A Nigerian court today ordered Royal Duth Shell PLC to pay US$1.5 billion in compensation to the communities in the vicinity of their Nigerian Delta operations. It’s alleged that Shell has caused vast damage to the environment, resulting in lack of sanitary drinking water, death of fish in the waterways, and polluted farm lands. All of this seems undeniable.
However, it’s ironic that the Nigerian political and judicial system is now holding Shell to account, as for decades it would seem that both the Government and the justice system have protected the interests of foreign commercial partners whilst turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the protests of the locals. (Read more here about Nigeria and Shell’s greedy plundering of oil)
As long ago as 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was peacefully protesting the greed and destruction of Shell in Nigeria. Ken, along with eight colleagues, was charged with the murder of 4 tribal leaders in what was decried as a show trial on concocted charges. On 10th November 1995, Ken was hanged.
But as Ken said in his closing comments to the court, whether he lived or died, history would inevitably reveal the truth.
No matter how spin doctors for Shell and other oil companies may present their story, the facts are unavoidable: Nigeria is sitting on a gold mine of oil, and yet the people are living in abject poverty!
80% of Nigerian Government revenues come from oil, and over half that amount is directly from Shell. However, “countless sums disappear into the pockets of military strongmen in the form of bribes and theft“. Although Shell works predominantly in Ogoniland, which is situated in South-Eastern Nigeria, they employ only 88 Ogoni staff, comprising only 2% of their total workforce in Nigeria.
Shell has been repeatedly accused of funding the Nigerian military, who in turn have used strong arm tactics to suppress all opposition to Shell’s activities.
Is oil, money, and increased profits, a defensible excuse for devastation of millions of people’s lives, destruction of their farmlands, and even execution of their opponents?
Although Shell may now be making some small efforts to improve their performance (this is highly debatable!) the surface has hardly been scratched. Corruption remains rampant in Government, and the poor don’t appear to be seeing any improvement in their situation.
Even worse, militants are now taking matters into their own hands. Nigeria is in the grip of mushrooming violence.
And it all started because a few in positions of power wanted more money and power.
Nigeria Country Analysis
I was reminded today that we don’t have to take responsibility for “rescuing” every person in troubled circumstances, we can’t possibly do it all on our own. And fortunately, God’s love is all-powerful and is beyond anything we can personally achieve.
But it got me thinking… I wonder how many people lose their sense of urgency or are less compelled to act, because they believe that God’s going to reach people in His own ways, and those ways are so much greater than our own?
For people to experience the love of God, it usually requires the love of people like you and me. We are the body of God, the hands and feet. God works THROUGH us. So if we sit back and wait for God to lift people out of their desperate situation, we’re missing the point!
It’s up to us to get out there and show love to people through caring for them in practical ways. If someone is hungry, we need to feed them (and help create opportunities for them to feed themself). If someone is ill, we need to care for them. If somebody is exploited and taken advantage of, we need to stand up for them.
‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among
you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue
to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God,
so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him
money at interest or sell him food at a profit.
- Leviticus 25:35-37, The Bible
I believe we have a duty and a privilege to care for people, and it’s (almost entirely) through us showing love and care to people that they experience the love of God for them.
Did you know that you can now personalise your Google home page? It’s a really nifty feature which means you can keep key news and information available on the same page as you perform a Google search.
I’ve added my own ” Getting Aktiv ” blog to my personalised home page, and you can too. When personalising your homepage, you just add the URL of my feed, i.e. http://feeds.feedburner.com/GettingAktiv and then every time you load Google, you’ll see my latest Blog entries! Neat, heh?
Another 30,000 people died today because they couldn’t afford even the most basic requirements.
Faced with the magnitude of the problem, it may be tempting to throw our hands up in the air and quit. But we really can make a difference to hundreds and thousands of people. It’s the efforts of individuals (and sometimes corporates, but mostly individuals) that touch other individuals.
The story of Nalini, as described by Give India, is a simple example of the powerful effect a few dollars can have. In Nalini’s case, once her father died her mother struggled to support the family, and even putting food on the table was a challenge. To hope for an education was beyond the realms of reality. But if we’re going to “teach a man to fish”, education is crucial. An organisation called ‘Kaingkarya‘ supported Nalini’s practical needs through payment of the school fees and providing food and basic essentials. “Today, Nalini is in Class 12 and is aspiring to join a medical college.” What a difference in the life of that one person!
I’m encouraged that we can make a difference in a persons life. Individually, we mightn’t change the world, but collectively we can make a huge push in that direction. Maybe our neighbours just need some inspiration to get involved themselves, which may result from seeing or hearing about the impact you’ve been able to have.
Our mind is a marvellous thing. It can analyse a situation in incredible detail, and yet it can quickly identify patterns consistent with previous experience and re-use the previous responses to fast-track decision making and respond quickly in times of crisis.
“The brain is a self-organizing environment in which incoming information organizes itself into patterns. Once those patterns are formed then all the brain needs to do is to recognise the pattern and then follow along the track. It is through the use of these established routine patterns that we cope so well with the complex world.”
- Edward de Bono, “New Thinking for The New Millenium” (1999)
However, for all it’s positives, patterned thinking also has it’s drawbacks in certain circumstances. We tend to lump every remotely similiar situation in together and ignore its uniqueness. And we tend to simplify things into a more comprehensible “summary view”.
Perhaps that explains why, when you talk to most people about poverty and human suffering, they have a few prime examples at the forefront of their mind, but struggle to think of other places and people who are also suffering. (I’m guilty as charged!)
Places and races that spring to mind may include “starving kids in Ethiopia“, Rwanda, streetkids and child prostitutes in Philippines or Thailand, slum dwellers and the rural poor in India… Perhaps for the majority Caucasian “Western” world, we see it as being “them” – i.e. people of visibly different heritage to ourselves, be it oriental, negro, or Indian. Whatever the reason, I’m guessing that very few people would immediately think the former Soviet states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and although any US readers may think of South American countries, most of the rest of the world would not.
It’s true that Africa bears a huge part of the burden, and yet there are some pockets of poverty in Soviet countries which are even more extreme (if that’s possible!) than high profile areas of Africa such as Sudan.
According to an October 2005 report by Christian Aid, many families in Tajikistan are “forced to rely on only one meal per day” and consequently the country is plagued by chronic or acute malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, and dramatically shortened life expectancy.
Tajikistan has less than half the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of Sudan, and infant mortality rates are almost 50% higher.
Think quick, learn from past experiences, but don’t let patterned thinking shield you from the extent of the poverty crisis for so many DIFFERENT people in so many DIFFERENT situations… and each with their own PERSONAL story.
Tajikistan Development Gateway
Reliefweb’s Tajikistan: Poverty headcount – absolute poverty line
Unicef’s Tajikistan Child Protection Overview
There’s literally thousands of organisations serving the poor worldwide, in a variety of different ways, and some obviously do it better than others. Aside from the questions of how effective their programs are in achieving the desired result (that’s been debated for decades, and no doubt will continue to be for years to come!), there are obvious measures of how much of your donated money ends up in Administration and Fund Raising expenses versus how much actually gets to the intended programs.
Charity Navigator does a pretty good job of comparing US-based organisations (including many international operations, or the US affiliate of organisations which are also established in other countries) – very interesting to see the percentages that get to the programs, and also how much the CEO draws in salary/benefits!
It won’t give you black-and-white answers, but it may help you to highlight obvious inconsistencies or questions you should be asking before you support an organisation.