Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa: Why The Middle East Needs Eco-Activism

In memory of the murdered Nigerian environmental activist who campaigned against Shell, we look at the importance of environmental action in the Middle East

On the 10th of November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa who had campaigned against the environmental devastation caused to the Niger Delta by oil companies such as Shell, was hanged by the Nigerian military government.

His life was cut short due to his effort to seek justice for the Ogani people who had suffered at the hands of Shell which extracted oil from their lands whilst leaving them with nothing. The battle for the environment goes on today in various shapes and guises all over the world including the Middle East. Over this last year we have seen everything from Iranian activists risking imprisonment and torture to protect salt lake Orumieh, campaigners in Jordan fighting against nuclear power to Israelis battling with the oil companies who want to drill for oil shale in their neighbourhoods.

Hostile Environment for Climate Action

It’s sad that people still have to risk imprisonment to fight for the environment, but the reality is that all over the world people do- not just in the Middle East or Africa but in countries such as the UK and America. Bill McKibben, the American eco-activist who was himself arrested outside the White House for protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline development insists that we must be more confrontational and take more risks for the planet.

However as Karin Kloosterman, Green Prophet editor observed: “Getting arrested in the Middle East doesn’t allow demonstrators the same level of notoriety, like in Canada, or Israel, where it can even be considered cool to go to jail during an environmental protest. In some Middle East countries, activists go to jail and just never come out.”

Time For Arresting Action on Climate Change

I agree with McKibben that we need to be more serious about our activism and give people a real sense of what’s really at stake. We have to be able and willing to see the injustice in all its forms and speak out against it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean putting yourself in a position where you may be arrested- it could mean taking time to speak to your neighbours about climate change, organising a pro-active and creative green campaign, lobbying your local authorities for more action and even supporting other environmentalists and their work.

The Battle Must Go On

Lending solidarity, as Ken Saro-Wiwa did when he worked for years to secure the Ogani people’s rights, is also vital. Back in October, the popular Jordanian blogger at The Black Iris wrote that he couldn’t help but make a connection between Jordan and Shell’s oily misadventures in Nigeria. Shell has drilled more than 100 oil wells in Jordan in only 2 years and signed an agreement aimed at exploring and potentially producing oil from Jordan’s vast oil shale resources. It is estimated that Jordan has around 40 billion metric tonnes of (energy-intensive and polluting) oil shale.

Whilst Jordan may be at the start of its journey with Shell, Nigeria is still struggling to come to terms with its own ordeal with the company. A recent report by the UN said that it will cost up to $1 billion and take 30 years to clean up the damage done to Nigeria by decades of drilling and gas flaring by Shell. Which goes to show that whilst Ken Saro-Wiwa may have gone, the fight for the environment- in Nigeria, the Middle East and elsewhere- must continue.

: Image via

For more on environmental action in the Middle East see:

Greenpeace Raises More Questions Over Jordan’s Nuclear Plans

Why I’m Fighting Air-Megeddon

Palestinian Women In Israel: Breaking Gender Stereotypes In Environmental Activism

Turkish Village Goes Off The Grid With Wind Turbine

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