Ken Saro Wiwa: People Before Profit

 In Guest Blogger, Stories of People
Saro Wiwa
Tim Lambon / Greenpeace

The eighteenth anniversary of the death of Ken Saro Wiwa this week came just days after Amnesty International released a report condemning the refusal of Shell to recognise the damage that oil spills have caused to the Niger Delta region and its population. As large oil companies in Africa continue to place profits over people and planet, the tragic story of Ken Saro Wiwa reminds us of the fight against inequalities and injustice that is part of the struggle for securing a sustainable future.

Born in 1941, Saro Wiwa was a writer of international fame and used his writing to describe the horrors of the war. He also embodied the essence of the non-violent environmentalist fighting to protect the rights of the Ogoni people. Saro Wiwa stood up against the dictatorship and led a peaceful movement against one of the biggest companies in the world and one of the most powerful armies in Africa.

The lives of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria, became endangered in the late 1950s as Shell and the government started profitable extraction of oil from the Niger Delta. Shell bulldozed entire villages to make space for pipelines and built hundreds of wells that ultimately led to oil spills that devastated the land and polluted water supplies.

Ken Saro Wiwa created the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in an attempt to defend their land rights. Demonstrations spread across the country in 1993 as hundreds of thousands of Ogonis took their non-violent protest to the streets. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders were sentenced to death by the Nigerian government and executed on 10 November 1995. The international outrage led to Nigeria being ousted from the Commonwealth of Nations and provoked Nelson Mandela to condemn the deaths as a “heinous crime”.

The lessons from this story have yet to be learned. A 2011 UNEP report observed that it would take more than 30 years for the Niger Delta to fully recover from this exploitation. Yet, the recommendations are still to be implemented. The Amnesty International report shows that the lives of the people in the region remain threatened. Our environment and human rights need to take precedence over the narrow interests of big companies.

For more information on Ken Saro Wiwa, watch this video.

Mathilde Gracia, Guest Blogger


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