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Aug 15, 2013 | 15:10 GMT

Cameroon Takes Official Control of Potentially Oil-Rich Territory

(Clement Yango/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Cameroon on Aug. 14 assumed full jurisdiction of Bakassi Peninsula after a five-year transition period from Nigerian rule. Bakassi Peninsula consists mainly of smaller islands covered in mangroves, but its importance rests on the expectation that valuable petroleum reserves will be uncovered in the area. Local militias still oppose Cameroonian control, and although their activity has diminished in recent years, militants will continue to pose a threat in Bakassi.

Oil exploration has been underway on Bakassi Peninsula over the last five years, and Cameroon has acted as the local authority dealing with the involved international companies. However, the exploration activities' ability to locate commercially viable reserves has not met expectations. In October 2012, Addax Petroleum, a company owned by China's Sinopec, announced the discovery of an offshore oil and natural gas field on Bakassi, but it is still assessing the commercial viability of the reserves. Since Cameroon has already approved the activities of oil companies on the peninsula, the consolidation of legal sovereignty is unlikely to alter the activities of energy investors. The results of ongoing exploratory activity are far more important.

Nigerian policymakers are not happy about losing control of the peninsula, but the transfer comes after a long succession of armed clashes and of arbitration by the International Court of Justice. The process that eventually led to the transfer of sovereignty was initiated by a popular vote in 1961 in a broader region that included Bakassi. The dispute eventually resulted in armed clashes and fears of wider military action between the two countries in the 1980s and 1990s. The International Court of Justice eventually took up the dispute and determined on the basis of a colonial treaty that Bakassi did indeed belong to Cameroon. The long transitional period has mitigated Nigerian reactions to this event, since the area has long been under de facto Cameroonian control and the official transfer was long in coming.

A militant threat also persists on the peninsula. Local militias, such as the Bakassi Boys, want Bakassi to either remain part of Nigeria or to be granted some form of independence. Recently, most militants in the area have been fairly inactive. One group of Bakassi-based militants, however, did kidnap 28 Sinopec oil workers in a neighboring area of Nigeria on Aug. 23, 2012. Nigerian security forces rescued the workers several days later. The group, the Lapto Marine Force, cited Sinopec's decision to stop hiring the militants as security escorts as its motivation for the act, highlighting that the activity of Bakassi militant groups is guided more by economic interests than by political motives. Criminal activity such as piracy and kidnappings could continue, but Cameroonian control, backed by an active presence of security forces, should maintain an adequate level of stability on the peninsula.

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