While much of this blog so far has been concerned with thinking about all the projects in Africa to build new commercial planned cities that will house the homes and offices of businesses making profits from Africa’s resources and nascent retail-hungry middle class, it’s important not to be overly focused on either these headline grabbing, secure, infrastructurally sound enclaves that attract international businesses, nor too focused on the surrounding slums they juxtapose, but to remember the array of roads, pipes, and wires that the country and partnering corporations depend on to actually run their operations in the country. This infrastructure, found in the form of airports, port, roads, power plants, trains, internet cables and cell towers, has the potential to either breach the gap between the wealthy enclaves and the rest of the country by building up infrastructure throughout a interconnected nation, or to further cut-up and cut-off communities from privileged bunkers like Eko Atlantic. This article in the New York Times about the “illegal” tapping of oil pipelines in Nigeria’s Delta region touches on an example of the latter. I’ve been reading Helon Habila’s novel Oil on Water, which has a moving descriptions of the effects of Shell and BP’s oil extraction on the people who made their homes in the delta region:

There are countless villages going up in smoke daily. Well, this place, Junction, went up in smoke because of an accident associated with this vandalism, as you call it. But I don’t blame them for wanting to get some benefit out of the pipelines that have brought nothing but suffering to their lives, leaking into the rivers and wells, killing the fish and poisoning the farmlands. And all they are told by the oil companies and the government is that the pipelines are there for their own good, that they hold great potential for their country, their future. These people endure the worst conditions of any oil-producing community on earth, the government knows it but doesn’t have the will to stop it, the oil companies know it, but because the government doesn’t care, they also don’t care. And you think the people are corrupt? No. They are just hungry, and tired. (p. 103-104)

That’s a powerful paragraph. Are these pipeline puncturers democratizing oil in Nigeria, or stealing from their country? Not easy to answer and probably not even a productive question in light of Habila’s illumination of the situation, but the whole complexity of the situation speaks to the infrastructural challenges places like Nigeria have beyond the edges of their slowly improving cities…will people continue migrating into the cities until the countryside simply a battlefield between the remaining petro-rebels and corporate backed national armies? Th violence in Southwest Nigeria has calmed down since the 2007 amnesty for rebels, but still that does not seem to be an impossible dystopian vision of the future. Roads and train tracks carved through places like the Serengeti or other communities and neighborhoods while leaving others off the map have similar problematic effects that have to be considered during planning. On a different note, looking at the images from the nytimes article about oil tapping, it’s not difficult to link the images of oil soaked landscapes and overflowing buckets of oil to how a cancer-epidemic is developing in much of Africa (chronicled in Botswana by Julie Livingston who ties it to what she calls “toxic capital”). In other places it’s savvy but hazardous activities like burning old computers without ventilators to collect and sell the medal inside them, and other places it’s simply the lack of car emissions testing, constantly dousing people in toxic fumes. And then there is the lack of medical infrastructure and treatment for this and other epidemics…

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Image Source [Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

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