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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MEND: A Larger Threat Than al Qaeda?

While the media keeps all eyes focused on the Middle East the real threats may lie elsewhere.

Who has not heard of al Qaeda?

Who has heard of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND?
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The latter group, led until recently by Henry Okah, has the capability today to cause far greater damage to Western nations.

Like many people in the United States, the poor in Nigeria are angry that most oil profits are only going to oil company executives and political leaders. The Nigerians know that oil wells bring great wealth to their country. However they see nothing but polluted villages, more crime, and death from horrific explosions. These explosions are the result of desperate people stealing fuel by tapping large pipelines. So why are they compelled to steal something that is abundant in their nation?

Kidnapping is common in Nigeria. Every few months revolutionaries storm an oil rig or break into a oil company office. They hold the oil employees hostage until their demands are met by the company. Surprisingly few hostages are ever killed by these groups. No matter, the threat of more attacks was enough to cause the big oil firms to scale back operations significantly along the coast of Africa.

Now the members of MEND and other groups like NDPVF and NDV, have learned that all they have to do is interrupt the oil production in Nigeria. It was threats from this organization that contributed to this week's price of $100 for a barrel of oil. Closer to home, gasoline in the U.S. is now ten cents a gallon more, five cents because of the Movement for the Emancipation of the the Niger Delta and five cents for a refinery fire in Texas (Big Spring). It makes you wonder about the real reason refinery owners like BP or Alon allow safety measures and equipment to deteriorate to the point that they simply explode? Like the explosions in Nigeria, these refinery blasts drive up the price of oil, creating massive profits for oil companies and oil-exporting nations alike.

What's the solution?

In some other oil-rich nations the government provides petrol at subsidized prices. A few nations that are rich in resources invest that money in their own people. Countries like Norway use their oil money to provide education and health care for all citizens, among other benefits. Venezuela is lionized for using some oil money to provide health care and food to the poorest. Saudi, Kuwaiti, and other governments of top OPEC nations provide cradle to grave care, for their citizens only of course. Millions of guest workers that keep those nations functioning get only low wages and poor living conditions. Certainly the Saudi people must be credited for donating huge sums to all sorts of genuine charitable causes, they are noted for that. Alaska is even wise enough to give every resident a share of the cake that comes from the North Slope oil fields every year.

Little of this kind of profit-sharing is happening in Nigeria, with a population of 150 million. Or Indonesia with 250 million people. Little wonder violent extremist groups are thriving under so much corruption and greed. Western nations seem unwilling to get involved until one of these new breed of revolutionaries strikes at home.

In a sense, interrupting oil production is the only recourse left to groups like MEND. In Iraq the oil pipelines must be closely guarded. The government of Nigeria will likely respond in a similar fashion with military actions. The real solutions include a massive increase in social programs to combat poverty, stimulating small business growth, and perhaps subsidized cooking fuel. The governments should be developing communities by encouraging light manufacturing, specialized tropical farming, and maybe one day soon, tourism. Training centers, community colleges, and better primary schools create real foundations for peace. Sports facilities and parks should be common and well-maintained. When people living in the villages and towns located near oil production start to see real improvements in their lives the violence will diminish rapidly. When was the last time you heard about an uprising in Oslo or Anchorage? In time a future government may learn these lessons but for now we all must pay the price for the mistakes of a few, very rich people.



Links:

New York Times article.

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