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Why Africa keeps fighting over oil

Peace talks continued in Nigeria Thursday between the government and the leader of a militia group.

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At one of the main forest bases of Nigerian militia leader Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the man partly responsible for pushing world oil prices over $50 a barrel this week, a small television was set up last month next to a pile of DVDs. The titles varied from action movies like "Mortal Kombat" to a film on the French Revolution.

The selection gives a sense of both the violence and the spirit of resistance characterizing a conflict over the control of oil fields here and the benefits from them. The country's Niger Delta region, which produces nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day and accounts for 10 percent of US crude imports, is infused with a deep popular anger over pollution and the failure of oil revenues to bring development. Mr. Dokubo-Asari, who claims to command 2,000 armed fighters, earlier this week called for the immediate withdrawal of all foreigners from the delta until the resolution of political issues, including control of the country's oil resources. Peace talks continued Thursday between Dokubo-Asari and the Nigerian government.

The dispute over natural resources is at the heart of some of the most intractable conflicts in Africa today, from Sudan to Congo to Nigeria. Even amid international efforts to bring greater transparency to the continent's resource exploration, the recent strife here is a microcosm of widespread theft and mismanagement, which observers attribute to a combination of colonial-era intervention, corrupt governments, and cynical behavior by Western policymakers and multinationals.

"Sub-Saharan African governments will receive more than $200 billion in oil revenues over the coming decade," according to Catholic Relief Services, a nongovernmental agency. "But ordinary Africans will see no such improvements so long as revenues generated by the current oil boom continue to be piped into governments lacking accountability."


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