Conflict Minerals Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo

Title Conflict   Minerals Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo
Director(s) Suroosh Alvi
Date released (year) 2011
Production company Vice
Length 38mins
Location Congo
Keywords/tags Minerals, mining, civil war,   violence
Link to film
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

By Karen Allen
BBC News, South Kivu

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.

Predatory militias

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.

‘Abnormal situation’

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.


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]
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See Blood Coltan:

Colonialism in 10 Minutes: The Scramble For Africa


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
Length 10mins
Location Uganda
Keywords/tags Colonialism, civil war, natural resources
Link to film
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.

Reviews/discussion Uganda Rising

                                                                      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:


Thomas Pakenham (1992) The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s   Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912. See:

Welcome to Lagos

Title BBC’s Welcome to Lagos
Director(s) Solomon Sydelle
Date released (year) 2010
Production company BBC
Length 10.11mins
Location Lagos Nigeria
Keywords/tags Toxic waste, poverty, violence
Link to film
Synopsis First 10 minutes of the   Part 1 of the documentary.

Three part observational   documentary series which explores life at the sharp end of one of the most   extreme urban environments in the world: Lagos, Nigeria

Reviews/discussion Economy: Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil   producer; more than half of its people live in poverty(


From the program editor’s blog:

First   stop was the city’s main dump site, Olusosun. This definitely   isn’t on the tourist trail of Lagos, but then Lagos doesn’t have much of a   tourist industry at the moment. Some 5,000 people work on the dump, and we   were immediately struck by how organised and efficient everything was.

As well as all the   scavengers working behind the dump trucks, grabbing anything and everything   they could to re-sell to the re-processing factories, there were shops, bars,   restaurants, a mosque, a barbers, and even a cinema.

The longer we hung   out on the dump (it very soon became one of our favourite places to film,   because the people were all so friendly there) the more astonishing it   became. It turned out that the scavengers even had their own form of   democratically elected chairman, who sorted out any arguments or   disagreements.

The dump became   symbolic of everything we were trying to achieve in the films. It looks at   first sight like a rough, lawless, dangerous place, and most people in this   country will be horrified to see people working there.

But in actual fact,   through the eyes of the people who actually DO work there, it’s a   well-organised place where there’s good money to be earned. Decent, honest   people choose to work there, preferring a life of grime to a life of crime.   Some of them are university graduates.

They are proud of   the fact that they earn an honest living, and are making a better life for   themselves and their families through sheer determination and hard work.

We realised the   scavengers were people to be admired rather than pitied, and it changed our   whole perspective on the place. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, so why   should we feel sorry for them? We decided that the   films should celebrate their resourcefulness, and challenge our   audience’s views of what poverty is.

After the dump we   went to Makoko,   an extraordinary floating slum, where everyone travels round in boats. Some   people call it Lagos’s version of Venice.

There’s 100,000   people living on houses built on stilts, and after a week or so of drifting   around in boats, stopping at people’s houses and talking to them, we stumbled   across Mr Chubbey, who went on to become the star of programme   two.

He has 18 children   to look after, and is always on the look out for some scheme or another which   will help him make more money. He’s like a character from Only Fools And Horses, buying selling,   wheeling and dealing, doing dodgy deals and getting by on his charm and his   luck. All that’s missing is the camel skin coat.

The last film is set   on a beach right in the heart of the swankiest part of town. It sounds   idyllic – white sands, clear blue Atlantic waters, baking hot sunny days –   and in many ways it is.

But it is also home   to 1,000 or so squatters, who have built homes on the sand because they have   nowhere else to go. After a couple of trips, walking along the sands,   explaining what we were doing to the inquisitive children, we met Esther, a   sparky, intelligent, beautiful young woman who had been staying on the beach   for the last six years.

She lived with her   husband Segun in a little house which they had built themselves out of scrap   wood, cardboard and old tarpaulins. It probably cost them about £80.

But when Esther and   her husband started to have problems in their marriage, and it looked like   they were going to split up, they used to have terrible arguments about who   was going to get the house – every bit as vicious as they would be if they   were living in a mansion in Beverley Hills.

We realised then   that all our characters, wherever they lived, however extreme their working   environment, went through all of the same things which we do in the West –   love, heartbreak, marriages, births, deaths etc. It’s just that they live on   a different scale to us, in the slums of the fastest growing city in the   world, and with no money. This forces them to be more resourceful, energetic,   and optimistic than most people in the West.

And yes, they may be   terribly poor, but that doesn’t stop them being human and, if the films have   succeeded, then I hope they’ve succeeded in showing that.


Links to other resources Watts,   M. (ed) (2008) Curse of the black gold: 50 years of   oil in the Niger Delta. New York: Powerhouse.


The Curse of Black Gold film

When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts


When The Water   Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts

Director(s) Jennifer Redfearn
Date released (year) 2010
Production company Yale Environment 360
Length 20 minutes
Location Ethiopia, Kenya
Keywords/tags Civil war, climate change,   desertification, food security, violence
Link to film
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:

See related discussions at:

Marius Keller, Climate   Risks and Development Projects: Assessment Report for a Community-Level   Project in Guduru, Oromiya, Ethiopia. Source:


Shell Oil – The Awful Truth

Title Shell Oil – The Awful Truth
Date released (year) 2010
Production company Protect the human
Length 2.30mins
Location Nigeria/   Niger delta
Keywords/tags Oil, natural   resources, civil war
Link to film
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:
“The struggle continues!”


Reviews/discussion See the Centre for Constitutional Rights,   Factesheet on Shell in Nigeria:

Royal Dutch Shell, plc (Shell) began oil   production in the
Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958 and has a long
history of working closely with the Nigerian government to
quell popular opposition to its presence in the region. From
1990-1995, Nigerian soldiers, at Shell’s request and with
Shell’s assistance and financing, used deadly force and
conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people
living in the Niger Delta to repress a growing movement in
protest of Shell.

On November 10, 1995, nine Ogoni leaders (the “Ogoni
Nine”) were executed by the Nigerian government after
being falsely accused of murder and tried by a speciallycreated
military tribunal. Those executed were internationally
acclaimed environmental and human rights activist Ken
Saro-Wiwa, prominent youth leader John Kpuinen, Dr.
Barinem Kiobel, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel
Gbokoo, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate and Baribor Bera. The
detention, trial, and executions of the Ogoni Nine were the
result of collusion between Shell and the military government to suppress   opposition to Shell’s oil operations in Nigeria. The Center for   Constitutional Rights (CCR),
EarthRights International (ERI) and other human rights
attorneys sued Shell for human rights violations against the
Ogoni. The case will go to trial on May 26, 2009 in
federal court in New York City.


Shell acquitted of Nigeria pollution charges

The case involved five   allegations of oil spills in Nigeria, four of which were quashed by the court

Fiona Harvey, environment   correspondent, and Afua Hirsch, The Guardian, Wednesday   30 January 2013 11.31 GMT:

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:

     8:34           The Video Shell Oil Desperately Doesn’t   Want You to See
     4:50           The people of Nigeria versus Shell   (English)

     9:31           Ken Saro-Wiwa: his last interview, part I

     3:07           Gas Flares, Oil Companies and Politics In   Nigeria.
     22:38           Oil War
     8:52           The Awful Truth