Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gas troubles

A delegation from US oil giant Chevron visited Kinshasa several weeks ago to discuss the building of a natural gas pipeline from its Block 0 off the Cabinda coast (see map) to Soyo in northern Angola. Initially the pipeline was supposed to go through the water, but it turned out to be too expensive, so the pipeline will have to cross Congolese territory around the mouth of the Congo river. According to some people close to the meeting, the Congolese government demanded a huge sum of money, a sum so large that Chevron had to walk away and the Angolan government, who is helping develop the $4 billion plant in Soyo, was reportedly furious. The Angolans reportedly said something like: "After everything we have done for the Congo, this is how you thank us?"

View Soyo in a larger map

Tensions between the Angolan and Congolese governments have risen in recent years, with ongoing disputes over territory, refugees, oil fields and now this pipeline. The Angolan army has made several incursions into Congolese territory over the past three years, and tens of thousands of migrants from both countries have been expelled in various bouts of feuding. Perhaps the most bitter battle is over sharing revenues from offshore oil blocks 14 & 15, which has prompted the Congolese government to go to international arbitration.

Kabila is stuck between a rock and a hard place. A little known fact is that his government receives almost $300 million a year in taxes from the oil production, far more than they get from mining. They should be getting much more, as they have claimed a share in offshore fields that Angola currently claims and that produce hundreds of thousands of barrels a day (the Congo currently produces just under 30,000 barrels/day). So Kabila needs this money badly from the oil fields, but he also knows that if he pushes too hard, Angola, which has been his biggest regional military ally for years, could turn against him.

Map of the area claimed by the Congolese government (courtesy of Jeune Afrique):

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