Crude Existence: Environment and the Politics of Oil in Northern Angola

Crude Existence: Environment and the Politics of Oil in Northern Angola

Crude Existence: Environment and the Politics of Oil in Northern Angola

Crude Existence: Environment and the Politics of Oil in Northern Angola

Synopsis

After decades of civil war and instability, the African country of Angola is experiencing a spectacular economic boom thanks to its most valuable natural resource: oil. But oil extraction--both on- and offshore--is a toxic remedy for the country's economic ills, with devastating effects on both the environment and traditional livelihoods. Focusing on the everyday realities of people living in the extraction zones, Kristin Reed explores the exclusion, degradation, and violence that are the fruits of petrocapitalism in Angola.

Excerpt

Waves rolled toward a wide beach where a group of fishermen hauled in a net, keeping pace with the crash and flow of the foam-white surf. Their calloused hands clutched at the worn rope, steadied against the ocean’s tugging withdrawal. And then, poised for its return, the fishermen turned their backs to the sea, dug their toes into the sinking sand and heaved forward. Once they had dragged the net onto the beach, the men appraised its meager contents, negotiating with a fish trader. She rinsed handfuls of the silvery, long-whiskered fish in seawater and dropped them in her blue plastic tub. The water receded and advanced again, swirling around and between the wide, steady feet of the youngest fisherman of the group. “There are no longer fish here,” he declared.

These waves washed ashore in Fútila, a community neighboring the Chevron oil base in Cabinda. Although the territory is considered part of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s run to the sea separates Cabinda from the mainland. Chevron operates two oil concessions offshore of Cabinda, pumping out one-third of Angola’s production of nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil per day.

Stained swathes of sand hint at the way oil has destroyed lives and livelihoods in Fútila; however, oil’s distorting and degrading effects spread far beyond the extractive zones of northwestern Angola. Rather than contribute to peace and development, Angola’s oil wealth has fueled petro-violence— conflicts bankrolled by oil revenues and struggles waged for control of oil reserves. A brutal war wracked the country from 1975 to 2002. Political deception and economic exclusion reinforced a movement for Cabindan independence from Angola. The government responded with militant repression. As oil spills degraded the marine environment, oil revenues corrupted the political environment. Officials used corporate compensation and patron-

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