Oil flows but few benefit

The head of the village, Gilbert Mana, had foreseen the trouble. The peaceful corner of the rain forest, that had protected his fellow indigenous bagyeli pygmi families, would become crowded with loggers and construction workers. He had ordered to pack and hang up the hunting nets. "Somebody could fall in by accident", he smiled friendly, as if detailing the rain forest health and safety concerns. The village lives on top of the biggest single investment in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline today connects the oil fields of Chad to the coast of Cameroon where the oil is being shipped. The US had high hopes of West Africa replacing the unstable Middle East in oil production. But people in the village of Ndtoua in Southern Cameroon are still waiting for a promised health center as compensation. Part of the neighboring rain forest, of vital importance to the indigenous people, was destroyed. Human rights and environmental groups say the pipeline has made the population poorer while the corrupt authoritarian governments cashed into their pockets the oil revenues. The joint project, by oil giants such as Exxon, Chevron and Petronas and the governments of Chad and Cameroon, was originally backed by the World Bank. The bank withdrew its support after wrongdoings surfaced. We traveled to Southern Cameroon to investigate the outcome of the pipeline, the challenges of the so-called resource curse and to ask why the World Bank supports the mighty oil industry in the first place.
Published in Helsingin Sanomat in 2010.

photos by rohith s. katbamna