if you need another reason to shuffle down to Washington for that protest next month against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, read on.The World Bank and oil industry are putting up the dough for a pipeline project in the central African country of Chad that no one seems to want except for the Exxon-led consortium that will reap most of the benefits.
Judging by what has happened so far, any gain that accrues to Chad will flow directly to dictator Idriss Deby, who has spent $4.5 million (U.S.) of oil industry construction money to buy arms. His Jeeps and helicopters will no doubt come in handy in putting down the guerrilla war that's raging in the area through which the pipeline is to pass before it reaches neighbouring Cameroon en route to the ocean.
Both international organizations and Chadian expatriates who have had to flee Deby's autocratic grasp have condemned the pipeline on environmental, social and economic grounds. The dictator holds a prominent place on Amnesty International's list of world human rights abusers for running a regime of torture, extrajudicial killings and repression of a guerrilla war in the south -- the very territory through which the 1,100-kilometre, $3.7-billion pipeline is to pass.
"Just like in many other African countries, the ethnic group from which the president hails thinks the government is theirs," says Darnace Torou, a diplomat for 12 years before abandoning his job at the Chadian UN mission and settling in Toronto two years ago.
Though its proponents present pipeline revenue as salvation for one of the poorest countries in the world, Torou says he doesn't see how this can be the case without a clean, fair government running Chad. "It's difficult to see how the people can be satisfied with this type of management, even if oil money pours down."
The World Bank, in response to the outpouring of opposition to the pipeline, set up an advisory group headed by a former Senegalese prime minister to review the complaints.
But it hasn't quelled the backlash, which is environmental as well as political. Critics warn of groundwater contamination and pollution that would affect forests, land, coastal waters and rivers.
The oil fields are in the heart of Chad's food-producing region, and a small spill would jeopardize the Sanaga, one of Africa's most important river systems.
One report estimates that even with state-of-the-art technology, more than 2,000 gallons of oil could leak per day without being officially detected.
Many thousands of indigenous Bakola people, commonly known as "pygmies," would also be affected by the project. At least 43 Bakola settlements are located within a mile and a half of the proposed pipeline easement and on or near its access road.
In addition, the government is currently being challenged for undemocratic election procedures last spring.
But, sighs Carwil James, the oil campaign coordinator for Project Underground in California, the World Bank continues to allocate funds to the project and the Chadian government.
"(The construction of the) pipeline has moved forward, the first environmental and social destruction has begun, and the kind of social pattern we predicted has happened. The first brothel serving foreign oil workers is now open in Chad."
The latest instalment from the World Bank -- a cool $100 million -- arrived on July 11. Critics say the agency's continuing support is the only thing that gives the project credibility and keeps the private sector involved.
The way the World Bank sees it, however, any negative side effects coming from the pipeline will be more than offset by the benefits to Chad, where about 80 per cent of its 7.5 million people live on less than $1 a day.
Richard Uku, the bank's head of external affairs (Africa region), tells NOW from head office in Washington that "natural resource booms are difficult to manage," but his agency wants to help the country make certain that its new wealth will be invested for the well-being of all Chadians.
On the environmental front, Uku says that from the start "the environmental risks of this project were seen to be significant, but not overwhelming. Numerous issues were identified, but all of them proved to be amenable to scientific or technical solutions."
He says World Bank officials and experts "walked the full length of the pipeline route to double-check data from aerial surveys."
Miles Shaw, public affairs manager of the consortium building the pipeline, says it has nothing to do with local politics in Chad. "I categorically refute that the project has been a cause of any deaths or violence," he says. "Sure, there is rebel activity. But that does not occur in the oil fields. We are not part of it.
"The majority of the population supports the project. It will bring them many benefits. Chad is a poor country. That is why we feel passionate about what we are doing there."
No doubt protestors in Washington will feel the same way.