Tag Archives: Nigeria

Niger Delta pollution: Fisherman at risk amidst the oil

From Will Ross at the BBC on May 30, 2013:

A “pristine paradise” – these are not words you often hear to describe the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. But you get to appreciate the area’s natural beauty whilst wading across lily covered creeks and trekking deep into the forest, accompanied by birdsong.

Welcome to the Niger Delta before the oil. “I’m on the plank now so walk right behind me,” a guide said as we squelched across a muddy swamp trying not to sink in too deep. After walking for about an hour and a half from the village of Kalaba in Bayelsa state, I caught the first glimpse of an expansive tranquil lake through the trees. On the shore are shelters made of wooden poles draped in material. Every two years several families set up a camp at Lake Masi where they fish for just three months.

Fishermen empty bucket of fish

“After preparing the nylon and woven basket nets we go into the lake and drive the fish into one area,” Woloko Inebisa told me. “By fishing every two years we allow the fish to grow large. If we fished every year there would only be very small fish here,” the 78 year old told me as two men in dug out canoes adjusted the nets inside a section of the lake that had been fenced off with cane reeds.

Smoke drifted across the camp as women dried the fish over home made grills above smouldering fires. “I will use this money to pay my children’s school fees, to buy books for them, to buy their school uniforms and to do everything for them,” said mother-of-three Ovie Joe. When these families return to their villages they will continue to grow crops but will have raised some capital from the fishing season. “We have water for drinking and plenty of fish. But I’m not just here to feed my stomach – I’ll save up money for when I go back to the village,” Mr Inebisa said.

Just a few kilometres away near Taylor Creek is a very different picture. An oil spill from June 2012 has left the ground covered in a dark sludge and the trees are all blackened by fire.

Niger Delta fisherman carries net laden with fish out of a creek

Environmentalists believe local contractors often pay youths to set fire to the area where the spill has occurred. This can reduce the spread of the oil but has other detrimental effects on the environment. Despite extensive flooding late last year the oil has not dispersed and there are still signs of the rainbow sheen on the surface.

Your ears also tell you all is not well – there is hardly any birdsong as the pollution has sucked the life out of the area. “When I walked here the crude oil was spilling out so fast I couldn’t even get near the spill point itself,” said Samuel Oburo, a youth leader from Kalaba.

Running through this area is an underground pipeline belonging to Nigeria AGIP Oil Company – which is partly owned by the Italian oil giant, Eni.

Map of Nigeria

It says numerous leaks near Taylor Creek were all caused by people breaking into the pipe – sabotage.

On 23 March Eni issued a statement announcing the closure of all its activities in the area because the theft of oil, known as bunkering, was so rife. “The decision was made due to the intensified bunkering, consisting in the sabotage of pipelines and the theft of crude oil, which has recently reached unsustainable levels regarding both personal safety and damage to the environment,” the statement read. People in the village suggest corroded pipes as a possible trigger of the spill and they doubt it was caused by sabotage.

The breaking of pipes and theft of the oil is so rampant in the Niger Delta that experts believe several interest groups are involved. “There is a high level conspiracy between the security forces, the community and oil workers to steal the oil,” says environmental campaigner Erabanabari Kobah. “That is why people are not prosecuted and convicted even though the crime is happening at an alarming rate,” he says.

There is very little transparency when it comes to the awarding of contracts to clean up any oil spills.

Jeti Matikmo, fisherman carrying a pole on his shoulder with bundles of fish

This has led to increased incidents of sabotage as some believe the more oil spills there are the more money there is to share around. The pollution is having a terrible impact on the environment. “There is oil here. We are suffering,” said Jeti Matikmo, carrying a pole on his shoulder on which bundles of fish were tied. “Many of our crops are not growing well because of the oil spill and we are not killing fish in the ponds anymore. So we have to trek for more than two hours to where it is clean and where there is no oil.”

Back at Lake Masi a crowd gathered as two men waded ashore dragging an enormous woven basket behind them. It was heavy with fish. “There’s nothing like pollution here. Although if the oil prospecting companies come they may find oil and all that could change,” said Mr Inebisa. “If this pond is polluted, hunger is the answer,” he said adding that in his entire life he had not gained a single coin from the oil of the Niger Delta.

An interview from the NGO field

I had the opportunity to interact with many NGO actors in the Niger Delta. An incredibly helpful organization for me was Social Action in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The Executive Director of Social Action introduced me to Fyneface D. Fyneface, who eventually became a research assistant. To offer a Nigerian’s perspective, below are some his answers to my questions about the issue of Nigerian oil.

Q: Describe the relationship between law and reforming the oil problem.

A: Nigerian law allows the oil companies to come in and operate in the region. Yet, the oil companies do not obey the laws that are supposed to protect the environment and make the people benefit from the resources in their land, thus, making the “black gold” a curse rather than a blessing to the people. The people have reacted to the underdevelopment, unemployment, environmental and social problems in the region through different struggles, including protests, litigation and lately, militancy by idle youths in the name of fighting the Niger Delta cause from the angle they deem fit. Yet, no significant change or reform has been noticed in the oil sector as expected by the people of the region.

Q: Does litigation help the Niger Delta cause?

A: Litigation has not helped the Niger Delta to find solutions to the oil problem. This is because many Niger Deltans see an oil company as too big for them to sue as an individual, especially as they don’t have the money to go into litigation with an oil company that is richer, and also because they’re aware that they cannot get justice—not in their life times and not even in foreign courts. Examples are the popular Royal Dutch Shell Vs. Kiobel in the U.S. Supreme court, and the Niger Delta Four Farmers vs. Royal Dutch Shell at The Hague in which the court blamed the woes of the people on “sabotage”.

Q: What does the average Niger Deltan think about the role of law in solving oil problems?

A: The average Niger Deltan does not think the law can play any significant role in solving the Niger Delta problem. Not only because they have not see any successful land-mark judgment, but also because they lack confidence in the law in resolving the problems. The oil industry laws in Nigeria can only bark but cannot bite. An example is the law on gas flaring, which even the Nigerian government has not been able to implement to force the oil companies to stop the flaring that has been occurring since the 1950′s. A typical Niger Deltan would tell you that it is only God that can solve the problems for them, not the law, not the government, and not even the international community.

Remarks on social services in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

 

An NGO researcher just conducted an interview with me regarding the state of service delivery, i.e. social and government services, in the Niger Delta. Below are a few of the transcribed questions and answers.

 

1. How would you describe the current state of service delivery[1] for most communities in the Niger Delta? 

Service delivery is non-existent in most areas, and sporadic or haphazard in the remaining ones.  I think that part of the reason communities so often look to oil companies to offer social services and build basic infrastructure is that the state has been so wholly unable to do any of these things since independence.  It is as if communities have given up on their own government ever acting as a government should, which requires providing basic services to its population. As is common in countries with rampant corruption, projects often begin but then are abandoned because funds disappeared or there was a change in management of that project. In the Niger Delta there are half-finished bridges, classrooms without roofs, and empty hospitals that don’t even have electricity. Additionally, a lack of human capital and maintenance of services mean that as soon as any project is finished, it will only be a matter of time until it is useless because no one can perform maintenance.  It seems that almost as soon as a road is finished, poor construction materials mean that it needs to be fixed again but there is mechanism in which to have that road repaired. This lack of maintenance is an issue that only capacity-building can address.

2. Whose responsibility do you believe it is to improve service delivery in the region, e.g. government agencies like MNDA or the NDDC, or oil companies operating in the region?

It is responsibility of government agencies to improve social services.  The basis of democracy is that citizens pay taxes to their government, vote for their leaders, and then those leaders use those taxes in a responsible manner to provide necessary collective goods that improve everyone’s lives.  Because the Nigerian government can rely on oil profits rather than taxes, and corruption makes elections less meaningful, there is no accountability of state actors towards the citizenry. Part of this government duty is to monitor the behavior of private economic actors like oil companies. Although I believe staunchly in corporate responsibility, it is impossible for a corporation to fully monitor itself; by definition monitoring must come from an outside party, like a government agency.

3. What impact do you think the current state of service delivery has on peace and conflict in the Niger Delta region? 

Lack of service delivery has increased rates of poverty and negatively impacted quality of life, which gives people “nothing to lose” when it comes to engaging in violence.  It also creates a dynamic in which too many people are competing for scant social services and resources, leading to increased tensions. Poverty and lack of services drives rural dwellers into cities like Port Harcourt and Yenagoa, where they may come into conflict with residents already living there, be forced into crime out of necessity, and and don’t have kinship or community networks that would otherwise mitigate their propensity for violence.

 4. Do you think that improved service delivery would increase security in the region?

Yes. Mostly obviously, it would remove violence caused by need, in other words, conflicts over obtaining basic goods.  Additionally, it would remove the incentive for rural Nigerians to move to new areas in search of such services, thus minimizing the conflict that occurs among internally displaces populations and between new urban dwellers and older ones.


[1] “Service delivery” means the quality and availability of essential services, such as health care, primary education,  and basic infrastructure such as reliable access to water, electricity, and road networks.

Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

The Economist’s Take on Recent Reforms in West Africa

Bye-bye Big Men

Governance in much of Africa is visibly improving, though progress is uneven

Infrastructure meets tradition

LEAVING THE IVORIAN commercial capital, Abidjan, at 7am, you run straight into what is known as the civil-servant rush hour. The president has decreed that administrators must be at their desks by 7.30am, and most are. A Western ambassador says disbelievingly, “If you are five minutes late for a meeting, you have missed the first five minutes.” Having travelled to the office on elevated dual carriageways, civil servants leap into lifts and ride up to their desks on the upper floors of modern glass towers. Some sneakily keep an iPad or some other electronic gadget with which to while away the time.

Governance in Côte d’Ivoire is rarely as good as it looks. Bribes still solve problems faster than meetings. The opposition spitefully boycotted the most recent elections. Deep cleavages run across the political landscape. And yet the national accounts are in order, debts are coming down and new roads are being built. This is the picture in much of Africa. The allocation of power is becoming fairer and its use more competent, as in Ghana, though there is much more to do, especially in resource-rich nations like Nigeria.

African governments are beginning to accept the importance of good governance, not least for improving the lot of the poor. Rulers travelling on presidential planes strut their stuff at the World Economic Forum in Davos and declare their undying interest in “capacity-building”. Behind the jargon a remarkable change is taking place. The default means of allocating power in Africa now is to hold elections, and elections are generally becoming fairer. Sceptics rightly bemoan voter fraud and intimidation, and plenty of polls are still stolen. But the margins of victory that autocrats dare to award themselves are shrinking. Indeed, quite a few have discovered, in forced retirement, that by allowing notional democracy they have started something they cannot stop.

Until 1991 it was almost unknown for a ruling party to be peacefully ousted at the polls. Since Benin ticked up a first in that year it has happened almost three dozen times. In many countries such an event cements tentative gains, as it did in Ghana in 1992 and again in 2000. Crossing the border from Côte d’Ivoire into Ghana, the visitor immediately becomes aware that democratic expression here is unrestrained. An election is under way and supporters of the ruling party and the opposition cheerfully line one side of the road each, holding megaphones and waving banners. Opinion polls put the two main parties neck-and-neck even though the present government has achieved impressive economic growth: GDP increased by 14% in 2011.

After a few hours on the road, just past the city of Takoradi, the country’s economic turbo-charger comes into view. Pipelines run along the road and diggers make huge holes for storage tanks. A vast oilfield has been found nearby, but celebrations were muted. Ghanaians know that a resource bonanza can be dangerous and politicians may get greedy, so administrators are now being trained in handling a large influx of oil revenues. At a leafy campus with neatly trimmed grass on the outskirts of Accra, the capital, they learn about transparency, accountability and the intricacies of transfer pricing.

This stuff matters. Some of the biggest obstacles to better governance are not murderous tyrants but a lack of bureaucratic competence and a divided opposition. Ageing autocrats die eventually, but bad habits will not go away of their own accord. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator, now aged 89, could be deposed if rivals, with whom he has been forced to share power since the most recent election, were better at their jobs. Still, in neighbouring Zambia opposition politicians outmanoeuvred a tired government in 2011 and took office.

Luckily, competence is on the rise in Africa. White elephants are still being created, but are now generally designed to serve larger and more inclusive groups of people. South Africa’s football stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup (pictured) are in that category, as are many new dams and airports.

Politicians and officials are learning new skills to run such projects. It is hard to quantify the change, but traipsing in and out of ministries across the continent builds up a measure of confidence. There are plenty of shortcomings and allegations of corruption, but in a fair number of African countries the bureaucracies are not far behind standards in, say, India.

Transport management in particular has become much better. A bus ride from Accra across three African borders in one day is instructive. Departing at sunrise, the 15-seater easily crosses into Togo where it passes well-run port installations and warehouses. An hour later it arrives in Benin. The driver ignores the outstretched hands of traffic policemen. After a few more hours the bus reaches Nigeria amid throngs of packed lorries on their way to Onitsha, Africa’s largest market. Most of the bus passengers are professionals, including several telecoms engineers who commute weekly. All four countries have sensible transit policies and trade actively with each other.

White elephants are still being created, but now generally for larger and more inclusive groups of people

What has brought about this change? Across Africa both voters and leaders are better educated than they were even half a generation ago. Many of those in power are the first in their families with a university degree. Standards of political debate have risen thanks to better schools, modern media and the return of diaspora members who bring new ideas with them.

One lesson in particular seems to have sunk in: the need for solid and durable institutions. In the past, good practice all too often lapsed quickly after a change of incumbent. Foreign advisers ram home the need for institution-building. “Everyone is nagging us about it, from TB to Mo,” says an Oxford-educated official, referring to Tony Blair, a former British prime minister who now runs an African governance initiative, and Mo Ibrahim, an Anglo-Sudanese telecoms billionaire who awards prizes for political leadership.

Size matters here. Benin is nicely democratic—it has more political parties than cities—but with a mere 9m people it carries little weight. Nigeria, on the other hand, has 160m, so along with Kenya and South Africa it sets the tone in regional meetings and institutions—and it still struggles to get things right. When the parliament’s speaker needed a bit of extra cash before leaving office in 2011 (on top of more than $1m a year he got in pay and expenses) he gave himself a $65m government loan. He was charged but later acquitted.

Nigeria is famous for corruption, yet at issue is more than thievery. Members of the elite systematically loot state coffers, then subvert the electoral system to protect themselves. Everybody knows it, and a few straight arrows in the government talk about it openly. Perhaps half the substantial (but misreported) oil revenues of Africa’s biggest oil producer go missing. Moderate estimates suggest that at least $4 billion-8 billion is stolen every year, money that could pay for schools and hospitals. One official reckons the country has lost more than $380 billion since independence in 1960. Yet not a single politician has been imprisoned for graft. The day that Nigeria works properly, the battle for Africa’s future will have been won.

One step at a time

Such an outcome is not inconceivable. Take Lagos, the commercial capital, long a byword for chaos and skulduggery. The bus from Accra inches forward on an eight-lane bridge in dense traffic. The last 30 miles take longer than the previous 300. The city is choking. Roads jam up daily. Commuters sometimes sleep in their cars. Businessmen schedule at most two out-of-office meetings a day. Built on a swamp by the Atlantic, Lagos spreads out unplanned. Two out of three residents live in wooden slums. Already home to 20m people, the city is expected to double in size within a generation. When most of the public infrastructure was built in the 1970s, the population was perhaps 2m.

But help is on the way. The governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, has begun an impressive campaign to clean up the city. Yaba bus station, where the bus eventually arrives at 9pm, used to be full of pickpockets and rowdy vendors. Now there is an orderly queue for taxis. The Chinese are building a vast urban rail network. Public buses have been assigned separate lanes. When the governor heard they were being used by unauthorised vehicles, he strode out one morning and made a citizen arrest of a stunned colonel.

The governor is playing to the crowd, but why not? The transformation of Lagos is worth trumpeting. Its economy is now bigger than the whole of Kenya’s. Tax revenue has increased from $4m to $97m a month in little more than a decade. Tax rates have stayed the same but the amounts being collected have risen dramatically thanks to the deployment of private tax “farmers” who get a commission.

Better governance is creeping beyond the metropolis. When your correspondent e-mails the governor of Ekiti state in impoverished central Nigeria he gets a reply within minutes, with the entire cabinet copied in and being told to assist with a visit. After a six-hour drive north, seven interviews across the capital, Ado Ekiti, are arranged in the space of a few hours. Cabinet members are mostly foreign-educated and highly motivated and have private-sector experience. A new employment agency sends out job advertisements by text message. All secondary-school pupils are getting free laptops with solar panels. All civil servants, including teachers, are tested annually; those who fail stand to lose their job.

To be sure, this sort of governance is still the exception. A visit to the capital, Abuja, another six-hour drive north flanked by red earth dotted with filthy shacks, is sobering. The seat of government moved here two decades ago to escape swampy Lagos; now it is as chaotic as the former capital. A programme to subsidise fuel alone cost the government $6.8 billion in theft in three years (on top of the billions wasted on the market-distorting subsidy itself). Shady deals between officials and oil companies have swallowed an estimated $29 billion in the past decade. Yet more than half of all Nigerians live on less than $1 per day and get almost no electricity because the grid has collapsed.

Still, even Abuja is not without hope. Inside gleaming ministerial palaces dotted along new ring roads a band of reformers is at work. They are in a minority, but seemingly fearless. The central-bank governor has started cleaning up the financial sector. The finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who recently published a memoir entitled “Reforming the Unreformable”), is reducing fuel subsidies and thus the scope for theft. A special task force in the president’s office is privatizing electricity assets. The reformers have encountered strong opposition, as much from an understandably suspicious public as from the wily crooks who stand to lose out. The good guys are winning, but it will be a long time before they triumph.

The Council on Foreign Relations tracks security in Nigeria

Council on Foreign Relations

Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.

One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”

Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now.  It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well.  The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.

The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”

This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:

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Birth rates in Africa

deltalaine:

African baby carrier

I came across this blog post about the number of countries in Africa (54) after reading about world birth rates on the CIA World Factbook site. In looking at a list of the countries in the world with the highest birth rates, I saw that with the exception of Afghanistan and East Timor, all top thirty were African countries. Niger has the highest birthrate in the world (and is considered the poorest by most measurements) and Nigeria is ranked #13. Seeing those 28 slots taken by African countries made me think that that must be over half of Africa, and it is.

Originally posted on Blogala Maho:

The UN membership roster contains 54 African states, and that of the African Union contains 53. While the AU list includes suspended members, it does not include a count for Morocco, who has decided to stay out of the AU. Thus AU’s implied total can also be said to be 54. Of these, 48 states are found on the actual continent, while 6 are island nations.

However, Africa is about to get a brand new country. Within less than two weeks, South Sudan will hold a referendum on whether or not to secede from the rest of Sudan. If it does secede, which currently seems likely, it would mean that the new total will soon be 55, right? Well, no, because the current total of 54 is true only to some degree.

Before I go on: what’s a country, anyway? I’m going to be somewhat untechnical here and use ‘country’…

View original 1,065 more words

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A powerful image of oil…

Video

Gay rights in Uganda

Fortunately, the issue of gay rights in Africa, in Uganda specifically, seems to be cropping up more frequently. Uganda has a reputation (with Nigeria following close behind) for being one of the most oppressive and dangerous countries for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Africans. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposed death for H.I.V.-positive gay men and prison for anyone who didn’t report a known homosexual was aside for now, but politicians are currently drafting a new version. An impetus behind their decision to table it was the brutal murder of famed LGBT rights activist, David Kato, who was bludgeoned after a local tabloid calling for the murder of gays published his name, photo and address. He was head of SMUG, or Sexual Minorities Uganda.

David-Kato-Uganda

His story was covered fairly well in the Ugandan and domestic media, with The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Economist highlighting the crime. There was such much attention that two Americans debuted a documentary about Kato and the Ugandan LGBT, or “kuchu,” struggle called “Call me Kuchu.”

 

Most prominent international non-profits, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Oxfam publicly decried his murder and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as one would expect. Surprisingly though, while doing research on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that helping improve LGBT rights in Uganda is on the agenda for the U.S. Congress in the upcoming year.  Hillary Clinton has made public statements voicing support for improved protections for the LGBT community in Uganda, a pleasant compliment to Obama’s watershed reference to gay rights in his recent Inaugural address. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has immense sway in coloring some aspects of public policy in sub-Sahara, and hopefully their focus on this issue will be an example of positive influence.

Despite such an effort at improving human rights in Uganda, an immense challenge comes from staunch conservatives in the U.S., specifically Evangelical Christians. According to filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Ugandan religious leaders who support human rights, fundamentalist Christian churches are investing huge sums of money into backing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, supporting pastors who preach anti-gay sermons, and financing revivals and classes with heteronormative messages.

 

 

In researching human rights in Uganda, I couldn’t help comparing the situation to observations I made in Nigeria about anti-homosexuality legislation (and fundamentalist Christianity imported from the U.S.). The Nigerian Anti-Gay Bill that passed in the fall of 2011 prescribes 14 years imprisonment for convicted homosexuals.  I was less surprised by the legislation than by the widespread support it seemed to enjoy among my neighbors and friends. Truly, I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t seem to advocate it, usually based on totally erroneous ideas about what same-sex relationships are all about.  When I would bring up sex-related rights issues that seemed pressing for me, such as rape and child prostitution, the Nigerians I spoke with felt that homosexuality was far more alarming.  I couldn’t imagine how a consensual relationship between two adults could be troubling, let alone more troubling than child sex trafficking, but for many I spoke with it was.

A very brief chronology of the Nigerian oil economy

English: Flag of the Organization of Petroleum...

A colleague of mine casually asked me yesterday about Nigeria’s oil economy after independence.  Many isolated events and economic explanations came to mind, but I was surprised when I couldn’t give her a succinct chronology. I thought I would write a paragraph or two to remedy this.

More Nigerians slowly moved from subsistence agriculture to private enterprise around independence, and oil, which had been discovered three years earlier, quickly become the basis of economic growth. Shell had been the first to commercially drill in the country, but in 1960 other companies such as Mobil and Agip were competing for their own stake.  Hopes were high. Oil profitability was greatest during the “Golden Decade” of the 1970s, in which Nigeria became the wealthiest country in Africa. Between 1958 and 1974, production rose from just over 5000 to 2.3 million barrels per day and government revenue increased from N200,000 to N3.7 billion. Within two years, state profit increased by almost 50% to an all-time high of N5.3 billion in 1976. Nigeria bolstered profits when it joined OPEC in 1971, an organization which helped to construct the global petroleum scarcity, and thus the massive profitability of fossil fuels at the time. The economic prosperity was short-lived however.

 

In accordance with the resource curse, the 1970’s oil boom led to a near complete economic crash in the following decade. Nigeria had made an almost total shift away from the traded and diversified agricultural sector to the non-traded sector of petroleum, and projected revenues for petroleum were high. Based on this, President Murtala Mohammed spent and borrowed billions on grand-scale modernization projects.   However, such spending and borrowing in a mono-economy proved highly problematic during the sharp decrease in world oil prices under Babangida in the 1980s. Domestic inflation became so high that even basic food stuffs become too expensive for consumers and Nigeria had to default on numerous debts. To create more jobs for Nigerians, the government forced out the thousands of West African workers who had immigrated to the country to take advantage of the employment in the formerly booming economy.  Rather than take a conditional IMF loan like Ghana did, the government implemented a controversial Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that proved largely unsuccessful. The economic decline was so severe that by 1989 Nigeria was labeled a low-income country and qualified for World Bank assistance.

 

Despite a slight revival in the 1990s, the economy has yet to recover to early 1970’s levels of prosperity. Today, ¾ of Nigerians live below the poverty line, in a country that produces around 2.6 billion barrels of oil daily. Petroleum accounts for 80% of budgetary revenues and as a result, high inflation has hurt investments for the average Nigerian and made international investment aside from fossil fuels a near impossibility. Few jobs in the oil sector have been created for Nigerians and wealth distribution is grossly unequal. Robert Bates argues the Nigerian oil crisis and subsequent loss of export taxes is what caused the state to become predatory for its income, thus laying the groundwork for today’s poor and often corrupt governance.

 

So, there is the short of it, more or less. There was steady growth of the oil sector in the 1960s, a complete boom in the 1970s that created the “oil state” as we know it, a crash in the 1980s, then a slight improvement in oil revenue in the 1990s that leveled out to what we have today.