A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier

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The largest U.S. trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, petroleum-rich Nigeria exports half its daily oil production to the United States. Like many African nations with natural resources coveted by the world's superpowers, the country has been shaped by foreign investment and intervention, conflicts among hundreds of ethnic and religious groups, and greed. Polio has boomed along with petroleum, small villages face off with giant oil companies, and scooter drivers run their own ministates. The oil-rich Niger Delta region at the heart of it all is a trouble spot as hot as the local pepper soup.

Blending vivid reportage, history, and investigative journalism, in A Swamp Full of Dollars journalist Michael Peel tells the story of this extraordinary country, which grows ever more wild and lawless by the day as its refined petroleum pumps through our cities. Through a host of colorful characters--from the Area Boy gangsters of Lagos to a corrupt state governor who stashed money in his London penthouse, from the militants in their swamp forest hideouts to oil company executives--Peel makes the connection between Western energy consumption and the breakdown of the Nigerian state, where the corruption of the haves is matched only by the determination and ingenuity of the have-nots. What has happened to Nigeria is a stark warning to the United States and other economic powers as they grow increasingly frantic in their search for new oil sources: unbridled plunder eventually rebounds on those who have done the taking.

A Swamp Full of Dollars--shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award--shows that if the Arab world is the precarious eastern battle line in an intensifying world war for crude, then Nigeria has become the tumultuous western front.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A dynamic exploration of the geopolitics of oil that link Nigeria with its two biggest customers, Great Britain and the United States, revealing the corruption and poverty-and vitality-that permeate that oil-rich country. Financial Times legal correspondent Peel, who served as the publication's former West Africa correspondent for many years, calls Nigeria "a little laboratory for the arrogance of a fossil-fuel-obsessed world" and the Niger Delta region a "Mad Max world of roving bandits." How it got this way is a long, complicated story, dating back to the palm-oil wars of the 19th century, when Nigeria was created as a state by and for the benefit of the British. Peel's brief history of European colonialism in the area pulls no punches. His present-day report opens and closes with his intrepid visits to militants in the lawless swamps and jungles of the delta who are determined to get their share of the country's oil wealth. In between he talks with oil-company executives, an urban hustler and warlord and drivers of Lagos's motorbike taxis and buses; he challenges police bribery; and he spends time aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel patrolling Nigeria's coastal waters for oil-thieving pirates. The author's message is clear: If the West is looking to Nigeria as insurance against oil-supply problems in the unstable Middle East, the bet is a shaky one. Peel's vivid reporting reveals the systematic plundering of Nigeria's assets by native politicians and foreign businessmen alike. While the alleged complicity of Western financial institutions in Nigeria's internal corruption is not news, the author's judgment that London is in many ways no better than Lagos is surprising. In both cities he sees the same disparity between the haves and the have-nots, with Lagos being more open and blatant in its injustices and abuses of power. In a note of hopefulness about Nigeria's future, Peel asserts that its very newness as a nation makes radical change more possible than in older countries like Great Britain, where wrongs have been entrenched and concealed for centuries. A gripping account of a disastrous situation in the making.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569762868
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 760,655
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

The former West Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Michael Peel is now the publication’s legal correspondent. He has contributed articles on the region to a wide variety of publications, including the New Republic, the Christian Science Monitor, and the London Review of Books.

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