Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Drill and Grievance: Oil and Community Grievance Articulation in West Africa

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Drill and Grievance: Oil and Community Grievance Articulation in West Africa

Article excerpt

Introduction: West Africa's 'oil complex'

West Africa's offshore basins contain enormous oil reserves that could potentially revive the sputtering economies of the region. The 'oil zone,' which is concentrated in the Gulf of Guinea holds an estimated 60 billion barrels of proven reserves and is projected to provide around 7% of the world's total output in the next decade. (Ghazvinian, 2007). The economically viable finds have been made possible by a host of factors including technological advancement in the petroleum industry; relative stability in the region following the conclusion of its civil wars; perennial instability in the traditional petroleum regions such as the Persian Gulf; and huge foreign direct investment by some of the largest International oil companies (IOCs). Since 2009, both Exxon Mobil and Chevron-Texaco, two of the largest transnational corporations in the world, have spent about $10 billion annually towards the region's oil exploration (Watson, 2010; Roberts, 2006). Not to be outdone, China, the world's second largest net importer of petroleum products has intensified its involvement in Africa in general and West Africa in particular. China's activities have been facilitated by its three state-run companies: the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC); China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) and the China National Oil Corporation (CNOOC). The companies, sometimes individually and in other deals as a triage, have signed a raft of trade deals and bilateral agreements with various, mainly resource-rich governments but specifically oilendowed states such as Angola and Nigeria. Frynas and Paulo (2007: 231) succinctly summarized China's growing involvement in the region's emerging oil industry:

China is currently Africa's third most important trading partner, ahead of the United Kingdom and behind the United States and France. Foreign direct investment (FDI) to Africa from China reached US$900 million in 2004. In April 2006, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) announced that it had completed a US$2.3 billion deal to buy a 45 percent interest in an offshore oilmining concession in Nigeria. By 2004, 28.7 percent of Chinese crude oil imports already derived from African oil-producing countries.

But rather than immunizing the region against social and political strife, the seemingly positive developments (new oil finds, foreign direct investment, relative stability, high global demands), heavy investments and ensuing oil wealth has only succeeded in generating a host of grievances at various levels of the affected societies. The 'upstream' (exploration and drilling) and 'downstream' (refining, marketing, distribution and sales) operations of a relatively reclusive but highly profitable industry often entail a potpourri of arrangements (written and unstated) with a bewildering array of actors and stakeholders including investors, employees, customers, consumers, governments, service providers of all sorts, host communities, and in some cases, even commercial rivals. Navigating and managing the needs and expectations of this plethora of actors whose interests are sometimes diametrically opposed to one another provides the perfect incubator for grievances fester. Perhaps nowhere is what I have termed drill-and-grievance phenomenon more manifest than at the oil-producing community level. Here the asymmetrical relations between a rapacious and opaque industry and an often socioeconomically neglected but resource-rich community collide head-on with severe consequences for the society at large. In this sense therefore it is no exaggeration to state that the petroleum industry and grievances are made for each other with the different actors adopting a wide array of peaceful and violent tactics to redress perceived marginalization and neglect.

The different strategies utilized by the local communities should be understood in the context of the complex socio-cultural, and political economy of the region. …

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