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Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?

This project is a partnership between Frontline/World and 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. 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...

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