with images from DATA: THE NEW BLACK GOLD
by IBIYE CAMP
THE NEW BLACK GOLD
The Submarine Cable System connects Africa to the rest of the world, via Europe. Today there are six individual cable systems off the coast of West Africa. One is called MainOne. It travels from Amsterdam, through London, and then to a landing point in Lagos, which is the current largest data economy of West Africa. Data has become the world’s most valuable resource. A century ago, the most valuable resource was oil. Crude oil was deemed Nigeria’s “Black Gold.” The first discovery of oil in the Niger Delta was made by the British-Dutch petroleum company, Shell, in 1956. Multinational corporations have laid unprotected oil pipelines across the landscape of the Niger Delta, without regard for the property of citizens. This is a testament to the lack of investment in measures to protect and secure this infrastructure, which has led to spills and explosions that have contaminated the land and rivers.
A process named “Oil Bunkering,” the hacking of oil pipelines for the purposes of capturing oil, is carried out by the Niger Avengers, a group formed by neighboring villages. The Niger Avengers run oil refineries and collect oil in dugout canoes traveling through the delta. A medium-sized refinery has twenty to thirty people working and living on site. It is approximately two or three acres and produces up to ten thousand liters of oil a day. This informal refinery adds to the violence and contamination to the landscape. The military closed down refineries in a show of power, but most refinery productions relocated and started again. Oil companies, government, and local communities all blame each other for the cycle of violence.
Today, Lagos is the leading city in Nigeria’s digital revolution and home to all nine data centers situated in the country. Foreign investment within the past twenty years, predominantly from China for tech infrastructure, has increased as a result of multiple Mega City Developments which are run off privatized power. One Mega City is Lekki. It has areas allocated for a Free Trade Zone. MainOne Data Center is located in Lekki. It advertises that it has 99.99% power uptime and is equipped with a secondary power source in the form of a redundant configuration, which includes multiple diesel tanks with capacities of over 100,000 liters.
MainOne was reported to have leaked Google customers’ Cloudflare IP routes to a Chinese telecom company. The companies declared the leak as an “Ugly Mistake,” although the telecommunications provider is known for corporate surveillance and recent cases of traffic diversion. The Nigerian government does not hold major corporations accountable for their oil and data leaks—however, similar actions of citizens are automatically deemed vandalism and criminal. This imbalance exacerbates the gap between international companies and the local population.
Data: The New Black Gold explores how citizens could take ownership of the data generated from their cities during this time of technological investments and developments from overseas. The project highlights the biases, conflicts of data consumption, and the tensions between government, private corporations, and citizens. Using data from devices situated around Lagos, an imperfect digital city is built that opposes Western architectural ideals of modeling. The film Data: the New Black Gold shows the imperfect city and explores the biases and conflicts of digital and technological infrastructures in West Africa. The data is collected with informal mobile tools which I have called “Area Snap.” The Area Snap devices collect data at three view points:
1. Ground view—Luk-grnod-man omolanke (meaning “detective wheelbarrow” in Krio)
2. Eye view—Waka turnturn (meaning “walking and spinning” in Krio)
3. Bird-eye view—Airforce 1 (meaning “flying witch” in Nigerian-pidgin)
The glitches and voids illustrate the tension of technology with citizens in contrasting territories.
ANNE MARIE WIRTH CAUCHON editor
Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon is Editor-in-Chief of Stillpoint Magazine, and Creative Director of the PrairieCare Institute’s Center for Applied Psychoanalysis, the mother of two, a PhD candidate in English and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, and the author of the novel Nothing.
IBIYE CAMP artist
Ibiye Camp is an artist whose work engages with technology, trade, and material within the African Diaspora. Ibiye’s work utilizes architectural tools to create sound and video, accompanied by augmented reality and 3D objects, and highlights the biases and conflicts inherent to technology and postcolonial subjects.
Ibiye tutors at the Royal College of Art, London, with architectural design studio ADS2, titled “Black Horizons: Worlding within the Ruins of Racial Capitalism.”
Ibiye co-founded Xcessive Aesthetics, an interdisciplinary design collective exploring data through immersive technologies and public installations.
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