The new frontlines of war

| 20th March 2014
Celestine Akpobari, from World on Want's Nigerian partner Social Action. Photo: WoW.
Celestine Akpobari, from World on Want's Nigerian partner Social Action. Photo: WoW.
This Saturday War on Want holds its Frontlines conference in London on the global conflict between communities and corporations, writes Paul Collins. Featuring a host of inspiring speakers, it will forge new alliances and new strategies of resistance.
Communities have seen their rights systematically violated in favour of multinational companies invited in by their governments to exploit their natural resources.

As people around the globe this weekend call for the right to safe running water on the UN's World Water Day, the Ogoni people in Rumuekpe's Niger Delta community struggle with no water supply.

Amid the huge oil wealth in Rumuekpe's territory, the community should rank among the prosperous in the world. Yet Rumuekpe's 20,000 residents live in poverty - lacking not just water but also electricity, drainage systems and schools.

In stark contrast, since 1956 the Anglo-Dutch giant corporation Shell has pumped countless barrels of oil from its installations in Rumuekpe, racking up substantial profits.

Almost two decades after Shell opponent Ken Saro-Wiwa's murder, another champion for the Ogoni people, Celestine Akpobari, will address War on Want's conference, The New Frontlines of War, this Saturday in London.

Akpobari, from the charity's partner organisation Social Action, is among several activists who will discuss corporations, conflict and community resistance with participants at the event.

Targeted assassinations

The global plunder of natural resources is intensifying. Corporations are increasingly taking over water, oil, gas, mineral and metal deposits, and buying up land in countries across the planet, often forcing off existinig owners.

Governments have been encouraged by global institutions - such as the World Bank and the IMF - to compete with each other to attract companies by offering massive tax breaks and guaranteeing huge profits.

Communities have seen their rights systematically violated in favour of multinational companies invited in by their governments to exploit their natural resources. Opponents suffer targeted assassinations, harassment and death threats.

Traditional subsistence agriculture has grown increasingly futile for residents in Rumuekpe, after decades of oil spills and acid rain caused by Shell's illegal gas flaring. Oil operations have also failed to provide employment in the community.

One resident, Emeka Eke, said: "From the day Shell arrived here, until today, you will not find one person from Rumuekpe employed by Shell, nor at any of the other oil companies."

Armed conflict deliberately engineered

While the plunder of its resources and degradation of the environment have devastated the community, its destruction has been fuelled by deadly armed conflict.

The crisis began in 2005, with a minor dispute, but quickly engulfed the entire community. More than 60 men, women and children lost their lives, most of the houses and school buildings were razed to the ground, and thousands of people were forced to flee.

This war was engineered for profit. The alarming truth is that oil companies are pitching community members in wars against each other. In Rumuekpe, Shell was handing out payments for so-called security contracts to rival factions who used the money to buy weapons and ammunition to sustain the conflict.

Communities have seen their rights systematically violated in favour of multinational companies invited in by their governments to exploit their natural resources.

Akpobari explains: "Shell spends so much money and expertise designing ways of creating crisis - because they think that, if the community is united, then they will make demands on the company. Rumuekpe is not an exception. This is the way they operate in Nigeria."

And while the guns were firing, Shell was busy sucking oil from the troubled land, protected by heavily armed soldiers. Despite the violence and destruction on its doorstep, the company never stopped drilling - not for a single day.

Split brothers hugged for the first time in years

Social Action is working to empower the community, so that people in Rumuekpe can demand accountability from the oil companies and the Nigerian state, both of which must take responsibility for the grinding poverty and environmental destruction they have caused.

The organisation has facilitated meetings between opposing factions, highlighting to those involved how Shell has manipulated the crisis for its own benefit.

Akpobari said that this hard work helped broker a peace deal between two factions: "There were brothers who had been on opposing sides in the war. It was such an emotional occasion when they hugged for the first time in years."

Human rights in Colombia

Together with Akpobari at the conference will be Berenice Celeita, from War on Want's Colombian partner, Nomadesc, which defends human rights, especially for indigenous, campesino and other rural citizens, including those of African descent.

Colombia possesses huge national wealth and ranks as the world's second most biodiverse country. This natural beauty, though, has proved a curse.

Rural communities have seen their rights systematically violated in favour of multinational companies which exploit these resources. Community leaders who oppose big business in their territories continue to be assassinated at a shocking rate.

Indonesian security forces repress Papuans

A third speaker at the conference, on multinationals profiting amid conflict, will be the West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.

Wenda has long campaigned against illegal logging and transnational companies reaping dividends from natural resources, while Indonesian security forces repress Papuans.

West Papua remains the poorest and least developed part of Indonesia, with a lack of basic healthcare and low literacy, despite being home to one of the world's biggest gold mines and huge gas deposits.

The multinationals Freeport and Rio Tinto ahave close ties with the Indonesian military to protect their mining interests in West Papua - a army that has been estimated to have killed more than 100,000 Papuans, and which continues to commit abuses.

G4S - supporting Israel's occupation of Palestine

Two other activists will address the event - Ayed Abu Eqtaish and Ivan Karakashian, from the Palestine section of Defence for Children International.

Both will hit out at yet another multinational earning profits from conflict. Their target, British security company G4S, provides equipment for Kishon and Moskobiyyeh detention facilities, where human rights organisations have documented systematic Israeli torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, including child prisoners.

Holding prisoners from occupied Palestine inside Israel flouts Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory into the territory of the occupier.

Pressure on G4S is working, since the security firm has announced plans to leave the occupied Palestinian territories by next year. War on Want played its part in persuading thousands of voters to name G4S one of the world's worst companies in the 2013 Public Eye awards. The firm came third for the people's choice 'prize' - after Shell and Goldman Sachs.



The conference: 'New Frontlines of War' takes place from 11 am to 6 pm at Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA. Admission is free. Register here or call 020 7324 5040.

Music: At 8 pm in the same venue War on Want will stage international music and performance to raise money for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The bill features Toot Ard, Ministry of Dub-Key and Dizraeli. Tickets £12, available online from Rich Mix (or 020 7613 7498). The speakers will address other events in Newcastle and Manchester. Details here.

Paul Collins is media officer at War on Want. Together with people affected by globalisation in developing countries, the charity battles for human rights and against the root causes of global poverty, inequality and injustice.


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