Author: Cyril I. Obi.
This article explores the ramifications of the entry of Chinese state oil companies into the volatile Niger Delta for the politics of local resistance in the region ‐ until recently, virtually the preserve of Western oil multinationals and smaller Independents. The entry of Chinese oil companies in the context of a ‘new’ scramble for Africa's resources, and as a response to strategic moves by the Nigerian petro‐state and ruling elite to increase oil revenues, and diversify its near‐total dependence on Western actors, oil technology, markets and conditionalities, has drawn a quick response from the local communities in the Niger Delta. On 29 April 2006, an Ijaw youth militia, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), exploded a car bomb in the city of Warri, warning the Chinese oil companies to stay away from the Niger Delta, and further threatening that they would be treated as ‘thieves’ and attacked. Since then, there have been reports of the kidnapping and subsequent release of some Chinese oil workers in the region. What is the potential impact of the entry of Chinese oil capital on the fragile oil environment and the human rights situation in this volatile oil‐rich region? Does the existing evidence suggest a fundamental difference in local responses to Chinese and Western oil capital in the Niger Delta? What explanations can be advanced for the local response to the entry of Chinese oil companies in the Niger Delta? The paper also analyzes the likely response of the Chinese oil companies to the perceived threat(s) that local resistance in the Niger Delta could pose to their extractive, profit and energy security interests, given their antecedents in other African new oil states, particularly Sudan, where Chinese companies or Chinese oil workers were targeted by rebels, and were deeply involved with the state and dominant elite in mining oil and repressing local resistance. This assumes further significance in the securitization of the Niger Delta's oil within the context of a post‐9/11 US‐led (militarised) energy security paradigm that has placed the region in the context of an energy‐rich Gulf of Guinea, which is central to Western global strategic interests. While demonstrating that a clear anti‐Chinese oil position does not as yet exist in the Niger Delta, the article critically examines the prospects for the future of the forces and trajectories of local resistance in the Niger Delta.