The Chinese-built Soraz oil refinery in southern Niger is now operational again after a 45-day shutdown due to a blown compressor. That Soraz is up and running again will come as welcome relief to the people of Niger who depend on the 7,000 barrels a day of refined oil produced from the facility that supply the domestic market.
Not everyone though believes Soraz went offline merely because of a technical problem. Instead, suspicions began to circulate that China National Petroleum Corporation deliberately blew the compressor as part of a scheme to force the government to resolve a bitter financial dispute. Despite widespread allegations of a Chinese conspiracy, it is important to note that there is no factual evidence to support claims of sabotage.
The Soraz refinery is a joint venture between CNPC and the government. It began operations back in 2011 when there was a lot of promise to leverage Niger’s oil reserves to help lift this country of 16 million people out of poverty. Just as with other oil states in West Africa, any sense of hope that came with the discovery of petroleum has been crushed by corruption, mismanagement and the harsh reality of petropolitics.
Rather than deliver any financial uplift for Niger, Soraz is instead buried almost a billion dollars of debt.
Business Insider defense and military editor Armin Rosen recently traveled to Niger where he reported on the controversy over the Soraz refinery shutdown. Armin joins Eric & Cobus — in the podcast above — to explain why he thinks CNPC is to blame for the recent turmoil.