SHELL GAMES [Nationalization of Energy Industries]

Article excerpt

Gordon Brown had an idea about how to "make poverty history." The British Chancellor appealed to the richer oil-producing states of the Middle East to fill the funding gap. "oil wealth urged to save Africa," read a headline in London's Observer.

Here is a better idea: Instead of Saudi Arabia's oil wealth being used to "save Africa," how about if Africa's oil wealth was used to save Africa-along with its gas, diamond, gold, platinum, chromium, ferroalloy and coal wealth?

With all this noblesse oblige focused on saving Africa from its misery, it seems like a good time to remember someone else who tried to make poverty history: Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was killed 10 years ago this November, along with eight other Ogoni activists. Their crime was daring to insist that Nigeria was not poor at all but rich, and that it was political decisions made in the interests of Western multinational corporations that kept their people in desperate poverty. Saro-Wiwa gave his life to the idea that the vast oil wealth of the Niger Delta must leave behind more than polluted rivers, charred farmland, rancid air and crumbling schools. He asked not for charity, pity or "relief," but for justice.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People demanded that Shell compensate the people from whose land it had pumped roughly $30 billion worth of oil since the 1950s. The company turned to the government, and the military turned its guns on demonstrators. Before his state-ordered hanging, Saro-Wiwa told the tribunal: "I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial .... The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come."

Ten years later, 70 percent of Nigerians still liv`e on less than $1 a day and Shell is still making super profits. Equatorial Guinea, which has a major oil deal with ExxonMobil, "got to keep a mere 13 percent of the oil revenues in the first year of its contract," according to a 60 Minutes report-a share so low it would have been scandalous even at the height of colonial oil pillage.

This is what keeps Africa poor. Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination: It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world. …