Cameroon: En route

Christiane Badgley, for the Pulitzer Center


Here I am watching the Paris drizzle from terminal 2C at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for my flight to Douala.

In a few hours I'll be in Cameroon to revisit the story of the Chad-Cameroon Oil pipeline. Six years ago the first tanker of Chadian oil left Kribi, Cameroon. At the time, there was much hope – in some quarters, at least – that the Chad Oil Project would help the people of both Chad and Cameroon. The World Bank was on-board, and an elaborate program was in place to insure that oil revenues were spent on poverty reduction.

What happened? That's what I'm interested in finding out. We haven't heard much about this story since 2003. The World Bank pulled out of Chad in 2008, but if you weren't following the saga of the pipeline closely, you would not have known this. The Bank's retreat hardly got a mention in the media.

My plan is to eventually travel the length of the pipeline, to see up-close how this project has really affected people in Chad and Cameroon. And from these travels, I'll make a documentary film. On this first trip, I'll explore the last 250 kilometers of the pipeline, a section that passes close to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and then continues through the rainforest to the town of Kribi, on the Atlantic coast.

The forest between Yaoundé and Kribi is home to the Bagyeli, one of Cameroon's two pygmy populations. The World Bank and the ExxonMobil-led consortium were convinced the pipeline project would help the Bagyeli. As part of the mitigation process, the pipeline consortium established an indigenous peoples' foundation to run health and education programs for the Bagyeli. Many environmentalists and civil society activists, on the other hand, feared that the pipeline would disrupt the Bagyeli's already fragile existence. As many Bagyeli continue to rely on the forest for their food and their livelihoods, any damage to the local ecosystem could be devastating.

This is one story that I'll be looking at in the coming weeks.

But now, it's boarding time.