There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger.
Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement. Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts.
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. There is no such thing as part freedom
Archive for the Africa Category
The economy is a shambles, unemployment is soaring, the auto industry is collapsing. But profits are higher than ever at oil companies Chevron and Shell. Yet across the globe, from the Ecuadorian jungle, to the Niger Delta in Nigeria, to the courtrooms and streets of New York and San Ramon, Calif., people are fighting back against the world’s oil giants.
Shell and Chevron are in the spotlight this week, with shareholder meetings and a historic trial being held.
On May 13, the Nigerian military launched an assault on villages in that nation’s oil-rich Niger Delta. Hundreds of civilians are feared killed in the attack. According to Amnesty International, a celebration in the delta village of Oporoza was attacked. An eyewitness told the organization: “I heard the sound of aircraft; I saw two military helicopters, shooting at the houses, at the palace, shooting at us. We had to run for safety into the forest. In the bush, I heard adults crying, so many mothers could not find their children; everybody ran for their life.”
Shell is facing a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, Wiwa v. Shell, based on Shell’s alleged collaboration with the Nigerian dictatorship in the 1990s in the violent suppression of the grass-roots movement of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta. Shell exploits the oil riches there, causing displacement, pollution and deforestation. The suit also alleges that Shell helped suppress the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its charismatic leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa had been the writer of the most famous soap opera in Nigeria, but decided to throw his lot in with the Ogoni, whose land near the Niger Delta was crisscrossed with pipelines. The children of Ogoniland did not know a dark night, living beneath the flame—apartment-building-size gas flares that burned day and night, and that are illegal in the U.S.
I interviewed Saro-Wiwa in 1994. He told me: “The oil companies like military dictatorships, because basically they can cheat with these dictatorships. The dictatorships are brutal to people, and they can deny the human rights of individuals and of communities quite easily, without compunction.” He added, “I am a marked man.” Saro-Wiwa returned to Nigeria and was arrested by the military junta. On Nov. 10, 1995, after a kangaroo show trial, Saro-Wiwa was hanged with eight other Ogoni activists.
In 1998, I traveled to the Niger Delta with journalist Jeremy Scahill. A Chevron executive there told us that Chevron flew troops from Nigeria’s notorious mobile police, the “kill ‘n’ go,” in a Chevron company helicopter to an oil barge that had been occupied by nonviolent protesters. Two protesters were killed, and many more were arrested and tortured.
Oronto Douglas, one of Saro-Wiwa’s lawyers, told us: “It is very clear that Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities. They drill and they kill.”
Chevron is the second-largest stakeholder (after French oil company Total) of the Yadana natural gas field and pipeline project, based in Burma (which the military junta renamed Myanmar). The pipeline provides the single largest source of income to the military junta, amounting to close to $1 billion in 2007. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, popularly elected the leader of Burma in 1990, has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, and is standing trial again this week. [On Tuesday the government said it had ended the house arrest of Suu Kyi, but she remains in detention pending the outcome of the trial.] The U.S. government has barred U.S. companies from investing in Burma since 1997, but Chevron has a waiver, inherited when it acquired the oil company Unocal.
Chevron’s litany of similar abuses, from the Philippines to Kazakhstan, Chad-Cameroon, Iraq, Ecuador and Angola and across the U.S. and Canada, is detailed in an “alternative annual report” prepared by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations and is being distributed to Chevron shareholders at this week’s annual meeting, and to the public at TrueCostofChevron.com.
Chevron is being investigated by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about whether the company was “accurate and complete” in describing potential legal liabilities. It enjoys, though, a long tradition of hiring politically powerful people. Condoleezza Rice was a longtime director of the company (there was even a supertanker named after her), and the recently hired general counsel is none other than disgraced Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes, who advocated for “harsh interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. Gen. James L. Jones, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, sat on the Chevron board of directors for most of 2008, until he received his high-level White House appointment.
Saro-Wiwa said before he died, “We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently, and we shall win.” A global grass-roots movement is growing to do just that.
Ken Saro-Wiwa and Alberto Pizango never met, but they are united by a passion for the preservation of their people and their land, and by the fervor with which they were targeted by their respective governments. Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian government Nov. 10, 1995. Pizango this week was charged by the Peruvian government with sedition and rebellion, and narrowly eluded capture, taking refuge in the Nicaraguan Embassy in Lima. Nicaragua has just granted him political asylum. Two indigenous leaders—one living, one dead—Pizango and Saro-Wiwa demonstrate that effective grass-roots opposition to corporate power can take a personal toll. Saro-Wiwa’s family and others just won a landmark settlement in U.S. federal court, ending a 13-year battle with Shell Oil. Pizango’s ordeal is just beginning.
Peru and Nigeria are a world apart on the map, but both host abundant natural resources for which the U.S. and other industrialized nations hunger.
The Niger Delta is one of the world’s most productive oil fields. Shell Oil began extracting oil there in 1958. Before long, the indigenous peoples of the Niger Delta suffered from pollution, destruction of the mangrove forests and depletion of fish stocks that sustained them. Gas flares constantly lit up the sky, fouling the air and denying generations a glimpse of a dark night. The despoliation of traditional Ogoni land in the Niger Delta inspired Saro-Wiwa to lead an international, nonviolent campaign targeting Shell. For his commitment, Saro-Wiwa was arrested by the Nigerian dictatorship, subjected to a sham trial and hanged with eight other Ogoni activists. I visited the Niger Delta and Ogoniland in 1998, and met Ken’s family. His father, Jim Wiwa, did not mince words: “Shell has a hand in the killing of my own son.”
Family members sued Shell Oil, charging it with complicity in the executions. They were granted their day in U.S. court under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows people outside the U.S. to bring charges against an offender in U.S. courts when the charges amount to war crimes, genocide, torture or, as in the case of the Ogoni Nine, extrajudicial, summary execution. Despite Shell’s efforts to have the case (Wiwa v. Shell) thrown out, it was set to be tried in a New York federal court two weeks ago. After several delays, Shell settled, agreeing to pay $15.5 million.
Saro-Wiwa’s son, Ken Wiwa, said: “We now have an opportunity to draw a line on the sad past and … face the future with some hope that what we’ve done here will have helped to change the way in which businesses regard their operations abroad. … We need to focus on the development needs of the people. … We’ve created evidence, an example, that with enough commitment to nonviolence and dialogue, you can begin to build some kind of creative justice. And we hope that people will take their signals from that and push for similar examples of creative justice, where communities and all the stakeholders where oil production is are able to mutually benefit from oil production, rather than exploitation and degradation of the environment.”
Peruvian indigenous populations have been protesting nonviolently since April, with road blockades a popular tactic. At issue is the so-called U.S./Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, which would override protections of indigenous land, granting access to foreign corporations for resource extraction.
This week, eyewitnesses allege that Peruvian special forces police carried out a massacre at one of the blockades. Pizango, the leader of the national indigenous organization the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, accused the government of President Alan Garcia of ordering the attack: “Our brothers are cornered. I want to put the responsibility on the government. We are going to put the responsibility on Alan Garcia’s government for ordering this genocide. … They’ve said that we indigenous peoples are against the system, but, no, we want development, but from our perspective, development that adheres to legal conventions. … The government has not consulted us. Not only am I being persecuted, but I feel that my life is in danger, because I am defending the rights of the peoples, the legitimate rights that the indigenous people have.”
Saro-Wiwa told me in 1994, just before he returned to Nigeria, “I’m a marked man.” Pizango has challenged the powerful Peruvian government and the corporate interests it represents. Pizango is now marked, but still alive. Will the international community allow him and the indigenous people he represents to suffer the same fate as Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people?
By Amy Goodman