospital, which ironically was a long-standing ally of the NGO Partners in Health, whose cofounder was Obama’s pick for World Bank president, Jim Kim.
|Links to other resources||Thomas Pakenham (1992) The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912. See: http://www.amazon.com/Scramble-Africa-Conquest-Continent-1876-1912/dp/0380719991
World Bank Refuses to Stop Funding African Land Grabs, October 8, 2012, African Globe. Source: http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/world-bank-refuses-stop-funding-african-land-grabs
When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts
|Date released (year)||2010|
|Production company||Yale Environment 360|
|Keywords/tags||Civil war, climate change, desertification, food security, violence|
|Link to film||http://e360.yale.edu/feature/when_the_water_ends_africas_climate_conflicts/2331/|
|Synopsis||As temperatures rise and water supplies dry up, tribes in East Africa increasingly are coming into conflict. A Yale Environment 360 video reports on a phenomenon that could become more common: how worsening drought will pit groups — and nations — against one another.|
|Reviews/discussion||For thousands of years, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh, semi-arid lowlands that stretch across 80 percent of Kenya and 60 percent of Ethiopia. Descendants of the oldest tribal societies in the world, they survive thanks to the animals they raise and the crops they grow, their travels determined by the search for water and grazing lands.
These herdsmen have long been accustomed to adapting to a changing environment. But in recent years, they have faced challenges unlike any in living memory: As temperatures in the region have risen and water supplies have dwindled, the pastoralists have had to range more widely in search of suitable water and land. That search has brought tribal groups in Ethiopia and Kenya in increasing conflict, as pastoral communities kill each other over water and grass.
“When the Water Ends,” a 16-minute video produced by Yale Environment 360 in collaboration with MediaStorm, tells the story of this conflict and of the increasingly dire drought conditions facing parts of East Africa. To report this video, Evan Abramson, a 32-year-old photographer and videographer, spent two months in the region early this year, living among the herding communities. He returned with a tale that many climate scientists say will be increasingly common in the 21st century and beyond — how worsening drought in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere will pit group against group, nation against nation. As one UN official told Abramson, the clashes between Kenyan and Ethiopian pastoralists represent “some of the world’s first climate-change conflicts.”
But the story recounted in “When the Water Ends” is not only about climate change. It’s also about how deforestation and land degradation — due in large part to population pressures — are exacting a toll on impoverished farmers and nomads as the earth grows ever more barren.
The video focuses on four groups of pastoralists — the Turkana of Kenya and the Dassanech, Nyangatom, and Mursi of Ethiopia — who are among the more than two dozen tribes whose lives and culture depend on the waters of the Omo River and the body of water into which it flows, Lake Turkana. For the past 40 years at least, Lake Turkana has steadily shrunk because of increased evaporation from higher temperatures and a steady reduction in the flow of the Omo due to less rainfall, increased diversion of water for irrigation, and upstream dam projects. As the lake has diminished, it has disappeared altogether from Ethiopian territory and retreated south into Kenya. The Dassanech people have followed the water, and in doing so have come into direct conflict with the Turkana of Kenya.
The result has been cross-border raids in which members of both groups kill each other, raid livestock, and torch huts. Many people in both tribes have been left without their traditional livelihoods and survive thanks to food aid from nonprofit organizations and the UN.
The future for the tribes of the Omo-Turkana basin looks bleak. Temperatures in the region have risen by about 2 degrees F since 1960. Droughts are occurring with a frequency and intensity not seen in recent memory. Areas once prone to drought every ten or eleven years are now experiencing a drought every two or three. Scientists say temperatures could well rise an additional 2 to 5 degrees F by 2060, which will almost certainly lead to even drier conditions in large parts of East Africa.
In addition, the Ethiopian government is building a dam on the upper Omo River — the largest hydropower project in sub-Saharan Africa — that will hold back water and prevent the river’s annual flood cycles, upon which more than 500,000 tribesmen in Ethiopia and 300,000 in Kenya depend for cultivation, grazing, and fishing.
The herdsmen who speak in this video are caught up in forces over which they have no real control. Although they have done almost nothing to generate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, they may already be among its first casualties. “I am really beaten by hunger,” says one elderly, rail-thin Nyangatom tribesman. “There is famine — people are dying here. This happened since the Turkana and the Kenyans started fighting with us. We fight over grazing lands. There is no peace at all.”
26 Oct 2010
|Links to other resources||FAO: http://www.fao.org/docrep/X5318E/x5318e02.htm
See related discussions at: https://ejoltdocumentaries.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/east-africa-famine-appeal-the-need-in-drought-striken-areas/
Marius Keller, Climate Risks and Development Projects: Assessment Report for a Community-Level Project in Guduru, Oromiya, Ethiopia. Source: http://www.iisd.org/cristaltool/documents/BFA-Ethiopia-Assessment-Report-Eng.pdf
|Title||Shell Oil – The Awful Truth|
|Date released (year)||2010|
|Production company||Protect the human|
|Location||Nigeria/ Niger delta|
|Keywords/tags||Oil, natural resources, civil war|
|Link to film||http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejym4mKelhM&feature=related
|Synopsis||Shell Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. 80% of the oil extraction in Nigeria is in the Niger Delta, the southeast region of the country. The Delta is home to many small minority ethnic groups, including the Ogoni, all of which suffer egregious exploitation by multinational oil companies, like Shell. Shell provides over 50% of the income keeping the Nigerian dictatorship in power.
Although oil from Ogoniland has provided approximately $30 billion to the economy of Nigeria, the people of Ogoni see little to nothing from their contribution to Shell’s pocketbook. Shell has done next to nothing to help Ogoni. By 1996, Shell employed only 88 Ogoni (0.0002% of the Ogoni population, and only 2% of Shell’s employees in Nigeria). Ogoni villages have no clean water, electricity, abysmal health care, no jobs for displaced farmers and fisher persons and face the effects of unrestrained environmental molestation by Shell everyday.
Since Shell began drilling oil in Ogoniland in 1958, the people of Ogoniland have had pipelines built across their farmlands and in front of their homes, suffered endemic oil leaks from these very pipelines, been forced to live with the constant flaring of gas. This environmental assault has smothered land with oil, killed masses of fish and other aquatic life, and introduced devastating acid rain to the land of the Ogoni. For the Ogoni, a people dependent upon farming and fishing, the poisoning of the land and water has had devastating economic and health consequences. Shell claims to clean up its oil spills, but such “clean-ups” consist of techniques like burning the crude which results in a permanent layer of crusted oil metres thick and scooping oil into holes dug in surrounding earth.Both Shell and the government admit that Shell contributes to the funding of the military in the Delta region. Under the auspices of “protecting” Shell from peaceful demonstrators in the village of Umeuchem (10 miles from Ogoni), the police killed 80 people, destroyed houses and vital crops. Shell conceded it twice paid the military for going to specific villages. Although it disputes that the purpose of these excursions was to quiet dissent, each of the military missions paid for by Shell resulted in Ogoni fatalities. Shell has also admitted purchasing weapons for the police force who guard its facilities, and there is growing suspicion that Shell funds a much greater portion of the military than previously admitted.
Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were leaders of MOSOP, the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People. As outspoken environmental and human rights activists, they declared that Shell was not welcome in Ogoniland. On November 10, 1995, they were hanged after a trial by a special military tribunal (whose decisions cannot be appealed) in the murder of four other Ogoni activists. The defendants’ lawyers were harassed and denied access to their clients. Although none of them were near the town where the murders occurred, they were convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that many heads of state strongly condemned for a stunning lack of evidence, unmasked partiality towards the prosecution and the haste of the trial. The executions were carried out a mere eight days after the decision. Two witnesses against the MOSOP leaders admitted that Shell and the military bribed them to testify against Ken Saro-Wiwa with promises of money and jobs at Shell. Ken’s final words before his execution were:
|Reviews/discussion||See the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Factesheet on Shell in Nigeria:
Royal Dutch Shell, plc (Shell) began oil production in the
On November 10, 1995, nine Ogoni leaders (the “Ogoni
Shell acquitted of Nigeria pollution charges
The case involved five allegations of oil spills in Nigeria, four of which were quashed by the court
Plaintiff Nigerian farmer Eric Dooh showing his hand covered with oil from a creek near Goi, Ogoniland, Nigeria. Photograph: Marten Van Dijl/EPA
Shell was acquitted in a Dutch court on Wednesday morning of most of the charges against it for pollution in Nigeria, where disputed oil spills have been a long-running source of contention between the oil company, local people and environmental campaigners.
The case involved five allegations of spills in Nigeria, and four of these were quashed by the court. On the fifth count, Shell was ordered to pay compensation, of an amount yet to be decided.
The case was brought in the Netherlands because of Shell’s dual headquartership, being both Dutch and British, and was brought by four Nigerian farmers co-sponsored by the international green campaigning group Friends of the Earth.
In a statement, Friends of the Earth Netherlands said: “This verdict is great news for the people in lkot Ada Udo who started this case together with Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth Netherlands]. But the verdict also offers hope to other victims of environmental pollution caused by multinationals. At the same time, the verdict is a bitter disappointment for the people in the villages of Oruma and Goi – where the court did not rule to hold Shell liable for the damage. Fortunately, this can still change in an appeal.”
Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa programme director, said: “Clearly it’s good news that one of the plaintiffs in this case managed to clamber over all the obstacles to something approaching justice. However, the fact that the other plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed underscores the very serious obstacles people from the Niger Delta face in accessing justice when their lives have been destroyed by oil pollution.”
Shell’s subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, said the main cause of oil spills in the country was from people taking oil for illegal refineries. Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC said: “We welcome the court’s ruling that all spill cases were caused by criminal activity. Oil pollution is a problem in Nigeria, affecting the daily lives of people in the Niger Delta. However, the vast majority of oil pollution is caused by oil thieves and illegal refiners. This causes major environmental and economic damage, and is the real tragedy of the Niger Delta.”
He added: “SPDC has made great efforts to raise awareness of the issue with the government of Nigeria, international bodies like the UN, the media and NGOs. We will continue to be at the forefront of discussions to find solutions. For SPDC no oil spill is acceptable and we are working hard to improve our performance on operational spills. In the past years we have seen a decline in operational spill volumes. These spills, however, were caused by sabotage and the court has, quite rightly, largely dismissed the claims.”
The case turned on whether Shell was responsible for the spills, through negligence and a failure to invest in proper safety systems of the kind that are required in developed countries, as the campaigners alleged, or whether – as Shell argued – the spills were mainly the result of local people attempting to steal oil from pipelines.
It is understood that the court took the view that four of the spills were caused by sabotage, as people tried to extract oil for their own purposes. In the case of the fifth, the finding was that Shell had been negligent in failing to prevent such sabotage.
But the farmers and green campaigners are expected to appeal against the verdict to a higher court.
Shell is accused of widespread spills across the regions of Nigeria where it operates, but the allegations in question concerned incidents in Goi, Ogoniland, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom.
“There is an atmosphere of celebration here – the community feels that some justice has been done,” said Ken Henshaw, a Niger Delta activist from campaign group Social Action which has closely followed the case. “A precedent has been set, it has been made known that shell can be liable for damages and loss of livelihood.”
“We didn’t win all the cases, but we won one, and that one is a precedent,” Henshaw added. “We are prepared to appeal the other ones. Shell tries to give the impression that the oil spills are caused by sabotage, but we are convincied that it was not sabotage. It is the result of equipment failure and neglect on the part of Shell.”
“We are emboldened by this victory, we feel confident that we will definitely succeed on appeal. This is a major threshold, now that we have crossed it, we can bring more claims. The communities who have had their lives ruined by oil companies now feel galvanized to take action.”
Plantiffs from Ikot Ada Udo, Akwa Ibom State, whose case was successful, said they were now looking forward to compensation for their loss of livelihood.
“We were successful today, and I am happy, I know that the judgment has been divinely directed,” said Elder Friday Akpan, 55, from the Ikot Abasi area of Akwa ibom state, whose 47 catfish farms were destroyed following pollution from an oil spill, a claim which the court upheld as caused by a breach of Shell Nigeria’s duty of care.
“The fishes died completely. I was confused because it left me completely empty,” Akpan added. “I did not have some money to pay school fees for my twelve children, and nothing to allow me to earn my livelihood again. Debts I had borrowed I could not repay. There was nothing for me. I was finished.”
One lawyer involved in the case said that it was right to see it as a victory.
“There are positives and negatives from this case,” said Prince Chima Williams, head the legal affairs department at the Environmental Rights Action group. “It is positive in the sense that the court has found Shell liable for the environmental destruction in Akwa Ibom State. It is positive because it means that Nigerian citizens can now drag Shell to court in Holland for its actions and inactions in their communities.”
“The negative aspect is that the court refused to agree with us Shell’s negligence caused the other oil spills. Because we disagree with the court on that position, and that is why our first priority now is going to be to appeal the judgment,” Williams added.
The case has cast a spotlight on the power which Shell wields in Nigeria, amidst allegations that the Nigerian authorities would not have enforced the judgment had the case been brought in local courts.
“Shell do not admit mistakes,” said Akpan. They would not obey a judgment in a Nigerian court. When they know that the judgment is in Holland it’s better.”
“We considered all the options and the history of litigation in Nigeria before deciding to take the case to Holland,” said Williams. “We could not have confidence in the judiciary in Nigeria because, coming from our experience, when the judiciary gives a judgment, the enforcement of that judgment by the executive becomes a problem.”
“Shell is a very stubborn company, and in Nigeria, in some situations, it is more powerful than the Nigerian government,” Williams added.
Activists believe that the case will have a longer-term effect on attitudes within communities affected by oil spills in Nigeria.
“In the long run a case like this will promote self-help among communities, because they know that if they know they can go to court in Holland, they can obtain a judgment that will be complied with, from which they can reap the benefits” said Williams.
The level of damages is yet to be determined. “In the case itself we didn’t make specific demands for an amount, so the next step will be for the community to assist the court with an assessment of the actual loss that should be compensated,” said Williams.
|Links to other resources||Watts, M. (ed) (2008) Curse of the black gold: 50 years of oil in the Niger Delta. New York: Powerhouse.
Protect the Human: http://www.protectthehuman.com/shell