Africa on the auction block

Oil raises hopes and dashes them all across the African continent. From Nigeria to Angola and Sudan, to many other countries, the story is largely the same. Oil and natural gas extraction cause environmental damage. Violent jockeying for the spoils continues to fuel instability, popular resentment and combustible anger (Donnelly, 2005).

As we have seen, oil and conflicts appear to be twins in today's world and the crisis must be viewed both in economic and political terms as a major for-profit venture. Understanding it through this filter is crucial to our seeing why we appear trapped in intractable murky waters and it may also help us to construct bridges over which we may come out of the malaise.

The lure of cheap oil has kept the rigs drilling through Africa, destabilizing governments and dividing communities. The poor continue to subsidize the costs of crude oil by the losses they suffer in environmental services, quality of life and extreme environmental degradation. This results in continued conflicts as opportunistic groups as well as gangs find space to extract financial gains from the system. As long as the profits flow, powerful forces in the world will delay serious efforts at developing readily available and cheap alternative energy.

It is doubtful if oil just happens to be found in places where there is conflict. Consider, for instance, the Darfur region of Sudan. While northern transnational corporations are often the culprit in terms of environmental despoliation, in Sudan a major culprit is Sinopec, the Chinese state oil corporation. In 1999, just as the first barrels of crude oil were shipped from Sudan, the war escalated between government forces and those of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army.

Today, oil has been found in the highly biodiverse lands of the Rift Valley in East Africa. Hopes and pulses are rising again. Oil majors are entering into contract arrangements and getting set to drill, even in ecologically sensitive areas. The African continent appears to have been divided among the oil corporations into concessions and plots for their exploitation and destruction. The scramble for Africa is seeing oil activities rapidly spreading in Eastern and Southern Africa. While oil and gas fever grips the tycoons in countries such as Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Chad, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, local communities are never consulted about what is about to hit them.

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