When the wells run dry

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The world has finally woken up to the reality of climate change. Harsh weather events have shown that not even the most developed countries of this world can fully withstand these freak weather events. We are increasingly seeing floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and wildfires of huge proportions. With these events, citizens around the world are experiencing increased incidence of disease, poverty, losses and untold hardships. Due to the fact that the climate crisis also manifests in restricted access to resources, incidents of conflicts are on the increase too. Africa is the worst hit and the most vulnerable.

It is generally believed that the world will soon witness a peak in oil production - the point at which the world exhausts half of all proven reserves.3 Some experts estimate that Nigeria reached her own peak oil level two years ago.

However, the Nigerian government is planning to increase production from the current reported 2.5 million barrels a day to 5.2 million barrels a day by the year 2030. This increase is to meet the oil demands of the US as access to Middle East crude oil may get more difficult. It was recently reported that by early 2007, Nigeria became the third largest supplier of crude oil to the US, after Canada and Mexico (Akande, 2007). To underscore the strategic importance, the US is setting up a military command (AFRICOM) in the Gulf of Guinea, possibly to ensure that nothing disturbs the flow of oil from the region.

The Nigerian dream can only be realized if the geologic findings are wrong, as estimates already say that if production continues at the current rate, her oil will run out in less than 30 years. Escalating conflicts have resulted in the huge centralization of people or shut-ins through the rise of armed groups in the area. The power of oil to generate conflicts is growing in the continent. For more than 20 years, Cameroon and Nigeria have flexed muscles over ownership of Bakassi, an oil-rich marshland at the south-east tip of Nigeria. A ruling of the International Court of Justice that the land belongs to Cameroon does not appear to have resolved the crisis in those backwaters. Although the Nigerian flag has formally been lowered over the territory, tension remains in the creeks.

The almost desperate move by nations to find crude oil is leading to audacious activities, as well as innovations in the extractive fields. During recent years, the media reported Russia signifying ownership of the North Pole by planting a flag in the seabed there, 4.2km below the surface (BBC, 2007)! Claiming ownership by flag planting is an emblem of gaining victory through warfare. We may soon expect to hear that since the US planted a flag on the moon in 1969, they are the owners of that celestial body.

The troubling matter here is that while the countries of the North are securing energy resources, African countries are seeking to increase oil-related revenues. The fact that few resources are being spent on energy security efforts points to an ominous future. It is a scary thought to picture Nigeria as an energy-importing nation in the near future, with no prior arrangements on how to manage that scenario. This challenge is real for many African countries. One of the best cases of forward thinking can be seen in President Wade of Senegal's orchestration of the so-called green OPEC - a body of non-oil-producing African countries inaugurated in 2006. The green OPEC is made up of countries without crude oil, but who are poised to become exporters of agro-fuels possibly by converting cultivatable lands into fuel crop farms.

President Wade convened the first meeting of energy ministers from 13 nations to form the Pan-African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP), with the intention that it serve as a green version of OPEC. The members of PANPP aspire to become leaders in the field of biofuels and alternative energy strategies, following in Brazil's footsteps. But the development of a biofuels industry, particularly cellulosic biofuels made from agricultural wastes and prairie grasses (which President Bush touted in his State of the Union address) could take a decade or more to come to fruition. Africa, he stated, needs help today (Wade, 2006, pA15).

The green OPEC may not recognize it, but there is a major scramble for land in Africa today by agro-fuels promoters. This is already raising conflicts between communities and governments and promises to exacerbate food deficits and displacements in the region. This is happening because both land and the manpower that ought to go into food production is being diverted into the production of agro-fuels, not to meet local energy needs but for export. And there is simply not enough land in the tropics on which to cultivate enough agro-fuels to feed the tanks of the North.

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