Saturday, November 21, 2009

Toilet Politics, Oil and the Malibu Mansion

I was going to write the other day, on World Toilet Day – which was on Thursday. Not because I wanted to highlight the sad reality that a vast number of people on the continent where I live have no access to proper sanitation, including toilets…

I was going to write on that day because I heard, on the same BBC radio broadcast, another story about yet another massively rich, corrupt African stashing his billions abroad.

In other news, yesterday I heard the flabbergasting news that the EU is donating $1 BILLION to Nigeria, to help with corruption…

HUH? To help WITH corruption. Why does stuff like this still surprise me?
Right. A bit of background…

In the first story, our reluctant hero is Mr. TN Obiang, the Minister of Forestry and Agric. (and the son of the President) of Equatorial Guinea.

His country is the third richest in oil in Africa, just below Angola and Nigeria. There is a tiny population of half a million people. In 2007, the government sold USD$4.3 Billion in oil. Yet 90% of the 500,000 inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day.

This leaves quite a few billion for the government guys…

The news story goes on to explain that Mr. Obiang travels freely between his little country and the USA, to his Malibu Mansion, commonly carrying millions in cash each time he enters the states(normally punishable by a 5 year prison term), despite supposed laws in the states that deny entry to corrupt foreign officials. He keeps quite a few millions in bank accounts in America as well.

These laws are enforced, when it comes to guys like Mugabe – Zimbabwe’s tyrannical despot.

Why the double standard then?

Oil. And America’s interest in it.

Which brings us to the second story. The EU working with the Nigerian government, globally renowned for corruption, by offering them USD$1 Billion to assist…

Other African countries are up-in-arms about the choice of this massive donation to the richest oil country in Africa, eighth richest oil country in the world.

But that is the point really.

Oil. And the EU’s interest in it.

In the BBC story, the reporter asked so many of the questions I was squirming in my seat, itching to ask.

“Why Nigeria? With it’s vast oil reserves and billions in annual income from oil?”

“With the Nigerian government’s dismal track record for corruption, surely the EU is somewhat concerned that the funds will not be used as per their intended aim?”

etc. etc. etc.

The answers from the EU press officer were wishy-washy, non-committal. No surprise.

What makes my blood boil is that the bleeding heart Americans and Europeans don’t put all these facts together.

NGO’s grow and collaborate and fundraise, and promote guilt and scrape like finger nails on the thin raw skin of western conscience, to help, help, help! These helpless Africans.

Meanwhile the Western governments condone, concede, support and feed into the corruption.

When Mr. Obiang is welcomed at LAX, whisked over to his Malibu mansion in the stretch limo, darkened windows, cool aircon and refreshments in the back seat, there is a directly proportionate mass of slum dwellers back home, robbed of the basics of sanitation, housing, education, clean water, electricity. Babies are born and die the next day in a pool of their mother’s blood where the midwife couldn’t save their lives in the corrugated iron shack amid the thousands in a shanty.

I read further that despite his official salary of $6000 per month, he bought his mansion for $26million cash. Plus three Bugatti Veyron sports cars at £1.2million each.

The proceeds from just one of these cars would have bought enough mosquito nets for every child in his country, where malaria is the number one childkiller.

So the next time a campaign to end poverty in Africa comes my way, I’ll give them the address of T N Obiang in Malibu. I doubt he’s given yet.
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smith kaich jones said...

A question. Are the oil companies in these countries owned by the government or by individual corporations?


The pale observer said...

Hi Debi - all the big oil companies are there - Shell, Mobil, BP - they usually make deals with the governments, giving them a percentage of the profits.

There are also government oil companies, but they generally aren't run as efficiently.

Hope that helps?

Why the question?

schrijfster said...

This keeps on happening and it's immoral that the West sells its soul for oil and influence and allow the poor people to keep on being poor and taken advantage of. Don't get me started.

Land of shimp said...

Hi Holli, our dependence on oil in the U.S. has made for many a deal with the devil, and the same is true for the EU. Had we begun seriously developing alternative energy means back in the mid-seventies, when it was first nationally broached, we'd have fewer problems, fed less corruption, too. (at least in theory).

Our media is complicit, at least here. To stay even marginally informed, I have to actively seek out the information. If I relied solely on the media readily and broadly available, the only news I would ever read would have to do with epidemics and revolutions.

That's clearly intentional on the part of our media. Evidence of imploding structures only. It's easy for the average person to believe that there is no form of stability in most African nations, much less that there is a very active role the U.S. and the EU is playing in maintaining an entirely corrupt one.

Luckily the internet is making it more and more difficult for propaganda to stand unchallenged. There has been a slight shift, in terms of perception and knowledge among the average person. Hopefully it will gain momentum.

I'll tell you candidly, that even being in possession of a greater number of facts, and the knowledge of conditions...Holli, I don't know what to do. What specific action I should take. Do I write letters to Shell, Mobile, my congressman? I'm honestly asking.

It's been the strangest sensation, learning about things that can literally make me cringe in horror....and then not knowing what it is I can do. When it comes to some of the issues before our country, I write letters, try to participate in the process in the ways that I can.

There is such a feeling of impotent outrage. "This cannot be allowed to continue!" and yet, for the life of me, I don't know what to do to help .

I can't help but wonder if that is part of the reason people in the countries participating in propping up the corruption don't make an effort to be better informed. It does cause such an emotional response, and even though I'm I've always been a fairly resourceful person, I don't know what to do with it.

Sorry to flail all over your blog here, but I read about World Toilet Day and the impulse absolutely is, "What can I do? What should I do? How do we change this?"

And then ...supposed aid feeds corruption, at times. It's almost paralyzing. Help and you may inadvertently be participating, do nothing, and it is almost akin to tacit approval.

I'm going into all of this simply because from way, way over here in the West, I have such a feeling of helplessness...and it occurs to's probably the reason so many seem to be fine with being ignorant of what goes on, what oil dependence has wrought.

I'm a fairly intelligent, capable, and caring person...and right now when I ask myself "What should I do?" the only thing I can come up with is to write yet another letter to a government representative in support of alternative energy. The same government that I know has been complicit in propping up the governments that are so appalling.

I'm not expressing this well, so please forgive me, but it feels like a dog chasing its own tail. I'm honestly grateful to be better informed, I just wish I had a better grasp of what it is best to do with that information.

It's easy to be outraged, it's so difficult to figure out what the right step to take with that outrage is.

Any suggestions?

The pale observer said...

LoS - Thanks for taking the time to express your concern. Years ago, when I was a volunteer, and found myself headed to Africa - I figured that it was 'what I could do'. But to be blatantly honest - I was wrong. I found a corrupt system, I learned the sordid details of Canada's involvement and then when myself and some other volunteers tried to expose it, we were labelled racist by the Canadian organization!!!

In this blog, I only seek to vent my own frustrations with what still gets to me whenever I hear it - which is often.

From the perspective of the West - the biggest step is to choose NOT to be naive (which you have!!! that's great). This means you will fall for less of the Aid drives which more likely than not represent monies coming into Africa into the wrong hands.

Trust me - when you buy a ruby red lipstick from MAC cosmetics, you are NOT saving the life of some African child.

This is the silly media hype over there that bugs me.

I don't know what you can do - but writing your local government, blogging, talking, informing others, choosing alternatives like solar power wherever feasible. These are reasonable. You are only one individual.

The more information is shared, truths exposed, the better chances that these governments will come under more pressure to change.

Don't underestimate the power of the written word on the Internet!!!

Thanks again :)

#167 Dad said...

Thnk you for the information.

The pale observer said...

#167 Dad - you're welcome! Any thoughts on that info? :)

Organic Meatbag said...

In celebration of world toilet day, I fell in my toilet...

Jungle Mom said...

So... Africa sounds much like parts of South America... corruption, corruption, and corruption.
As to oil. I am observing something interesting here in Paraguay where oil rich Venezuela is holding the poor country of Paraguay over a barrel by refusing to renegotiate the cost of contracts made for diesel two years ago when the prices were so much higher. Now we have shortages and smuggled diesel from Argentina...
World toilet day???? really???

Land of shimp said...

Thanks so much for the reply, Holli. There is a great deal of value in simply knowing the truth. I think you raise an excellent point about how the plight of people is often turned into a marketable commodity.

It's an interesting thing because people do want to feel that they are helping, and that becomes something which can be taken advantage of by entities seeking to profit.

Sometimes there isn't a great deal to be done, and what the individual can do is limited...but I suppose we can choose how much we participate in things like MAC's supposed, philanthropy.

When things like false aid, spurred by the desire for profit, fail, perhaps that is one of the ways that will begin to open up better means. Not supporting companies that exploit for profit seems a good place to start.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I am going to skip the corruption bit. Not that its not important since it is immensely but the toilet thing really gets to me. I read this book at the beginning of the year called The Big Necessity by Rose George.
It was wonderful and enlightening. It is utterly ridiculous that some countries do not have even minor sanitation.
Thanks for the potty link!

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