Blood and Oil in Nigeria
Since 2006, Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region has been plagued by violence against oil production facilities – including the bombing of pipelines and kidnapping of foreign oil workers for ransom. Militants in the impoverished region turned to violence because they said the Nigerian government was not sharing the profits from Delta oil wells and pipelines.
CIA World Factbook map
Meanwhile, millions of dollars in crude oil has been stolen each year – either by diversion through illegal taps or fraud in shipping.
Last year, Nigeria's president, Umaru Musa Yar'dua, reached an agreement with thousands of militants in the Delta, who laid down their arms in exchange for amnesty, monthly payments, job training and economic development in their densely-populated but poor region.
But the government was slow to act on its promises. Violence has flared up again with the kidnapping of four oil workers from Syria and Lebanon earlier this month. Two bombs were set off in March outside a meeting in the Delta to discuss the amnesty program.
Nigeria's acting president, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan – himself a Delta native -- has pledged to address the region's problems.
But in order for Nigeria's oil industry to return to previous productivity, there must be stability in the Delta and safeguards against the diversion of oil from pipelines by militants, says a top Shell Oil official. Thijs Jurgens, Shell's senior adviser for sub Saharan Africa government relations, says an increase in “regional security and surveillance” is needed in the Gulf of Guinea off Nigeria's coast.
Oil diversion and theft “are rife” in the area, Jurgens said during a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank.
Oil is the main source of Nigeria's revenue – about 40 percent of GDP – and most of it is exported to the U.S. But production has declined since 2005 largely – but not entirely – due to sabotage and theft, Jurgens told the CSIS gathering. Shell, one of the largest oil companies in Nigeria, the world's fifth largest oil producing nation, has seen its production drop more than 200,000 barrels per day between 2008 and 2009.
Jurgens said his company was working with the British government to “fingerprint” oil shipments to keep track of their points of origin and prevent them being waylaid. He also said other governments could help track vessels leaving Nigeria's oil production area.
Five years ago, a former U.S. chief of naval operations told another CSIS gathering that it would take about $100 million to develop a system for monitoring maritime traffic in the Delta region, said David Goldwyn, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for International Energy Affairs. “It would probably cost $900 million today,” but the expense would be worth it to Nigeria's government which funds about 95 percent of its budget through oil revenues, he added.
The U.S. and Nigeria have set up a Bi-National Commission and one of the first issues to be addressed will be aviation security. The suspect in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner over Detroit last Christmas was a Nigerian national.
Teaching Children to Kill
A Human Rights Watch report on the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a murderous band of renegades in Central Africa, was the subject of another CSIS gathering.
Despite claims by military officials in Uganda and Congo that the LRA is no longer a viable threat, Human Rights Watch says the Ugandan rebel group is plundering villages, killing inhabitants and kidnapping children in a remote area where Uganda, Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic meet.
CIA World Factbook Map
The LRA, which Ugandan authorities have been battling for more than 20 years, is alive and well, according to Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. She and Paul Ronan of Resolve Uganda, a civil society organization, outlined LRA's depredations, including a four-day attack in the Makombo area of northeastern Congo that left 321 dead. Another 250 people were abducted including 80 children.
Van Woudenberg, who traveled to the region in February and interviewed survivors, said only two victims were shot. The others were killed with machetes, clubs and axes.
Joseph Kony, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, heads the LRA -- which only numbers about 200-400 hardcore fighters but sustains its ranks by kidnapping young people and turning them into equipment bearers and child soldiers. Van Woudenberg said children who have escaped the LRA said they were forced to kill other children who disobeyed rules or could not keep up on the line of march.
Uganda, Congo and southern Sudan – with logistical and intelligence support from the U.S. military -- launched an attack on the LRA, called Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008. But the LRA split up and attacked locations hundreds of kilometers apart in Congo and Sudan.
Ronan noted legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress to support multilateral efforts for protecting civilians from the LRA. It would authorize funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction and reconciliation.
Human Rights Watch called on the international community – especially the U.S. Britain and France – to develop a comprehensive strategy, in conjunction with the region's governments, to protect civilians and apprehend the LRA's leaders.
For more details see my Blog 4GWAR.