Chinua Achebe and the flag of Biafra

Biafra existed as a pre-colonial state in what is now the South-Eastern corner of modern day Nigeria.  It is the home in the majority of the Igbo tribe.

In 1960 Nigeria attained independence from the United Kingdom and became an independent nation formed artificially by the British from a hodge podge of different tribal areas.  In the North mainly Hausa and Fulani, Sahel region semi-nomadic pastoralists who are predominantly Muslims.  In the South the Yoruba in the West and the Igbo in the East, Christians living in Tropical Coastal regions.

Five years after independence the new “nation” descended into coup and counter-coup replete with proscriptions along the lines of what happened in Ancient Rome when Sulla and Marius battled for control of the city.  To destroy Igbo cohesion the federal government gerrymandered the tribal area to split voting power.  Biafra elected to secede from Nigeria.  But it happens to be the region that contains all the oil.

What followed was a genocidal war against the Igbo by the Nigerian Federal Forces, supported by the United Kingdom.  It is only now emerging from British State papers how deeply the oil interests of Shell and BP were served by the Labour Government of Harold Wilson.  British arms suppliers also had an interest in the war, on the Federal side.  The British helped to starve the Igbo into submission.  Over two million people died from starvation over a period of two and a half years from mid 1967 to January 1970.  That is a genocide very similar in size and scale to the Irish Potato Famine.

Médecines sans Frontiéres (MSF) was founded as a reaction to the suffering in Biafra.  The Irish Spiritan Father Aengus Finucane, a Catholic Priest, organised food flights into makeshift airstrips to relieve suffering.  He put together a relief airforce of superannuated cargo planes with volunteer pilots.  His efforts led to the creation of the charity “Concern Worldwide”.  As a child in school in Ireland the suffering of the Biafran Children was top of mind to me, a constant cause and the subject of much fundraising activity.

The father of modern African Writing, Chinua Achebe, was caught up in the political turmoil of that era, and is himself an Igbo.

He twice refused the Nigerian honour Commander of the Federal Republic, in 2004 and 2011, saying:  ” I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”

On Nigerian Independence he “found that the independence this country was supposed to have won was totally without content … The old white master was still in power. He had got himself a bunch of black stooges to do his dirty work for a commission”

Today, Nov 16th is the birthday of Achebe, born 1930 and who died in 2013.

Non-commitment; by Chinua Achebe

Hurrah! to them who do nothing
see nothing feel nothing whose
hearts are fitted with prudence
like a diaphragm across
womb’s beckoning doorway to bar
the scandal of seminal rage. I’m
told the owl too wears wisdom
in a ring of defense round
each vulnerable eye securing it fast
against the darts of sight. Long ago
in the Middle East Pontius Pilate
openly washed involvement off his
white hands and became famous. (Of all
the Roman officials before him and after
who else is talked about
every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed?) And
talking of apostles that other fellow
Judas wasn’t such a fool
either; though much maligned by
succeeding generations the fact remains
he alone in that motley crowd
had sense enough to tell a doomed
movement when he saw one
and get out quick, a nice little
packet bulging his coat pocket
into the bargain—sensible fellow.

The Crude Game


The greatest game in town today is the Crude Oil Game.  If you want excitement, look at what is happening with the price.

The world runs on oil.  If environmentalists tell you otherwise they are misinformed or delusional.  The price of oil determines the price of gas.  It also determines the price at which bio-ethanol becomes a viable fuel source.  So when the price of oil rises to a certain break-even point it affects the prices of bio-ethanol inputs, like Wheat, Soy and Maize.

Energy, Food and Water are the three most important components of human life.  In the modern world you need energy to produce food and water.  Oil to drive pumps to move and purify water, to irrigate crops.  Oil to power tractors and combine harvesters and spray systems.  Oil to power sewage treatment plants to prevent us all dying from cholera.  Food and Water depend heavily on Oil.

Yes, eventually we will be able to replace crude oil with sustainable energy sources, but only when those sustainable energy sources are cheaper than oil.

At present in Saudi Arabia it just takes someone to open a few taps, and the oil flows out of the ground, cheap and fast.  And that is what the Saudis are doing today.  But why?

The Saudis were instrumental in setting up OPEC in the 1960’s to wrest control of oil pricing away from the “Seven Sisters” oil conglomerates.  In the 1970’s OPEC flexed its muscles, cutting flow and strangling the west.  In response the price of oil skyrocketed.  Since then the price of oil has been artificially managed from Saudi Arabia through OPEC.

Not all OPEC members can simply open the taps.  Some nations need a higher oil price to make their marginal fields profitable.  They also need high oil export prices to balance their domestic budgets.  But over the years these higher oil prices have opened up the doors for non OPEC players.

There are now oil companies that specialize in re-opening wells that were considered to have run dry.  In fact the issue was that the flow rates were too marginal to turn a profit at low prices.  With high prices, and improved efficiency through better recovery technology, these wells are now profitable.

Oil reservoirs in more difficult to reach locations become more interesting to the market as the price rises.  We see more development of off-shore drilling, shale oil and tar sands.  There are vast reservoirs of oil in shale and tar sands, especially in North America and Canada.  In recent years production from these sources has increased dramatically.

Heavy oils have a different dynamic to light and sweet oils.  Texas and Saudi type light and sweet crude is low density and low sulphur.  It is under good pressure and has high flow rates.  You drill it, you cap it and you make money.  It is hard to find, but is literally a goldmine when you do find it.

Heavy shale oils have a dynamic more like coal mining.  Easy enough to find the stuff.  The difficulty is in turning a profit from production.  You need massive volumes and fantastic production efficiency to generate profit.

The USA has become Oil self-sufficient in recent years, by ramping up heavy oil production.  Now the Saudis have had enough.  They want to close down these “alternative” sources, and regain price control from the Americans.  So they have opened their taps and allowed a glut of oil.  Prices have fallen.

And now we are seeing a classic Texas Hold’em poker game.  On one side the Saudis.  They have a great hand and they can outplay the table.  They want to shake out the table and get rid of some of the producers.  Beside the Saudis are their erstwhile friends in OPEC, the marginal producers.  They are sweating, their cards are not so good.  Across the table are the heavy oil producers, like Continental, Husky, PetroCan.  If they can hold out just a little longer than the OPEC marginal producers they can keep their production facilities going.

Meanwhile, the lower oil prices are having positive benefits for energy hungry companies.  Airlines are having a field day.  Transport company profits are up.  Energy intensive industries are making supernormal profits on concrete, glass, aluminium, steel etc.  Anything that needs lots of heat, such as milk drying plants.

Sadly the consumers will see little of the benefit of the lower oil prices.  Businesses cannot plan long term production prices on the basis of what might be a short term oil price war.  Until we see stability don’t expect to see a large fall in the price of your heating oil and if you think electricity prices will fall, dream on.

Closing the Sale


This log burns clean and bright,
it doesn’t steam or spit,
the timber, light and dry,
was ready to be split
by lightest touch of axe.

Yes, the axe is sharp,
that’s a labour of love,
with a moistened whetstone,
and a pair of gloves
and stropped with a leather belt.

But the log was seasoned,
opening across the grain,
from a summer in the sun,
and winter ice and rain,
swelled, dried out and cracked.

I sawed that log clear,
from the branch of a sycamore
that I stored for a year,
having cut 12 months before,
in November when it’s dry.

Bitten twice by chainsaw,
with gleaming well oiled growl,
teeth filed to perfection,
take the whole tree down,
and later log it out.

The sharpening of the axe,
the oiling of the saw,
the storing of the timber,
the sun, the freeze, the thaw,
who closed the sale?

Copyright D. Clancy 2014