This piece was written in February 2011 and published in 234NEXT online newspaper, Lagos. It was written in response to fossil fuel addicts who criticise climate justice advocates for flying
The World Social Forum kicked off on Sunday, February 6,  with a march on the streets of Dakar, Senegal. Among the thousands that marched under the careful watch of the Senegalese military and police, were people calling for support for the popular actions in Tunisia and Egypt. There was palpable feeling of invigorated possibilities of globalising peoples’ power.
I walked behind a banner with the phrase ‘Leave the Fossil Fuels in the Soil’ closely followed by another that demanded, ‘Do Not Incinerate Africa’. A couple of days later, I posted the photo with the banner on the web. Within minutes, I got a response from a friend who asked, If we leave the oil in the soil, how would you fly to the United Kingdom?’
That question required not just a response, but additional questions. Why must I fly to the UK? Is flying the sole reason for the large-scale environmental assault on poor communities that follow oil extractive activities? Does the ease of my flying to the UK warrant the human blood embedded in every barrel of oil that circulates around the world today from the oil fields of Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere? Are we serious about combating climate change if we are not ready to change ourselves, the way we think, the way we produce, and the way we consume?
As I reflected on these questions while participating in climate justice debates at the ongoing World Social Forum, I could not help but ponder on the nexus between crude oil extraction, dictatorship, the scramble for Africa, and the unfolding events in Egypt and the global response.
We have seen the hesitation of major world powers to denounce the clinging on to power by the Pharaoh who has been ruling Egypt over the past three decades. Should we expect support for the popular struggle for peoples’ freedom to choose who leads them, or would the world powers merely move to ensure that the crude oil movement from and through Egypt remains unimpeded?
Although Egypt is a major player in oil production in the Mediterranean Sea fringe, her strength over the crude oil business globally is due to her control of the Suez Canal, which provides a short link between the Arabian oil fields and Europe.
While Nigeria and Angola top the charts of oil production figures in Africa, Egypt has had steadily rising oil reserves profile, especially with finds in the deep water off the Mediterranean coast. At a point, the country’s reserve was said to reach 8.2 billion barrels of crude oil and some 60 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Up to 3,000 oil tankers are said to pass through this canal every year. Besides helping oil vessels make a short ride to Europe and elsewhere through the Suez Canal, Egypt also runs a 320-kilometre-long oil pipeline that goes from the Ain Sukhna terminal by the Red Sea to Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean coast which 2.5 million barrels of oil pass through daily.
Oil stokes fire
Among the many mineral and other resources that Africa boasts of, and which have stoked the fires of conflict on the continent, oil stands out. Many African countries continue to suffer violent conflicts, human rights abuses, and political instability because of forces struggling to control the oil fields and the associated wealth.
Oil has played a major role in the exploitation and suppression of the peoples of South Sudan and so their eagerness to draw away from the North is understandable. But even after political separation, the two Sudan will nevertheless remain tied together by an umbilical cord of oil pipelines and related infrastructure.
Ghana became an oil exporter in 2010. For the first time, cocoa and gold will face a serious challenge as top income earners. But, just as the government expects huge revenues, the people of the territory where the oil is being extracted are already worried about the expected impacts. Last month, after the first oil export, at least four oil spills have been recorded. Is Ghana echoing the Nigerian situation?
In East Africa, Uganda planned to commence commercial extraction of crude oil in the last quarter of 2011. The oil is drilled in protected areas along the coast of Lake Albert in the famous Rift Valley area. It is a potentially explosive enterprise as the lake is shared by Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; an oil spill here will likely affect both countries.
Moreover, this lake is the source of River Nile and an oil spill here will impact Sudan and Egypt downstream. It has already generated human rights abuses such as restriction of movement in the area and threats of detention by security forces.
Africa is literally awash with crude oil and crude oil addicts are strategising on how to sink their teeth into the waiting veins of land.
How would I fly to the UK if fossil fuels were left in the soil? What will the world do when the oil runs dry? As a Saudi Arabian minister once said, ‘the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone and the crude oil age will not end for lack of crude oil.’ We must check our fossil fuels mentality for the future of humanity.
- http://news2.onlinenigeria.com/news/general/71740-OIL-POLITICS-How-would-you-fly-the.html (accessed 29 May 2016) ↵
- Ghana Oil Watch.15 May 2013. Oil Production Threatens Fish Catch. http://ghanaoilwatch.org/index.php/ghana-oil-and-gas-news/3088-oil-production-threatens-fish-catch (accessed 7 June 2016); See also a concise report 'oil versus fish, Ghana' at https://ejatlas.org/conflict/jubilee-field-oil-versus-fish-ghana (accessed 7 June 2016) ↵