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Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai and Son of Executed Nigerian Activist Ken Wiwa Discuss Oil and the Environment

StorySeptember 20, 2005
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We take a look at oil and the environment with Ken Wiwa–the son of Ken Saro Wiwa who was executed in 1995 by the Nigerian military dictatorship and Nobel Peace prize-winner and leading environmentalist Wangari Maathai. [includes rush transcript]

We spend the rest of the hour talking about oil and other environmental issues with perhaps the leading environmentalist in the world today, Wangari Mathai. She is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Wangari Maathai just spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative which was an alternative summit to the World Summit at the United Nations that took place last week.

We also speak with Ken Wiwa–the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed in 1995 by the Nigerian military dictatorship. Saro-Wiwa led the movement against Shell corporation’s exploitation of his home land. In 1994, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned and accused of incitement to murder. Despite widespread international protests, Saro-Wiwa was hanged after a sham trial with other eight Ogoni rights activists.

  • Wangari Maathai, ecologist and zoology professor. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement of Kenya. She was named the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, becoming the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the award.
  • Ken Wiwa, journalist and author. He is a faculty member at Massey College in Toronto and a writer for The Globe and Mail. His book “In the Shadow of a Saint” is about his father, Nigerian activist and political prisoner Ken Saro-Wiwa who was killed in 1995.
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Related Link: Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship

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StorySep 25, 2009Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai: If US Moves Forward on Climate Change, Rest of World Will Follow
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, oil and the environment and other environmental issues is what we’re going to talk about today with perhaps the leading environmentalist in the world, Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. We are also joined by Ken Wiwa, who is the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian environmentalist who was executed in 1995 by the Nigerian military dictatorship. Ken Saro-Wiwa led the movement against Shell corporation’s exploitation of his homeland, Ogoniland. In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned and he was tried by what many called a “kangaroo court.” And ultimately, on November 10th, 1995, despite widespread international outcry, was executed. Welcome both, to Democracy Now!.

KEN WIWA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you both with us.

KEN WIWA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to begin with Wangari Maathai. You’ve come back to New York at the same time that the U.N. summit has taken place, scores of world leaders coming to New York, you were here for what?

WANGARI MAATHAI: Well I’m here partly to continue sharing the message that was given to us by the Norwegian Nobel committee that decided that environment, the democracy of world governance and peace are very closely linked, and to continue exploring this linkage, and challenging all of us to think clearly along those lines. And also to attend the Clinton Global Initiative that was taking place here in New York, and there are also some other activities that I will be attending. But it is, they are all to do with my laureate here and with the challenge to continue sharing this message.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a lot of criticism of the U.N. document that has just come out, a lot of charges that the U.S. intervened to water down its goals and commitments. What is your take on that?

WANGARI MAATHAI: I think that there is hardly any time that I have listened to the U.N. and have come out with the documents, that the world felt that they were strong documents. There is always a feeling that when the leaders of the world come together, they don’t always commit themselves as strongly as we would like them to. But I’ve always felt that the challenge really lies at the national level. That many of the heads of states who were here in New York have to demonstrate their commitment to these goals at the national level, allocate adequately resources to the national goals, ask their own people to be committed and to try to implement these goals and not to expect that by coming to the U.N. and passing strong documents the goals will be realized. So I want to say yes, the document was watered down. But yes, it is the leaders themselves who must make sure that these goals are realized at the national level.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most critical issue to take on right now at a global level, and also in your own country of Kenya.

WANGARI MAATHAI: Well, looking at all of those goals, I really feel that while all the goals are very, very important, the one goal that I think is very important goal is Goal #7, the goal on sustainable management of our resources. This is because if you manage the resources responsibly, accountably, if you try to share those resources equitably at the national level, a lot of those goals will be realized, or it will be much easier to realize those goals. But no matter what we do, if we do not manage our environment sustainably, those goals will not be realized. So I really think that the Goal #7 is extremely important, coupled with a deliberate and honest commitment by governments to promote justice and equity at the national level.

AMY GOODMAN: Wangari Maathai is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. We’ll be back with her, as well as the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ken Wiwa.


AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with our guests, Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Ken Wiwa, the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa. I will never forget meeting Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1994, when he came to our studios at Pacifica station WBAI here in New York. He hadn’t been scheduled for an interview on our local morning show, “Wake-Up Call,” which I hosted with Bernard White of WBAI. But an activist brought him in, said he was just there for the morning and would like to come on the show. I’m ashamed to say we hadn’t even heard of him at that point. But since they said he was only available that morning, we began the interview, said we could only do a few minutes. And then minute by minute, we shed the next guests throughout the show, so that we only ended up interviewing Ken Saro-Wiwa as he talked about the nexus of corporate government and military power in his home of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, particularly in Ogoniland. He talked about his struggle against Shell Corporation. This is a brief excerpt of what Ken Saro-Wiwa had to say.

KEN SARO-WIWA: Shell had a meeting, operatives of Shell in Nigeria. And of those at the Hague, in the Netherlands, and in London, held a meeting. And they decided that they would have to keep an eye on me, and watch wherever I go to. Follow me constantly to ensure that I do not embarrass Shell. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m a marked man where Shell are concerned. And indeed, I have been in detention in Nigeria several times. My passport has been impounded. And the last time around, in the middle of June, I was held for 31 days without charge. And eventually —

AMY GOODMAN: By the Nigerian government?

KEN SARO-WIWA: Yes, the Nigerian government held me, shunted me from prison to prison. And it’s under international concern that allowed them to set my bail. Early this year, on the second of January to be precise, I was placed under house arrest with my entire family for three days. In order to stop a planned protest against Shell, 300,000 Ogoni people were going to move to protest the devastation of the environment by Shell and the other multinational oil companies. It was in the interest of these companies to ensure that I was not, that this demonstration did not hold. And all they did was simply send the military authorities to my house. They disconnected my telephones, confiscated the handsets, and I was held for three days, without food.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Saro-Wiwa, speaking in 1994. This is Democracy Now!. Ken Wiwa, his son, is our guest. Ken Saro-Wiwa was ultimately executed when he went back to Nigeria. As he said, “I am a marked man.” And he was arrested in May of 1994, executed November 10, 1995. Ken Wiwa, welcome as well.

KEN WIWA: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. You’re here talking about your father. You wrote a book about him as well, “In the Shadow Of a Saint,” about your father. Can you talk about his struggle with Shell Corporation? With the Nigerian military?

KEN WIWA: I mean, my father began as a 17-year-old writing letters, protest letters in local papers, protesting about the role of oil companies in our community. And for 30 years, it really informed his writing and his political activism. And you know, he was a consistent campaigner against the effects of oil pollution, the effect of oil on the political culture of my country. And eventually, he became so effective, mobilizing the community to stand up for their rights, to protest for their rights, drawing international attention to what was happening in my country. He became so effective that they decided to do away with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you at the time he was arrested?

KEN WIWA: I was in England. I had been brought up partly in England. I was born and raised in Nigeria, and also raised in England.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the role of Shell at that time? Once he was arrested, held and ultimately executed? How powerful was it, do you believe, it could have stopped the execution?

KEN WIWA: Well Brian Anderson, the chairman of Shell Nigeria, met my uncle.


KEN WIWA: Owen Wiwa. And he offered to do something, if we stopped the international protest. So Shell was more concerned about their image, about the damage that our protests was doing to their image, than they were concerned about the material issues in which my father had raised about the effects of their activities in my community. And they also held a watching brief, legal brief at the trial, that sentenced my father to death. And two prosecution witnesses testified and gave signed, sworn affidavits that they had been offered bribes, Shell contracts, to testify against my father. They were actively involved in the conspiracy to silence my father.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to them since?

KEN WIWA: Well, you know, we make representations to them. My father, my father didn’t bear grudges, it’s not in the nature of my family or my community to bear grudges. We believe that Shell was part of the problem and must be part of the solution. We still feel that with some kind of dignity and a commitment to social justice that the situation could still be salvaged. But it’s been almost 10 years since my father was executed. And it’s this year that we managed to retrieve his bones. We’re going to give him a proper burial. Not one single member of the Nigerian military, which invaded Ogoni, conducted extra judicial murders, raped young girls, women, all in the name of trying to suppress the protest of our organization so that oil could resume. Not one member of the military has been arrested or tried or detained or held accountable for what happened in Ogoni. So you know, I think to say justice delayed is justice denied. And unfortunately, what’s happening in Nigeria as a whole that the nonviolent methods which my father advocated is being replaced by a more violent approach, or a more radical approach. To say if you make nonviolent change impossible, you make violent change inevitable.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are the roles of Shell Corporation, also Chevron and others right now in the Niger delta, in Nigeria.

KEN WIWA: They’re instrumental, 90% of foreign exchange revenues and 80% of government revenues come from oil in Nigeria. What’s, allegedly what’s good for the oil companies in Nigeria is good for the Nigerian people. But that’s not the case, we know that’s not the case. But what worries me is that 25% of U.S. oil is going to coming from the Gulf, from that area, in West Africa, in the next 10 years. Nigeria is going to be set to increase production from 2.2 million barrels a day to 4.4 million barrels a day. So Nigeria is going to be increasingly important in the energy security triangle, if you like. And the oil companies continue to pump oil, continue to drill for oil, continue business as usual. But unfortunately, I think they have to start paying attention to the social, cultural and environmental effects of that business as usual. You can’t continue, it’s not sustainable.

AMY GOODMAN: When I went to Nigeria in 1998 with my colleague, Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, doing a documentary on Chevron and its involvement in the Niger delta, we visited your grandparents, who have since both died, at their compound, as they remembered Ken, and the whole community came out, hundreds of people. One man actually recited the speech that your father gave in court.

KEN WIWA: He was prevented from making it.

AMY GOODMAN: He wrote it?

KEN WIWA: Yes. It would have been his final statement to the tribunal. And it’s a powerful statement. And in it, I remember very clearly, he does say that the signs that this court is giving out will be picked up by the waiting public, whether they’re nonviolent means he advocated, or the violence, which has been visited on our people, will be clearly sent to the people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link to it on our website, Maybe by the end of the show, we can get it. It’s in the documentary “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship.” But Wangari Maathai, did you ever meet Ken Saro-Wiwa? And how did his work influence yours?

WANGARI MAATHAI: Unfortunately, we never met. But I knew of his work and I’m sure he knew of our work in East Africa. We knew that what he was really doing was raising a challenge to a corporation. In a culture that has been very typical in the entire continent. We know that most people in the world look at Africa as a poor continent because most people in Africa are always presented as being poor. But people like Ken Saro-Wiwa, who are bringing out the facts clearly, to demonstrate that Africa is not poor, Africa is extremely rich, but her resources are exploited and her people do not benefit from those resources. And the case of the one land and one people was a very clear demonstration of how resources can be exploited and the people do not benefit.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the occupation of Iraq, the war in Iraq, as a war over resources?

WANGARI MAATHAI: Well, I don’t want to make that statement categorically. What I would make is a general statement that most conflicts in this world are due to resources, are due to the fact that there are those of us who feel like we have a right to access resources, whatever they are. We have a right to exploit those resources, whatever they are. And we do not feel obligated to share those resources, equitably. We want to exclude. Now, unfortunately, in many places, those who feel excluded become frustrated, angry and sometimes will undermine our peace and security. And therefore, it’s not surprising that with the case in Nigeria, in Kenya, in Darfur, in the Congo, to mention a few examples in my own continent, whenever you have injustices, inequalities, exclusion, of the opportunity to share these resources, you will have conflict. And it is, in a way, self-deceptive to believe that we can create peace by subduing, by excluding. We can’t. Sooner or later, those who are excluded become angry and they react.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Wiwa, what do you think has to happen now? With oil really very much on the minds of everyone in this country, from the issue of Hurricane Katrina to Iraq?

KEN WIWA: Well, I think we have to be more vigilant as citizens, we have to understand the connections between the oil industry and government. We have to make governments more accountable for people and the planet, not just accountable to those, to big oil. Here in the U.S., since this administration came to power, the top five oil companies have made $250 billion and they gave campaign contributions of $50 million. So we have to be aware of the effect of oil on the political system. Now I’m working with an organization called Oil Change, which is trying to separate oil from states. And you can look them up on But apart from that too, I think we’re building democracy deficits in the west because where these companies get the power to influence political, public policy in the U.S., is in places like Nigeria, where they’re not accountable. What we’re trying to do down there is emphasize nonviolent solutions, and the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation which we’ve launched this year is trying to uphold the legacy of nonviolence that my father began that we must, we must absolutely work for a sustainable future on a nonviolent platform. Otherwise, what’s happening now is that the region is being militarized. There’s a rush for oil. There’s a new cold war over Africa between the U.S. and China and they’re trying to grab resources. The resources of Africa. Two-thirds of the world’s resources are in Africa, and unfortunately this rush, this grab for oil is militarizing the zone.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say the situation is worse than it was 10 years ago when your father was executed?

KEN WIWA: I think so, because there’s an infiltration of small arms now in West Africa. In the Niger delta, where I’m living —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re in Port Harcourt.

KEN WIWA: In Port Harcourt. There are four small arms for every computer. Seventy percent of Africans are under the age of 25 and young people now see they’re not getting the opportunities that these resources, if they were applied, the development of their potential, they’re not seeing the benefits of those resources. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen if we continue to apply military solutions to what we’re quite clearly capable of developing by the human potential and building the infrastructure to give those people a chance.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Ken Wiwa and Wangari Maathai. Ken Wiwa will be speaking tonight in New York at St. Illumination Hall, 221 East 27th St. Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2004, speaking at Harvard University in Massachusetts on Friday, September 30.

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