MEND and the War for Justice in the Niger Delta

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, has been
receiving considerable attention in the world press over the past couple of
weeks.  They have kidnapped several oil workers as a mechanism to bring
in the journalists not only to report on the kidnappings, but MEND also
knows that the journalists will likely cover the other story of the Delta: 
environmental injustice.

Nigeria supplies 20% of sweet crude oil to the United States.  Royal
Dutch Shell, headquartered in England, is the lead oil company operating in
the swamps and creeks, with Chevron and the other oil majors also
extracting oil from deep beneath the surface.  Meanwhile the people living amongst
such wealth are some of the poorest in Africa.  They have no electricity, no roads, no running water, and fishing stocks are depleted from pollutioncaused by the extraction of oil and spills.  The water they do drink from wells and the river is heavily polluted.

The recent emergence of MEND is not surprising if you have been
following the plight of the people living in the Delta over the past decade or
more.  Battles between local militias and the military have been on-going,
though sporadic, reaching terrible endpoints of villages burned to the ground
by the military in some cases.

A difference is noticeable now, however.  MEND is now heavily-armed and
they are very organized.  They have carried out attacks on oil rigs,
pipelines, offices, and then there are the kidnappings.

But this is not your Iraq style kidnapping.  No, a Nigerian is not
going to kill you or decapitate you, etc.  Having spent 5 weeks in Delta State,
I would be shocked if the fighters of MEND would bring harm to the
kidnapped.  In fact, they often release them after a few weeks.  And when they are
released, the freed hostages always speak of how well they were
treated, how they had plenty of food, found their captors respectful.

The latest to be released is a Mr. Hawkins from Texas.  He did speak of being treated well, but he added a message to the U.S. government and other
governments around the world.  Hawkins believes that MEND is not going
to go away.  They are going to continue their fight against the oil companies
and the government because they are tired of living in squalor.  They are
tired of casting fishing nets and getting no return.  They are tired of
seeing the gas flares burning in their backyards while they eat by candle light. 
Hawkins assured anyone who was willing to listen that MEND will be
waiting behind every tree until something is done.

While I never did make it into the heart of the Niger Delta, I did work
with its residents.  The common Nigerian living in the Delta opposes the
kidnappings, but understands why it is done.  All they are asking for
is a fair share of the money that is generated from the oil that sits under
their thatch huts.  Yes, the Nigerian government is to blame.  Yes, the oil
companies are to blame.  But what is more necessary to recognize is
that the United States can play a role.

An opportunity to do things right before more wrong goes down is
sitting before us.  Most in the world see our being in the Middle East as
nothing more than protecting our access to the oil. 

President Bush has stated that Nigeria and the West African region will be very important to meeting U.S. energy needs over the next 10-20 years.   Instead of being seen as imperialists stealing resources from the world’s poor, the U.S. should take a direction that would promote and facilitate the provision of resources to the people of the Niger Delta.  The U.S. should seek ways to bring electricity to their homes, roads to their villages, water systems that bring clean water to their kitchens, and rivers that would not be polluted so that fishing can be an economical way of life again.

Until then, MEND will fight.  And I cannot blame them for doing so.

(written 12 March 2006)

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