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Frustrations grow in Cameroon over oil pipeline

November 22, 2005

By Tansa Musa

KRIBI, Cameroon (Reuters) – Oil was meant to bring hope and
money to this sleepy fishing town in Cameroon, but Kribi’s
residents say they can barely make ends meet.

The terminus for a 665-mile pipeline bringing oil from
landlocked Chad to Cameroon, Kribi was full of expectations
that wealth would trickle down from the $4 billion venture —
one of Africa’s biggest infrastructure projects.

Instead, Kribi’s fishermen say a reef was destroyed during
the construction of an offshore facility three years ago and
this has endangered their livelihoods. Their complaints echo
those heard from others living along the Doba pipeline route.

“These people only cared about their pipeline and the money
they will make from it, they cared little about us,” said
Agathe Mbedi, who sells fish at Kribi’s market.

“They destroyed the rock that shielded the water in which
fish used to breed. They promised to replace it, but have done
nothing. Our men are earning less money, our children are out
of school and we risk starving.”

The World Bank, which funded the venture, helped set up
what it calls unprecedented safeguards to manage earnings from
the pipeline, which is operated by a U.S.-led consortium and
promised revenues of $500 million for Cameroon.

The venture, led by Exxon Mobil Corp., had been viewed by
many rights activists as a test case of whether petrodollars
can fight poverty in Africa instead of fueling conflict and
corruption.

But criticism has been growing. Local rights campaigners
say the new wealth is simply enriching foreign firms and
political elites in one of the world’s poorest regions.

“PICTURE OF DESPAIR”

Several countries along West Africa’s coastline are hoping
to find oil and cash in on world demand for alternative sources
of crude to supplement the volatile Middle East.

The United States hopes a quarter of its oil imports in a
decade will come from West Africa, up from 14 percent now.

But grinding poverty in oil producers like Nigeria and
Equatorial Guinea show that petrodollars often do not translate
into a better life for local people — and Kribi’s experience
shows oil can even complicate existing hard lives.

Oscar Ada points to a 23-foot-wide pool in his garden in
the village of Ekabita-Mendum near Yaounde.

“At first we didn’t have this lake here,” he said. “But
(the Cameroon Oil Transportation Company) COTCO came here and
constructed its pipeline and left behind a mountain of soil
that directs rain off into my yard.”

He says breeding mosquitoes prevent his family from
sleeping at night and the water has damaged his 50 cocoa trees.

Once luscious green, the brown-gray leaves are now
withered. Dried or rotten cocoa pods hang from some of them.

The pipeline began pumping oil in 2003. Production was
averaging about 180,000 barrels of crude per day by mid-2005,
according to the project’s Web site.

Cameroonian environmental and rights organizations say they
have documented about 400 cases where people have been affected
by the project but have not been adequately compensated.

Amnesty International has said the pipeline is
side-stepping human rights safeguards for local inhabitants.

Celestine Mbouma’s husband’s cocoa plantation was damaged
when the pipeline was built, cutting production from 20 bags to
just three per year. Mbouma, a mother of 12, now fears she will
no longer be able to pay for her children to go to school.

“I was very determined to do everything to ensure that my
children get a good education … But … now, I don’t know
whether they will have to abandon school … Please, tell those
people to do something for us or we will all die,” she said.

In Mbouma’s village, a water source that was destroyed
during the construction has yet to be replaced. Residents say
the water is contaminated and people have fallen ill, while
children trek 5 miles to get fresh supplies.

“People have paid a hefty price for having the pipeline
pass near their homes and fields,” said Korinna Horta, a senior
environmental economist at the U.S. nongovernmental
organization Environmental Defense.

“What I have seen is a picture of despair and profound
injustice felt by local people.”

WANTING COMPENSATION

Bissabidang, a 69-year-old farmer from the Makoure region
in southern Cameroon, says he received just 350,000 CFA francs
for his felled ebony trees — valued by local forestry
officials at up to 8.5 million CFA for their timber.

“Because of this derisory compensation, my family has been
impoverished by this pipeline project for many years to come.”

COTCO has promised compensation for Kribi’s destroyed reef
but fishermen at Bwambe beach say only 70 nets were provided
for 2,000 fishermen. They say they have to go further out now
and their small canoes and nets cannot withstand the rough
waves.

In Chad, the government has said it plans to change a law
meant to safeguard oil profits for future generations, despite
objections from the World Bank which has threatened to withdraw
from the investment and halt lending to Chad.

Samuel Nguifoo, head of Cameroon’s Center for Environment
and Development, said the pipeline had already proved a
failure.

“Beyond the attendant credit and self-satisfaction, the
Chad-Cameroon pipeline project has brought about more tears
than smiles,” he said.


Source: reuters



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