Chad’s oil: 10 year anniversary, nothing much to celebrate

Deby thumbs up

A crowning achievement! October 10, 2003

It was on October 10th 2003 that Exxon Mobil and its partners officially inaugurated the Chad-Cameroon Oil Project. The press release marking the event was positively jubilant:

Addressing inauguration attendees, Morris Foster, president of ExxonMobil Development Company, said, “It is with great pride that I am here today to celebrate this tremendous accomplishment with everyone who has been involved in the Project. I want to personally thank President Deby and President Biya for their support along with important contributions of our co-venturers, Petronas and ChevronTexaco, and the World Bank Group for their commitment to this Project.

“Today we celebrate not only what was achieved during the construction but Esso, as operator, also celebrates the manner in which it has been accomplished,” Mr. Foster added. “We maintained our long-term focus on this project over 27 years of effort and changes in the consortium, increased the known oil reserves to commercial levels and helped turn a vision in 1976 into a reality. We believe this project will help prepare a brighter future for the citizens of Chad and Cameroon, and I am proud we are part of it.”

The Project represents unprecedented efforts in the areas of socio-economic planning and public consultation. Since 1993 the Project has held nearly 5,000 public consultation meetings reaching tens of thousands of people in hundreds of villages throughout the Project area — by far the most extensive public consultation process ever undertaken in Africa.

Chadian President Idriss Déby was equally enthusiastic, proclaiming, “This 10th of October 2003, a day that we have been looking forward to for so long, is historic because it commemorates the successful culmination and crowning achievement of a long drawn out struggle.” He made the point that the project will help in, “…establishing national infrastructures, accelerating rural development, modernizing agriculture and herding and increasing their outputs, promoting national companies, ensuring the good functioning and the performance of the government, guaranteeing the social well-being of our people, in short, enabling at last the socio-economical takeoff of Chad while offering the chance of a decent life to future generations.”

As anyone who has visited this website knows, the project has failed to provide any of the promised benefits for the people of Chad and Cameroon. Chad has exported more than 10 million barrels of crude oil in ten years, but has precious little to show for it. “A lost decade,” is how economist Korinna Horta describes Chad’s oil adventure. Horta began writing about the Chad-Cameroon Oil Project before the World Bank got on board and is one of many prominent academics and activists who opposed the Bank’s involvement in the so-called “oil for development” project.  Horta and others predicted the project would not lead to poverty alleviation. They were right. In 2008 the World Bank “pulled out” of Chad, denouncing the country’s non-compliance with the terms of its Bank agreement. It was a meaningless symbolic gesture with no impact on Deby’s management of oil revenues as he had already fully repaid his government’s debt to the Bank. Furthermore, through its private investment arm, the IFC, the Bank continued its involvement in Chad. The Bank makes noise about lessons learned in Chad, yet carries on with reckless funding of  projects that benefit only corporations and the political elite, while harming the environment and further impoverishing those at the bottom.

Read Why the World Bank Continues to Fund Environmental Destruction for more on the Bank’s dismal record since it supposedly learned its lessons from the Chad-Cameroon Oil Project.

For the Chadians living closest to the Doba oil fields the project has not only failed to improve living conditions — it has exacerbated poverty and damaged the local environment. In October 2011 seven Chadian civil society organizations filed a complaint with the IFC on behalf of local farmers and community members suffering negative impacts of Chad’s oil development. The Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman for the IFC determined that the complaint met its three eligibility criteria and performed an assessment of the complaint, which was completed in October 2012. The complaint covered a wide range of ongoing problems including water and land pollution, land expropriation, lack of jobs and increased military presence (and excessive use of force) in the area. The Complainants, affected community representatives and Esso Chad (Exxon Mobil) agreed to engage in a voluntary dispute resolution process, but one year later little has changed.

Read more about Chad’s oil story at the Ten Years First Oil in Chad website, which among other things contains a useful timeline of Chad’s oil development.

For the official view, read Esso Chad’s 2012 annual report — lots of good news! — available at the Esso Chad website.

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