Friday, 13 November 2009

In solidarity with the indigenous people of the Niger Delta

Today, Reuters reports that "Suspected oil thieves in Nigeria have increased their attacks on Royal Dutch Shell-operated (RDSa.L) oil facilities." According to the company, "thieves sabotaged five oil wellheads in the oil-producing Niger Delta since Aug. 14, some resulting in fires." "Some estimates say 100,000 barrels of crude are stolen from the Niger Delta each day, about five percent of the country's crude production and equivalent to around $7.75 million daily or $2.8 billion a year at current prices." However, "no production was affected since most of the oilfields were already shutdown because of insecurity in the region."

The insecurity in question is the ongoing ethnic conflict in the Delta region, sparked by the exploitation of indigeonous peoples there. According to an Amnesty International report produced in June this year, "decades of pollution and environmental damage, caused by the oil industry, have resulted in violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including food and water, violations of the right to gain a living through work and violations of the right to health." In particular, that "the government of Nigeria has given the oil companies the authority to deal with matters that have a direct bearing on human rights, without adequate oversight – and oftentimes without any oversight" is a significant problem;
When communities suffer environmental harm, they are frequently left to negotiate with the oil companies on action to address the problem and obtain redress. This process has fundamentally undermined access to effective remedy, contributed to ongoing violations and led to deeper poverty and deprivation.
All of which is exacerbated by "the level of dependence of Nigeria on oil and the fact that the Nigerian government is the majority partner in joint ventures." According to Amnesty, "multinational oil companies" and the Nigerian government bear the brunt of responsibility for the situation as it stands.

In its background coverage of the conflict, the BBC interviews Chief Sunday Inengite, who remembers with "sour regret" how foreign oil engineers "made us be happy and clap like fools, dance as if we were trained monkeys" at the discovery of oil in 1953. In the intervening years, "the environment has been damaged, affecting fish catches, and the small plots of land where people had grown crops are polluted by oil spills and gas flares," whilst the indigenous tribes "have not seen much of the money made" by the production.

Hence the situation today, which the corporate media continues to describe in terms of "theives," "criminals," and "rebels," echoing the rhetoric (and thus the stance) of the Nigerian government and oil companies. Even the BBC, which shows some sympathy to the "chaos and misery" faced by the people of the Delta, focuses its analyses upon the "bunkering" of the oil smugglers, and the government's international pleas for help, rather than on the actions of state and capital which first ignited and continue to stoke the troubles the region now faces.

The difference in perspective can be seen in the language used by the "impartial" broadcaster. Of those engaged in "bunkering," it is stated quite matter-of-factly that their trade "leaves in its wake chaos and misery for the people of the Niger Delta." However, oil companies such as Shell are "accused" of "complicity" in human rights abuses, but "den[y] any wrongdoing." That degree of ambiguity and doubt, not afforded those without significant state/corporate power, remains. Also telling is the suggestion that the corporation's "humanitarian gesture" to buy the silence of the families of torture and abuse victims, should "affect the current violent struggle" in any positive way.

No, as Amnesty suggest, "millions of people in the Niger Delta have seen their lives and livelihoods destroyed by Shell's approach to oil production." The only way to move towards any genuine peace in the region is to force Shell to "clean up its act." If you wish to support their campaign, then you can take various actions in support of the people of the Delta by following the link here.

Ultimately, however, it will be the actions of the indigenous of the Niger Delta themselves which are key to forcing an end to the injustice and exploitation. They might well take their example form indigenous peoples in Ecuador and Colombia who, as the Anarchist Federation tells us, have been drawing attention to their plight through direct action;
Motorways all over Ecuador were blockaded for days in late September as people from indigenous communities all over the country made their way to Quito to protest the destruction of their homelands by multinational mining and petroleum companies. Despite the anti-imperialist rhetoric of “21st Century Socialism” (in the same vein as Hugo Chavez and the rest of ALBA, the “Bolivarian Alliance”), the government of Rafael Correa has repeatedly granted concessions to the US and European corporations (as has Chavez in Venezuela). The internationally condemned destruction of Ecuador's Yasuní rainforest and the lives of the Waorani people who inhabit it by the oil company Texaco last year is just one example of multinationals simultaneously wiping out traditional communities and destroying some of the most biodiverse regions in the world in the pursuit of profit. As if this wasn’t enough, Correa's “Socialist” government is now planning on privatising much of the country’s water supply, for which the indigenous people will yet again suffer the most. The mass mobilisation at the end of September coincided with a national wave of university occupations, and students' and teachers' marches, as Correa attempts to end Ecuador’s constitutional guarantee of free university education. There have been problems linking these two struggles as the Stalinist dominated students' and teachers' organisations and the CONAIE leadership of “chieftains” were unable to get their act together enough to have a meeting, with the tiny anarchist movement unable to do anything but look on in despair. However, in a country where the past two governments have been brought down through popular pressure this confluence of forces is a potentially revolutionary mixture, partly explaining the brutality of the State’s repression so far: at least two students in Quito have been in jail without charge for over a month, and an indigenous leader was shot dead by police during the mobilisation. See Ecuador indymedia for further developments.

Meanwhile in Colombia the confluence of different social forces behind a shared political platform is even more pronounced as the MINGA Social y Comunitaria is under way. The MINGA started as an indigenous mobilisation around the same issues of multinationals displacing indigenous peoples and destroying their territory, except in Colombia the corporations are backed up by brutal paramilitary forces who operate with impunity thanks to their links with the Uribe government. Last October the people of the Cauca region marched hundreds of miles to Bogotá to camp on the grounds of the National University, where they made links with workers’ and students' organisations. This year, throughout the month of October, a series of demonstrations and “people's congresses” all around the country is building the MINGA into a mass movement inclusive of all of society, reinterpreting the original five-point programme of the Cauca peoples for the context of each locality, spreading the struggle across class lines. The MINGA is supported by Colombia's fledgling anarchist movement, as it offers an alternative form of radical politics to the Marxist-Leninist Guerrilla groups, such as FARC, whose corruption, kidnappings and forced “revolutionary taxes” in the areas they control have alienated much of Colombian society. In a country dominated by a corrupt, drug-trafficking, paramilitary-sponsoring, neoliberal gangster like Uribe (currently seeking a third term in office) there is a desperate need for a new type of revolutionary movement, and the MINGA (coming from an indigenous word for “building together”) looks like the closest thing to it. See for more information.
Although campaigns such as those offered by Amnesty are of course vital, in bringing such issues into the public consciousness, but we must never expect that we can "rescue" exploited peoples. Not only is such a thought patronising, but it potentially stifles the emergence of genuine grassroots resistance. Instead, we must begin to recognise such movements as they emerge, and be ready to offer them our solidarity.