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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Huge oil project launched

By Francis Ngwa Niba in Kribi

After eight years on the drawing board, opposition from environmental campaigners and hesitation from the World Bank, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project has been formally launched.

A ceremony at the end of last week in the port town of Kribi in southern Cameroon, presided over by Cameroonian President Paul Biya and General Idriss Deby of Chad, repeated a similar ceremony in Doba in Chad held two days earlier.

A 1,070 km long pipeline is to be built from the oil wells of landlocked Chad, transporting crude oil to Kribi for export abroad.

According to Michel Gallet the director general of Cotco, the company that will construct the pipeline, effective construction work will begin early next year and is expected to last for three years.

Ceremony

Speaking during the ceremony, President Biya said the realisation of the project with the collaboration of the two neighbouring countries was an "excellent example of regional cooperation".


He also said the project would bring huge benefits to the people of Cameroon and Chad, generating thousands of jobs and boosting businesses and infrastructure.

Thousands of Cameroonians turned out for the ceremony.

Many local inhabitants of Kribi are small-scale farmers who are now hoping for high paid construction jobs.

One unemployed father of 10 told me the pipeline was the answer to his dreams.

"My sons and I might now have jobs to do," he said, though he admitted getting a job at the project site will not be easy.

Big money

The estimated cost of the pipeline project, at $3.5bn, makes it the single largest investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

Presidents Deby (l) and Biya (r)
Chad and Cameroon, united by oil
Though the World Bank is providing only 2.5% of the finances, the project needed the Bank's direct involvement to get started.

Chad is expected to reap $1.7bn in royalties, dividends and taxes while Cameroon hopes to reap $500 million in transit fees, dividends and taxes during the 30 year period the project is estimated to last.

Problems

The biggest single problem the project had was getting the World Bank involved.

Numerous national and international environmental organisations have criticised the environmental impact of the project and the bank insisted the pipeline route be re-drawn a couple of times to avoid environmental damage and human habitats.

Some people on the route of the project will be compensated for the destruction of farmland.

The project also almost fell apart when two of the initial consortium of oil companies Shell and ELF involved in the project pulled out.

Chevron and Petronas quickly stepped in though, joining Exxon Mobil to form a new consortium.

Even after the pipeline gets operational, it will be difficult to ensure tight security along the pipeline to avoid cases of sabotage as frequently witnessed in neighbouring Nigerian pipelines.

Cameroon's and Chad's flagging economies are mainly agriculture-based.

According to President Deby, a law passed by parliament in 1999 will ensure benefits from the new oil riches trickle down to all Chadians.

Only then will the multi-million dollar project make any difference in the lives of ordinary people.

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