Africa in the News: Shell Compensates Victims of Nigerian Oil Spills, Gambian Coup Backfires and Mining Taxation Central to Upcoming Zambian Election

Shell Pays $84 Million to Oil Spill Victims in the Niger Delta

After three years of legal deliberations, the oil firm Royal Dutch Shell has reached an out-of-court settlement with the Bodo community over two oil spills that took place in 2008 in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. The $84 million payout will provide 15,600 fishermen affected by the spills with $3,300 each, directly deposited into their personal bank accounts, while the remaining $30 million will be given to the community. Shell also accepted responsibility for cleaning up Bodo Creek in the coming months. The 2008 spills from the Trans Niger Pipeline operated by Shell were two of the largest ever experienced in Nigeria and devastated thousands of hectares of mangroves in the Niger Delta’s Ogoniland region. Furthermore, over the past six years, the environmental damage from the spills has adversely affected the community’s health and livelihoods by contaminating water sources used for collecting potable water, fishing and farming.

This settlement is unique as it is the first time in West Africa that an oil company has directly compensated individuals after an oil spill. Following the news of the payout, other communities in the Niger Delta that have experienced similar oil spills declared their intentions to pursue compensation by suing oil companies in London, rather than Nigeria where cases are often stalled or ignored.

For more analysis on communities in the Niger Delta region, please see the following papers by AGI scholars: Analysis of Community-Driven Development in Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region: Use of Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework and Participant Perception of the Effectiveness of the Rivers Songhai Initiative in the Niger Delta.

Two U.S. Citizens Arrested in Gambian Coup Ploy

On the evening of December 30, in an attempted coup, approximately 12 gunmen stormed the Gambian State House where President Yahya Jammeh resides; however, the assailants were repelled by the president’s security team. Lamin Sanneh, a former presidential guard chief who had been exiled from the Gambia has been charged with leading the group, while two U.S. citizens of Gambian origin, Cherno Njie and Papa Faal, have been arrested by the U.S. with attempting the violent overthrow of a U.S. ally, which is in violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act. Njie allegedly financed the plot and was also selected to replace Jammeh as interim president had the coup been successful.

Following the failed ouster, President Jammeh fired three government ministers on Monday, while a member of the opposition party, Sheikh Sidia Bayo, who called for Gambian nationals to join in the overthrow of Jammeh is reportedly being ejected from Senegal. Meanwhile, in the Gambia, dozens of individuals with possible links to the ploy have been arrested, fueling some concern from the international community given the Gambia’s poor human rights record in terms of suppression of political dissidence as well as extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Zambian Mining Tax Becomes a Focal Issue of Presidential Elections

Zambia’s contentious new mining taxation law, which came into effect on January 1, 2015, has increased royalties on mining firms from 6 percent of revenues to 8 percent for underground mines and 20 percent for open-pit mines. The law, as implemented, is intended to extract more revenues from the lucrative mining industry, which comprises 12 percent of Zambia’s gross domestic product, in order to support the government’s budget. In recent weeks, international mining firms have argued that the new law will jeopardize their profitability, especially as copper prices are declining, and could lead to mine closures. In fact, in December major Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold Corp., suspended its Lumwana Copper Mine operations—which employ nearly 4,000 people in the area—in retaliation to the tax hikes.

This week, Nevers Mumba, the main opposition party’s (Movement for Multiparty Democracy) candidate, stated that he will review, and possibly eliminate, the tax if elected president. Edgar Lungu, the candidate of the incumbent Patriotic Front, is far more likely to uphold the tax, considering its implementation under the vision of his party. As Zambians head to the polls on January 20, this new law will be one of the major issues influencing the election’s outcome: The considering mining sector employs an estimated one-tenth of the labor force of the country.

Africa Growth Initiative’s Foresight Africa 2015 Released

As AGI scholars have been tracking and analyzing the African continent’s major economic trends and developments in 2014, they have also been predicting the top issues and events in 2015. To read their key insights on the most pressing governance, development and security challenges in the year to come, please see Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2015 and register for the Top Priorities for Africa in 2015 event on Thursday, January 15, from 10:00-11:30 a.m. The event will also be webcasted live.