Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?

What happened to the project promoters called a "cargo of hope" for Africans

June 7, 2010BY Christiane Badgley
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This project was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, with additional support from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Ten years ago this month, the World Bank Group approved financing for the controversial Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project. Despite an international campaign to stop the project that brought together more than 80 environmental and human rights groups, the Board of Directors of the Bank voted unanimously to support it, arguing that oil development represented Chad's best -- perhaps only -- chance at escaping its crushing poverty. Both Chadians and Cameroonians would benefit from Chad's oil, the promoters promised, and the project would show the world that the resource curse could be lifted.


Map showing location of oil field and pipeline.

With World Bank participation secured, ExxonMobil, the project operator, and its consortium partners, Chevron and Petronas (Malaysia), undertook the $4.2 billion project. The consortium drilled hundreds of wells in the Doba basin area of southern Chad and constructed a 650-mile pipeline to carry the oil from land-locked Chad to an offshore loading terminal on the Atlantic coast of Cameroon.

Chad's oil began to flow in October 2003 amid great fanfare. The World Bank drew up an elaborate revenue management plan for Chad; expectations were high. ExxonMobil placed a full page ad (pdf) in the New York Times. "Voila," the ad proclaimed, "with the first oil loaded, an extraordinary project begins to supply energy to the world as well as a better life and a cargo of hope to the people of Chad and Cameroon."

That cargo of hope leaves Africa from Kribi, a small beach town and one of Cameroon's prime tourist attractions. Here, the dense equatorial rainforest stretches almost to the water's edge; a strip of golden sand beach is all that separates the greens of the forest from the turquoise waters. Just south of town the famous Lobe waterfalls tumble over black volcanic rocks directly into the ocean. Market women sell and prepare fish right off the boats at the town's small port.


Kribi is a small beach town and one of Cameroon's prime tourist attractions.

When I first visited Kribi 15 years ago, I was surprised to hear about plans to bring an oil pipeline from Chad to Kribi. This wasn't like bringing a pipeline to the port of Los Angeles. The port of Kribi was filled with pirogues, not tankers. There wasn't even an industrial zone in the area; Kribi was surrounded by forest.

In 2007 I returned to Kribi. The tourist trade had grown; there were new bars and hotels around Kribi. But the town seemed as poor as ever. There were no signs of petroleum-related jobs and Kribi seemed untouched by any new oil wealth.

That trip prompted me to look further at the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. The project, which received a fair amount of press coverage during its construction phase, has since dropped from the radar. Two years later, I traveled once again to Cameroon, this time to learn what has become of the "model" project. In future reports, I plan to follow stories along on the pipeline from Kribi to the Doba fields of Chad. In this first piece, I report from the marine terminal to the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé.

Read Christiane Badgley's blog for additional reporting, photos and related links on this project.

Learn more about the project at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting website.

share your reactions


- Richmond, Virginia
Thanks Frontline World. And well done Ms. Badgley. Great stuff. Eye-opening. The timing of this is uncanny. And it's so rare to actually hear from those on the ground who suffer the impact of these great oil enterprises. Usually the victims are mentioned in passing, if at all. But I can see that this story is only beginning. I hope we get more reports. Meanwhile it's really the kind of thing that deserves a wider audience. When will this be on television?

gabriel wato - douala, cameroun
Nous avons enfin une journaliste qui expose la prom�tique du pipeline et nous croyons que ce reportage nous permettra d'avoir les moyens pour les generations futures.At last we have a journalist who exposes the problems of the pipeline. We believe this report will allow us to help future generations.

Yaound�, Cameroon
Fish catches are declining in the Gulf of Guinea because it is over-fished, not because of the pipeline. People still fish off that beach in Kribi, and the pipeline construction did not destroy a reef.

San Francisco, CA
Thank you for bringing this story to our attention. So many stories like this have been left untold. Hopefully, it will be used to move the influential governments to rectify the situation.

Austin, TX
Very good piece which raises serious questions and begs more research. What influence do corporations hold over the World Bank? Are they answerable to anyone? Follow the money, Ms. Badgley. Let's hear more.

Harold - San Francisco, CA
Very insightful and beautifully presented.

Robert Olson - Rancho Cucamonga, California
I fear there are many of us facing a common problem. Looking to the recent housing crisis in the U.S., where corporations sought to profit from the debt of ordinary people, the story of the Exxon pipeline sounds all too familiar. The players may be different, but the problem is the same: An elite few are reaping disproportionate benefits at the expense of the majority. While ignorance in the U.S. and corruption in Africa may be factors in the question of under-development in places like Cameroon, doesn't it seem odd that a large, multinational corporation is receiving funds from the World Bank, or IMF, or USAID? With oil companies reaping all-time-highs in profits, can they not spare some money to help countries develop? Why does Exxon need World Bank/IMF/USAID money? Why are tax payers burdened with the cost subsidizing a multi-trillion dollar industry?Increasingly the answer that seems most rational is that there is an economy that operates independently from mass markets. With this example from Cameroon and with the turmoil in the international economy, I fear that the side effect of such an exclusive market, which has the sole purpose of maximizing profit, is to breed growing inequality. In the U.S. we have witnessed incredible growth, but only in the top rungs of the income ladder. Most in the U.S. are not benefitting from oil wealth, just as most in Cameroon are not benefitting from Exxon's investment. I am not saying that our situations are the same, only that we suffer from a common problem. If that is the case then can we find a common solution?
Bring it home Cristiane. Let's see the bigger picture Frontline. There is a large gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world and it is commonality that will help bridge that divide. Keep up the good work!

Petunia Perry - Washington, DC
Great piece. Thank you for enlightening me with this information. The greed and corruption of oil companies are ruining the planet. Why are they so shortsighted?

San Francisco, CA
Congratulations! This is a very moving piece. Beautifully, even elegantly written, and nicely edited. The narration has a concerned yet restrained edge that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Dawn Carson - Halifax, Canada
It continues to amaze me that these types of abuses still happen with all we know in the world today of the necessity to do things the right way. Be kind to the land, it's animals, it's people way. Shocking to think that Africa is being raped of it's resources. For what the better civilized life/American life...they think they want. What rot. Notice everyone pass the buck. We have completely lost sight of what is truly important. Compassion, Fair Trade, Engagement Reminds me on Darwin's Nightmare. Well done Christiane!

Stephen Evans - Port Townsend, Washington
This is a fine piece of investigative reporting. Thanks so much to Frontline/World, and more specifically to Christiane Badgley, for bringing this story to the fore. I hope this exposure will help bring some justice to the people of Chad and Cameroon! All too often stories such as this are left untold. Kudos.

San Francisco, CA, USA
Excellent story, beautifully told. I want to see more!

Port Townsend, WA
The oil industry is insidious, I don't feel we have true reporting in the US.A piece like this is so rare for covering a different region. Thank you for covering the extent of the damage, lies, and broken promises around the planet. The gulf oil spill is just the worst of the business as usual. Thank god for independent journalists in a sea of bought and controlled journalism!!!

This is a well-done report on a tragic arrangement that is going on all over the world where oil exploitation is happening. Finally in the United States we are getting a taste of our own medicine and it tastes bad. Let's hope that we start paying more attention to the devastating costs, both environmental and social, of reckless behavior.

Very fascinating - this story is so common in large World Bank Funded projects, at the end of the day the US Government doesn't really care either as their company is now able to exploit the resources of another country. They would only do something if the flow of the pipeline was stopped!

Bertrand Tientcheu - Douala, Cameroon
In Kribi; of course there are a lot of tourist, also sex tourism, much more child trafficking for sexual appetite; it is the sad situation of the small which does not sense the real effect of the petrolium project.

Scott Adan - Oakland, CA
I was somewhat disappointed with the journalism in this piece. The antidotes and hearsay testimonials are quite frankly hard to believe. The disgruntled man on the street viewpoints lack conviction. Where are the real facts and numbers? I was expecting a story here, a balanced viewpoint, but instead what I saw was a bunch of locals who obviously had an axe to grind because for some reason, they did not get a piece of the action.

Francisco Hizo - Lima, Peru
This is a small picture about the negative influences of oil companies in the worldwide. Perhaps, on the short run it will be late when the nations and leaders realize that is that right moment to invest in alternative energy. It is necessary to find the right balance between making rich to the 5% of oil monopolies as Exxon or BP or protect our unique home. The world is our unique heritage for the next generations, while oil companies as BP or Exxon use craftily the media and marketing as underlying elements of persuasion, intending to make up the oil and gas business as green industry. The sustainability of the real economy and the environment will be worst. Oil companies knows, that as soon the current turmoil will finish, the price of oil will increase over 120 $/barrel. Nice game of being social responsible right?

Jayasri Hart - Los Angeles, California, USA
An old story of duplicity and exploitation, painstakingly covered since its inception. Thank you, Christiane. I do commend you for showing us what is new--the anger and energy not only among local activists but among the fishermen, indigenous forest dwellers and foresters sffected. The Project spokesperson is lame in comparison. I hope to see something similar in the Gulf of Mexico. Keep up the good work.

Lagos, Nigeria
What have the World Bank (US based) and IMF(Europe) done to the third world (particularly in Africa) other than immersing futture generations in huge debt? Aren't they the one who funded and embolden the corrupted and blood-thirsty vampire African dictators? Shame on them in the name of monetary policy and economic development!


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