Ten years ago today an internationally renowned author and activist named Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other men were hanged in Nigeria. He had accused the Nigerian government of genocide of the Ogoni people, and Shell and the IMF of complicity.
Today, a silent vigil outside the Shell building in London and meetings of activists in Britain, Nigeria and elsewhere mark the tenth anniversary of the executions. In less than an hour at the time of writing, the winner of an art competition for a living memorial will be announced.
It’s part of a rainbow of events over the last few months to keep questions of corporate accountability and human rights on the agenda.
Soyinka read a moving account of his experience at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in New Zealand ten years ago. He had realised, he said, that Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were done for when he was handed a leaflet from Shell saying they had no responsibility for what was happening. At the time Nelson Mandela was relaying an assurance he had received personally from Sani Abacha, the Nigerian dictator, to the effect that Saro-Wiwa and the others would be just fine.
Today’s vigil and the other events are organised by a consortium of organisations and led by Platform, a London-based arts and politics collective.
Platform has just published a book called The Next Gulf: London, Washingtonand Oil Conflict in Nigeria. The authors – Andy Rowell, James Marriott and Lorne Stockman – argue that “a new Atlantic Triangle” is being created that ties Britain, America and the Niger Delta together. “The first Atlantic Triangle was built on the exploitation of slaves; the second,” they say, “is the exploitation of oil and gas”.
Western interests in Africa are longstanding. But new kids on the block are becoming ever more active. China, for example, is rapidly expanding its footprint in Angola, Sudan, Nigeria and other countries on the continent.
Sitting alone at last night’s artist evening was a well known protestor from Tiananmen Square who now lives in exile in Britain. What chance that Chinese companies in Africa be held to account?