Billions of dollars have poured into the coffers of Nigeria from petroleum refining, but residents in petroleum rich areas of Nigeria and elsewhere have seen little of the money.
The reason is that there is little accounting for the money, and much of it lands in the hands of Nigerian officials or military leaders. Swiss bankers have probably seen more of the money than Nigerians.
This has been happening for decades. In 1978, Nigerian officials were transferring as much as $25 million a day, while people struggled with poverty. In 1984, Nigerian President Mobutu bragged on U.S. TV that he was the richest many in the world, with a petroleum haul of more than $8 billion. General Sani Abacha ended up with $5.8 billion; it was placed in bank accounts all over the world.
Africans and others who ended up in other continents because of slave traders claiming they should receive some kind of reparation in kind for how imperial nations exploited their country - countries like England, France, Germany and Belgium. But why does that not apply to African leaders as well? Is it because there is actual accounting for money in European cultures, but theft and graft in Africa?
It's ironic that Africa's rulers, when given the opportunity to help people in Africa, rely on Western banks to hide it from their people. But it's not just Nigerian officials who are taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
An 1999, one report estimated that 39 percent of wealth from African nations is taken out of the country and invested in banks overseas. The worse culprits are Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, in that order.
It's a sad saga all around. Much of the money in Nigeria could be used to make refining oil safer and less toxic to the environment. Refining areas are polluted by toxic gas flares that cause sickness and cancer for locals. Oil spills in refining areas are a problem also.
Similar problems in other countries in Africa have caused at least one African leader to suggest that African countries would be better off with colonial authority that local, African rule. The reason is that because of Western influence, natural resources that were previously untapped, have made many African nations more sustainable. But those riches have dwindled because of poor management and theft by African officials.
With all of the mismanagement and corruption, it would seem that the people who should be making repayments are Africans. Western nations have continued to support Africa financially, and with other vital means of generosity, including medical improvements to fight the AIDS epidemic and the Ebola outbreak in recent years.
If this is not an issue for Western minds, it would seem to be a race and wealth issue: the wealthy, white nations pay the poor black nations because they have more money don't steal it.
There is no question that European countries benefited from the exploitation of manpower and resources in the nations that it colonized. The problem with this moral measurement is whether or not these same countries on the whole benefited from Western European nations developing an entire continent. The people who think they deserve something in return can emigrate to these Western nations because they can speak the language. They can speak English and French, and generally value the concept of education and learning, things that had no value before colonization.
As well, during most of the history of Africa, there was nothing wrong with slavery. Tribes with more power subjugated and enslaved other people groups in Africa for centuries.
Major kingdoms in Africa as well as Muslims in Northern Africa enslaved people for centuries. In fact, in the 16th century, Malik Ambar (1549 - 1626), was enslaved at an early age in Ethiopia, and eventually became the regent of the Indian Kingdom of Ahmednagar.
In ancient Kemet, for example, there are descriptions of European slaves being branded. Later, in other African societies, especially those that were powerful states, enslaved people could be found, although generally their status was little different from that of poor farmers.
Islamic forces in Northern Africa enslaved coastal cities in Europe as far north as England and Ireland for centuries. In one case, Islamic pirates raided a small city in Ireland and took all of the inhabitants as slaves.
Over the centuries and millennia, numerous empires subjugated other people groups. The Roman Empire conquered and subjugated most of the known world. Should the Italians living in Italy pay reparations to people in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and everyone else in the Mediterranean because of the Roman Empire?
If officials in Nigeria and other African countries lie and steal to enrich their people, the best avenue is not to ask for people in other nations to make up for the loss. It's for Africans to be more responsible with their wealth and resources. Petroleum is not any more of a curse any more than Swiss banking. Nigerians emigrating to the U.S. and other nations, should make some attempt to go back to their country and clean up the "oil" mess. That would be true reparation.
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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