Environmental Justice Case Study:  The Chad/Cameroon Oil and Pipeline Project


By Kathleen Grimes






Despite much controversy, construction has already begun on a 1000-kilometer oil pipeline, that will connect the Doba oil fields of southern Chad to the Atlantic coast of Cameroon.  Proponents of the plan claim that the pipeline will transform oil wealth into direct benefits for the poor, with only minor manageable environmental threats.  However, critics have raised a number of valid concerns, especially those of human rights violations.


The Project Information Document provided by the World Bank claims the project will reduce poverty by promoting the economic growth of Chad and Cameroon (3).  In principle, investing in large-scale infrastructure to provide jobs and generate revenues for two of the poorest countries in Africa should help improve the current standard of living.  But in practice, the situation is highly complex and the benefits of development cannot be properly evaluated without consideration of each country’s current state of political affairs.  According to the U.S. State Department’s 1999 Report on Human Rights, both the governments of Chad and Cameroon are responsible for severe violations of human rights, restricted freedom of assembly and association and their citizens’ limited capacity to change their government.  In 1999, Transparency International, a non-profit organization, ranked Cameroon first of the world’s most corrupt nations (Runyan 10).  The question is:  with corruption and lack of transparency, will the people most affected by the drilling and pipeline construction ever see any of the benefits?


Public consultation with local populations that will be affected by the oil fields and pipeline poses and extreme challenge due to the large area and biophysical and cultural diversity of the area.  The World Bank boasts that over 900 meetings have been held in the area (“Project”).  But, questions have been raised as to the validity of the consultation process in these meetings.  What the World Bank calls public consultations, a report by the Environmental Defense Fund calls presentations of propaganda depicting oil exploitation as something positive with no mention of environmental risks (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 7).  In addition, the consultation meetings took place under supervision of military personnel.  Even the Environmental Assessment studies done by the Oil Consortium note: “People did not always feel comfortable expressing themselves freely in the presence of armed gendarmes.  The gendarmes were not always sensitive to the nature of the process, and it was felt they might have been a hindrance to the communications being encouraged” (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 8).  How can the consent of Chadians in the oil-producing region be accepted when Chadians cannot protest without risking their lives?





ExxonMobil officials being accompanied by armed security guards when going to a meeting with local villagers in Chad.  Photo by Maritn Zint.






The most vulnerable of the local populations may be the Bagyeli Pygmies, the indigenous rain forest dwellers in Cameroon, who depend on hunting for survival.  Paving roads for construction will most likely bring poachers and loggers to this now-remote area and disrupt their way of life.  Numbering perhaps 100,000 in a country of 14 million people, the Pygmies have suffered from a long history of discrimination and have remained without formal schooling; few speak French, the language of the former colonial rulers (Onishi A3).  Interviews with people in Mabolo, a small 13-hut village located near the pipeline route, indicate that many younger Pygmies hoped to get jobs from the pipeline.  But, Pierre Mbang, age 34, takes the more judicious point of view, “Work is good, but the forest is our life.  Work is good, but it will end.” (Onisihi A3)  


Pipeline leakage, groundwater contamination and fresh and marine water pollution are ever-present dangers, especially since the pipeline makes at least 17 major river crossings (Runyan 10).  Also highly criticized has been the project’s lack of a site-specific emergency response plan to deal with an oil spill (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 13).  Even one leak would endanger communities all along the pipeline route because they rely on surface water systems for most of their water needs.  The offshore loading facility from which millions of barrels of oil will be transferred onto tankers will be located between Cameroon’s only two nature preserves (Pearce 20).


A spill would be catastrophic and destroy the local fishing and tourism industries on which coastal inhabitants depend for survival.



Lobe Waterfalls, Cameroon , one of the few places in the world where waterfalls drop directly into the ocean, are threatened by construction of the pipeline. Photo by Korinna

Horta of Environmental Defense Fund






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Thirty years ago, petroleum was discovered in southern Chad.  Ever since, the country has been anxiously waiting for the right combination of international prices and private interest to exploit the resource (“World Bank Group” 2).  The right combination came in 1993, when Exxon, Elf Aquitaine and Royal Dutch Shell initiated the project.  The first step in planning were the initial consultations, aimed at sharing information about the project with affected populations.  Also, an environmental assessment was carried out to determine the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.  These initial studies were found, in independent evaluations carried out by the Dutch and German governments, to be inadequate.  In response, the Consortium was forced to conduct and publish a much more thorough, 19-volume Environmental Impact Assesment and Management Plan (Horta, Nguiffo, Djiraibe 3).  


Although the oil companies could have easily financed the project alone, as the World Bank’s financial contribution is a mere 4% of the massive $3.7 billion, support from the World Bank was considered crucial for image as well as political comfort (Vesperini 14).  Most of the delays to date have been in waiting for a decision by the Bank.  Exxon-Mobile has stated that, unless the Bank were involved in order to help defray risks and complications, the project would be cancelled (Runyan 10).  Despite heavy opposition, the Bank voted, unanimously, on June 6, 2000 to support the project.


Knowing that the project would be closely scrutinized, the World Bank took extra precautions in an attempt to ensure that oil revenues would filter through the corruption and reach the people.  Bank representatives insisted that the Chadian government adopt a strategy for management of the petroleum revenues.  Chadian president Idriss Deby also accepted conditions on allocation, control and oversight of the revenues.  He agreed to two independent auditing committees, one Chadian and one World Bank-supervised, to monitor the spending of all oil revenues (Farah and Ottaway A34).  But, despite all of the security measures taken, Deby used $4.5 million from the first oil revenues to buy weapons, claiming that, without security, there can be no development (“Tough” A40).  Regardless, Deby violated the terms of the agreement.  He also made a mockery of World  Bank officials, who planned to use the “Chadian model” to prove they could overcome prevailing corruption and alleviate poverty.



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Key Players


·        The Governments


In anticipation of an estimated $2 billion in royalty fees and taxes over a 25-year period, the government of Chad welcomes the development of its Doba Oil Fields (Moritsugu).  Chad is still trying to recover from a devastating civil war and the president, Idriss Deby, is a former military general who seized power in a coup in 1990.  Human rights groups cite numerous examples of human rights violations in the area.  Military and government officials have allegedly visited the oil region and threatened the local population.  “They say they will kill even women and children, everyone who tried to say they were against the program,” said Delphine Djiraibe, an activist with the Chadian Association for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Ivanovich).  One Chadian parliament member was arrested for questioning the plan and accusing a fellow parliament member of accepting money from oil companies (Runyan 10).


In Cameroon, the U.S. government has received reports of disappearances, torture, and even slavery (Ivanovich).  The government of Cameroon expects to receive $0.40 per barrel as transit fees on oil, which flows through the pipeline.  During peak production (2001) these revenues are estimated to be $47 million annually, dropping to $20 million in 2011, and $10 million in 2026 (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 19).  Unlike Chad, the country has no restriction on how the revenues will be spent.  Furthermore, these amounts are minor in comparison to the country’s annual budget deficit (estimated at $220 million in 1997).  Thus, the revenues will most likely to be spent reducing debt, not on reducing poverty directly (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 19).


·        Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s)


Non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, and the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights have played a very important role, as a watchdog for the local people who will be affected by the pipeline.  Recognized by the consortium as a powerful opposing force, they have been included in planning and consultations.


·        The Oil Consortium


The chairman of Exxon Corp. was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that poor developing countries need “rational environmental standards.”  They can’t afford to insist on strict measures, he warned, otherwise, foreign investment could always go elsewhere (Johnson A17).  Exxon has been the primary investor in the project from the beginning and with a 40% stake, will be the chief on-site operator of the 300 oil wells.  Royal Dutch Shell and Elf Aquitaine were the other two initial partners, but pulled out late last year and have since been replaced by Chevron Corp. and Petronas of Malaysia, who will each hold a 35% and 25% stake, respectively (Vesperini 14).


·        The World Bank Group


The World Bank, a multi-national lending organization set up after World War II to help poor nations finance such projects such as ports and roads, claims goals of promoting sustainable economic development and alleviating poverty.  President James D. Wolfenshon has acknowledged the controversy surrounding the project, yet expresses strong support for it.  The Bank’s spokesman for Africa calls the project an “opportunity to be seized,” and the only option for a country so poor that 60,000 children die each year under the age of five (“Tough” A40).


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In Chad and Cameroon most of the population are laborers and subsistence farmers.  Chad is landlocked and covered by ninety-percent desert or semi-arid land.  Its inadequate infrastructure, its recent history of war, drought and famine and its dependency on a singe cash crop, cotton, for export, have all contributed to Chad being one of the poorest nations in the world (Coats 89).  Eighty percent of its people live on less than $1 a day (“World Bank Group”).  Its very narrow economic base keeps Chad reliant upon foreign aid and vulnerable to the uncontrollable forces of the international cotton market.  Both Chad and Cameroon have only been independent from France since 1960.  Cameroon has faced very similar economic and political troubles.  Since the project area is so large, the demographics of both countries will be used as representative of affected populations.   






1,284,000 square km

475,440 square km

Population (July 2000 est.)



Literacy Rate (1995 est.)









Average Life Expectancy

50.49 years

54.82 years

Population Below Poverty Line



GDP (1999 est.)

$7.6 billion

$31.5 billion

External Debt (1999 est.)

$1 billion

$11.5 billion

Ethnic Groups

Muslims (Arabs, Toubou, Hadjerai, Fulbe, Kotoko, Kanembou, Baguirmi,

Boulala, Zaghawa, and Maba)

non-Muslims (Sara, Ngambaye, Mbaye, Goulaye, Moundang, Moussei,


Cameroon Highlander 31% Equatorial Bantu 19%

Kirdi 11%

Fulani 10%

Northwestern Bantu 8% Eastern Nigritic 7%

Other African 13%

Non-African less than 1%

                                                                                         (CIA Factbook, 2000)


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Strategies Used


Strategies employed by human rights and environmental organizations include researching and publicizing the issue and pressuring the World Bank to shun the project. With the help of the internet, newspapers and magazines, they have published reports around the world, in multiple languages, pointing out flaws in the project plans and have encouraged readers to take action by contacting key decision makers.  In July of 1998, an open letter was sent to President James D. Wolfenshon from 86 NGOs, in 28 countries calling on the Bank to suspend participation in a proposed oil and pipeline project in Chad and Cameroon, until human rights and environmental concerns are adequately addressed.  The letter pointed out where the Oil Consortium’s plan had failed to meet requirements set by the World Bank’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and Indigenous Peoples Policy (IPP) (“Letter”).


Now that the project has been approved, the current strategy is continuing pressuring on the World Bank.  Those who have been opposed to the project from the beginning are pointing out President Deby’s recent breach of agreement and weapons purchases.  This is exactly what critics predicted and warned the World Bank against (Walsh).  These arms purchases “should be a warning to show that when oil money flows, the World Bank won’t have any way to know what Deby will do with it,” says Delphine Djiraibe, president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Runyan 10).  Deby still has not publicly accounted for the other $15 million that he has received (Runyan 10).    



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President Deby’s recent arms purchases raise some doubts as to the World Banks ability to effectively control revenues in a nation whose rulers are not committed to the same goals of battling illiteracy and decreasing infant mortality.  His actions also prove that the existing plan is not working and a solution is required. 


Possible solutions include canceling the project altogether or improving the existing plan before any more oil revenues flow.  Even though the World Bank’s decision, in 1999, to revoke loans after backing the disastrous Narmada Dam Project, in India, lends hope, it is highly unlikely that the World Bank would call off the project at this point.  So, assuming that oil will flow, perhaps revenues could be even more tightly managed, with increased involvement of non-governmental “watchdog” organizations (Walsh).  The current monitoring committee, the Committee for the Control and Supervision of Oil Resources (CCSRP), which must approve any expenditures, consists of four government officials, one member of the supreme court, two members of parliament, one representative of the local NGOs and one representative of the trade unions.  But the Revenue Management Plan does not specify how decisions will be made; by consensus or majority rule?  Considering how easily the selection of a majority of these members could be corrupted, how effective could the lone NGO voice be in directing revenue spending (Horta, Nguiffo, and Djiraibe 19)?  In order to ensure that revenues in Chad would be used to directly benefit the people, a monitoring committee that could not be swayed by the government would be required.        


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Successes thus far have come in the form of plan improvements and proposal revisions.  The original pipeline that was to be built above ground will now be buried.  It has also been re-routed to reduce environmental harm.  Cameroon has agreed to create two new parks to replace those lost to the pipeline.  And although futile, an agreement with Chad designated roughly three-quarters of the project revenues to health, education, rural roads and agriculture (Moritsugu).


Since these improvements have come only as a result of unrelenting pressure from non-governmental organizations, this pressure should continue.  Also, regardless of the anticipated outcome, the actions of President Deby should continue to be closely scrutinized and publicized.  And hopefully, one more mistake by President Deby might be the catalyst needed for change. Before any reform is possible, the World Bank must take a stand and protest Chad’s complete disregard for agreement.  Continuing to finance this project without President Deby’s cooperation will only serve to further tarnish the World Bank’s reputation and limit its ability to direct sustainable development of future projects throughout the world.



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Key Contacts


Environmental Defense Fund

Korinna Horta or Ken Walsh      

1875 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 1016

Washington, D.C.  20009

(202) 387 3500


Friends of the Earth

Andrea Durbin or Sara Zdeb

(202) 783-7400


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Works Cited


Chad/Cameroon Development Project.  Esso.  30 Nov. 2000 <http://www.essochad.com/>


CIA Factbook 2000.  6 Dec. 2000  <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>


Coats, Peter D.  Chad:  A Country Study.  Washington D.C.:  Library of Congress, 1990:  89.


DeLancy, Mark W.  Cameroon:  Dependence and Independence.  Boulder, Colorado:  Westview Press, 1989:  2. 


Farah, Douglas, and David B. Ottaway.  “World Bank Reassesses Chad Pipeline Deal.”  Washington Post 5 December, 2000: A38


Horta, Korina.  “Questions Concerning The World Bank and Chad/Cameroon Oil and Pipeline Project.”  Environmental Defense Fund Report.

 March 1997  <http://www.edf.org/pubs/Reports/c_chadcam.html>


Horta, Korina, Samuel Nguiffo and Delphine Djiraibe.  “The Chad Cameroon Oil and Pipeline Project:  Putting People and the Environment at

 Risk.”    Sep. 1999:  7   <http://www.environmentaldefense.org/pubs/Reports/ChadCameroon/pipeline.pdf >


Ivanovich, David.  “OK for African Oil Pipeline Expected.  But its Impact on Two Impoverished Nations Debated.”  Houston Chronicle 5 June

                 2000   <http://www.seen.org/chadcamprs.htm>


Johnson, Ian.  “Exxon Urges Develping Nations to Shun Environmental Curbs Hindering Growth.”  Wall Street Journal  14 Oct. 1997, eastern

 ed.:  A17


Letter.  <http://www.africapolicy.org/docs98/wb9807.htm>


Moritsugu, Ken.  “African Oil Project’s Effect Questioned.  The World Bank Sees it Aiding the People of Chad.  Activists See it Aiding Only

 the Wealthy.”  Philadelphia Inquirer  7 June 2000  <http://www.seen.org/chadcamprs.htm>


Onishi, Norimitsu. “Pygmies Wonder if Oil Pipeline Will Ease Their Poverty.”  New York Times  10 July 2000:  A3+.


Pearce, Fred.  “Trouble in the Pipeline.”  New Scientist  17 June 2000:  20. 


Project Information Document.  World Bank Group 23 June 1999  <http://www4.worldbank.org/sprojects/Project.asp?pid=P051059>


Runyan, Chris.  “Chad/Cameroon Oil Pipeline Moving Forward.”  World Watch  July/Aug. 2000:  10.


“Tough Choice in Africa.”  Editorial.  Washington Post  8 December, 2000:  A40


United States.  Dept. of State.  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  25 Feb

 2000. <http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/99hrp_africa.html >


Vesperini, Helen.  “Chads Oil is a Long Time Flowing From its Doba Oilfield.”  Business Day [South Africa]  31 May, 2000:  14


Walsh, Ken.  Telephone Interview.  8 Dec. 2000.


“World Bank Group Approves Support for Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project.”  World Bank Group.  Press Release,

 2000  <http://www.worldbank.org/afr/ccproj/>


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