Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil

Article excerpt

Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil. By Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas. New York: Verso, 2003. Pp. xii, 267. $17.00 paper.

Just as I was writing this review, I received notice that the U.S. government has approved petroleum exploitation in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. This terrible mistake can better be understood as such by the story of community resistance in a powerful book that Shell for years tried to suppress.

Since its publication, Where Vultures Feast has stood as the number one, worldwide legal authority on Shell, ChevronTexaco, and other big oil companies' devastations in the Third World. Nigerian resistance is chronicled with the keen eyes of those on the frontlines, enriched by direct statements by those who suffered and fought back. For instance, we hear how ChevronTexaco transport equipment conveyed armed security officers who massacred villagers as they asserted their land rights. A whole chapter is devoted to rip-off s and corruption by government office holders, often with the complicity of the hangers-on, the shady and dodgy lowlife who populate the interstices of Imperial oil, hubris bolstered by the Bush II regime. Shell is the primary vulture in this co-authored, exciting, and fast read, a vulture that feeds on the exquisite lands and waters of a very special place and people: those of West Africa's Niger Delta. From the 1600s on, millions of African captives were exported from the Niger Delta to produce the metals and foods in the Americas that fueled Europe's industrial revolution. Machinery's thirst for lubrication drew forth the Niger Delta's sequel to labor power-palm oil, which by the late 1900s had surpassed people exports. This labor-intensive, renewable source of light before kerosene and lubrication before rock oil or petroleum was massively available gave way, in the 1950s, to the Niger Delta's "curse"-oil and gas exploitation by Shell.

Shell-BP was a creature, in some senses, of the British Colonial Office, or was it the other way around? By 1967 France and the USSR challenged Britain's imperial grip on the Delta by arming a breakaway Igbo faction of the military that was trying to create a sovereign Biafra encompassing the oil deposits. After a bloody three-year war in which a million people died, the British won; Nigeria remained a federation, and several oil majors joined Vulture Shell in a renewed feeding frenzy. This gathered steam with the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 and their further doubling in 1979. …