Building an Oil Pipeline in the World’s Most Corrupt Countries

The Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project was launched in October of 2000 by ExxonMobil with the goal of creating a 1,070 kilometer pipeline from the oilfields of southern Chad to the coastline of Cameroon.  A US$4.2 billion project, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project was largely funded by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).  As an arm of the World Bank Group, the IFC agreed to fund the project if the governments of both Chad and Cameroon would adhere to a management plan that sought to alleviate each country’s poverty with the revenues generated from the project. 

Although all parties agreed with the management plan, the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project was met with a great amount of resistance by over 80 human rights groups.  These human rights groups were certainly justified in their resistance to the pipeline project.  According to Transparency International’s 2000 Corruption Perception Index, Cameroon ranked seventh most corrupt out of a survey of 90 countries.  In spite of these facts and outcries, the World Bank moved ahead with the pipeline project.

In October 2003, a mere few weeks after the oil began to flow in Chad, ExxonMobil gave itself a great pat on the back by running a full-page ad in The New York Times.  ExxonMobil claimed in this ad that the pipeline project had funded numerous health education programs and had caused a major boost in local employment, with over 35,000 jobs created during the pipeline construction phase.  ExxonMobil’s ad also claimed to have avoided building in areas of cultural and ecological significance and to have provided compensation for those people whose crops were destroyed during the construction phase. 

Christiane Badgley’s documentary, Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?, paints a drastically different picture than the one that ExxonMobil and the World Bank Group paints of the project’s accomplishments.  In the ten years since the start of the pipeline project, the picture of Cameroon on the ground is the complete opposite of what a prosperous country looks like.  While ExxonMobil claims that its pipeline project created over 35,000 jobs, it fails to explicate how long these jobs lasted.  In Badgley’s documentary, two workers explain that their jobs as bush cutters lasted only a day or two, during which time they were paid $6.50 per day.  ExxonMobil also does not explain that the other jobs that it created were for skilled workers and lasted only two to three weeks.  Throughout the documentary, you see national parks that are barely functional, Bagyeli children with insufficient schoolbags, and families with half-constructed houses.  All of these problems can be directly attributed to the pipeline project.  In Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?, villager after villager cites the hardships they have faced as a result of the pipeline and the promises of compensation that were never fulfilled.

Where is my compensation?  This is a question that countless Cameroonian villagers have asked.  Numerous instances of corruption have been linked to this pipeline project.  In Badgley’s documentary, you see US$9,000 fishponds and US$25,000 electricity projects simply abandoned.  The villagers Badgley interviews explain that ExxonMobil and the government of Cameroon both agree that the compensation has been paid and that work on the ground has begun yet project after project has been abandoned, including the Kribi International Airport.

The rampant corruption surrounding the pipeline project is not exclusive to the Cameroonian government; the Chadian government has been just as dishonest.  It has since been discovered that the Chadian government used its US$25 million bonus from 2000 to purchase weapons for its military, instead of putting the money towards alleviating poverty as it promised.

The biggest question one is faced with at the end of Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity? is: Why is the World Bank continuing to fund these obviously corrupt regimes in Chad and Cameroon?  Ten years later, the World Bank and human rights groups alike do not have the answer.

Link to Christiane Badgley’s Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?:

By Brandy Simpson and Rachel Hanigan

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