This post was written by Platform intern, Pip Brown.
Back in October 2011, I gladly accepted the task of working together with Platform researchers and sifting through the US Embassy cables to find information on oil and conflict in the Niger Delta. How many could there be? I typed the words “Shell” and “Nigeria” into the search bar on cablegatesearch.net (an invaluable tool for analysing the cables). The first search generated 494 results. I immersed myself into the depths of Wikileaks.
Since that first search, I have, admittedly, become slightly obsessed with the cables. The never ending mass of interesting information hidden from the public is overwhelming, and it draws you in to a web of secrets. My university essays have since become overloaded with references to Wikileaks, to the extent I suspect my lecturers think I work for them, or at least their PR team.
Combing through the results was fascinating. There were times when after 30 or so cables listing oil production statistics, I wanted to bang my head against the keyboard. But when a real gem turned up, it makes it all worthwhile. Some of the more revealing cables described the support that Shell had given to the Nigerian military or oil company guidelines on the use of force. More and more of these began to turn up, more characters appeared, more companies involved; a story of corporate and government complicity began to emerge.
Of course, it didn’t end with Shell. I sifted through the never-ending possibilities of search terms. Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell executives like Ann Pickard, Control Risk Group, the list goes on. Each new set of results brought up fascinating finds, adding to the Delta’s narrative of power, influence, corruption and social grievances.
The cables were certainly a mixture. Intertwined with the cables concerning conversations with the powerful players were descriptions of the degraded, poverty-stricken and desperate areas in the Niger Delta. Local activists were determined to get their voices heard, show officials what they live with, and call for some measure of justice. These cables contrasted with the cynical lobbying by oil companies and the corruption of the political process. The priorities of companies and governments were severely skewed.
At the top of some of the cables are links to other related cables. The search is seemingly endless. Having now completely lost count of the exact number, the amount of cables I have read will probably be over a thousand. I am still finding interesting pieces of information to add to the timeline and hopefully it will continue to grow. Whilst it has been a long journey, with the familiar Wikileaks logo now replacing the darkness when I close my eyes, I have learnt a huge amount from my time reading them. I hope the timeline tool we’ve created is of use to many people as an accessible source of information.
If I can sum up what I’ve learnt from the cables, it would probably be that Embassy cables should be public; everyone should know how politics is influenced by oil companies and their governments who are trying to earn profits to the detriment of people and the environment. The cables contain matters for public importance, and the public should be informed about them. They bulge with information which needs to be brought out of the darkness and into the public spotlight.