Archive for July, 2010


New Oil Disaster in the West Coast of Africa…


How would the world respond, if a similar disaster would happen in Africa ?

One of my readers asked me for my opinion about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I certainly have one and I will put it in the context of the core of my blog, which is Africa.

Those of you who surf the internet to find the latest news on the catastrophe in the Gulf, will read headlines about organizations, interest groups and companies that directly or indirectly are affected by the spill of the oil.

Lawsuits, claims, outrage, concerns for the environment expressed in various ways but all sharing a total disapproval of the incident.
Not enough preventive measures, not (fast) enough actions to contain the devastating effects, criticism on the government for not putting in place proper oversight to prevent these horror stories and the list goes on.

One thing seems to be clear:  Everybody is revolted and for once everybody agrees that this is just too much to accept.

Well I am not sure about that….

Does everybody really agree that enough is enough ? History teaches us nothing ! If you surf a bit over the history of environmental disasters you will see a growing list of shocking events. So if we are really that concerned, I fail to understand why we need that many disasters for us to turn the tides and address the risks that are facing us or worse the horrors that are taking place and not just in the Gulf of Mexico !

If in almost over-regulated places such as the USA or Europe oil companies can get away with dangerous practices that expose the world to risk and ultimately to disasters like the one we are witnessing again today, I put serious doubt to the real intentions of those in power, those who are responsible for oversight and those who actually run hazardous practices. Warnings of scientists time and again go into deaf ears. Those who defend shareholder values or need voters to get re-elected turn blind eyes to risks that are well-known. Today it is an oil spill, yesterday it was toxic waste that was dumped in Ivory Coast since it was cheaper for the company then to treat the waste in a professional and environmental friendly way. What is it we are waiting for before we really wake up and put the money where our mouth is ?

So I repeat the question, what if this were to happen in Africa ? How would the world react in that case ?

For the last fifty years the world accepts that oil is spilling daily in the Niger Delta in Nigeria where the total amount of barrels of oil that have so far polluted the region is a multiple of some of the reported incidents.

The Gulf spill is  making daily headlines in newspapers, broadcast around the world by all the major news cable networks and an increasing number of internet discussion is taking place where everybody is expressing their concerns.

Why have we not had headlines for fifty years on the tragedy of the Niger Delta.

We do get news on the “Rebels” that are making the region “unsafe”. Should the focus not first be on the oil companies that are running practices that are “unsafe” ?

We get more then enough blaming and finger pointing. Regardless who is right or who is wrong, would the Niger Delta not be better off with joint actions to clean the place and insist that the oil companies increase their measures to reduce the risk of spills ? I think it would take the arguments away for the rebels to continue their aggression. Instead we always seem to be more willing to deal with the symptoms as opposed to deal with the root causes of the problems.

I did not say that I agree with armed aggression since it has never resolved any problem in the world. It demonstrates inability for dialogue but when people are ignored for over five decades we should not be that surprised that some are losing their patience.

So if fifty odd years is not enough to make people realize that every day more damage is added to the region I am not very optimistic that proper efforts are soon to be expected, while the news and public opinion will continue to find targets to blame…


With new oil fields being discovered more risk is introduced.

One of the recent discoveries in Ghana will soon place this country on the list of oil-producing countries, where up until today no expertise on oil exploration exists, let alone deep sea oil exploration, which adds a level of technical complexity to the venture. One can only hope that the Ghanaian Government is preparing itself to deal with the oil companies and with the temptation that comes along with the outlook on short term revenues and will put a stick in the ground if any proposed exploration method cannot sufficiently manage associated risks.

Given the long list of disasters,  people in the developed countries have learned how to prosecute, how to protest in an organized fashion. Not that it has prevented disasters to happen, as we unfortunately have seen but at least after long and costly lawsuits some of the victims of these disasters were compensated financially. Who is today concerned with the fishermen in the Niger Delta that have lost their jobs because there is no fish left in the Delta region, just to mention one immediately affected group of people ?

What do you think the chances are for nations  around the shores of Africa as they are being placed out of business or as their fauna and flora are being destroyed ? How would people find ways to prosecute against the polluters ? What legal framework would assist the victims ? Today organized civil and peaceful protests are not forthcoming in many of the countries in Africa where there are plenty of reasons, mainly because people lack the means. Instead armed rebels are trying to draw attention and only gain resentment from the world that of course cannot accept the terms under the threat of gunpoint.

As long as we treat this critical situation as just another sad story coming from Africa like the ones on famine , disease or war and leave it to be handled by some organizations as another charity case, ignoring the fact that in most of the developing countries there are no financial buffers to absorb the billions of dollars that some of the recovery projects cost, I keep thinking of how Mahatma Ghandi once answered a reporter  asking him “how he felt about the developed world”  ? to which he replied that he felt “it was an interesting concept” !

Africa already has its fair share of dealing with the consequences of irresponsible business practices from the rest of the world. Climate change is another example where Africa is just a victim since the global warming is not the result of economic activity in Africa but outside Africa, while the effects of the Global Warming are felt very much in Africa adding to conditions that are difficult enough.

Nobody is compensating the farmers today in Africa for the harsher conditions they face and with agriculture being the sector most affected by global warming, a sector that counts for at least 75% of Africa’s economic output, it leaves a lot to think about.

So how would the world respond to a similar disaster like the one of the Gulf of Mexico ? So far it is unrealistic to assume there will be an appropriate response and therefore I think it is all the more important that African oil producing countries just increase their demands of safe exploration without any compromise from companies that receive the concessions!

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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July 2010