By Dudley Cocke

One ruthless corporate interest, two devastated cultures: Roadside’s public response to the November 1995 execution of African playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Nigerian activists, murdered for opposing Shell Oil International. Originally published as a letter to the editor of Knoxville News Sentinel, November 14, 1995.

The hanging of African playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Nigerian activists four days ago by the country’s military dictator, Sani Abacha, hits home for members of Roadside Theater/Appalshop here in the central Appalachian Mountains. Mr. Saro-Wiwa was murdered for opposing Shell Oil International which has substantial oil producing operations in Nigeria’s Rivers State.

Shell also has extensive coal operations in Appalachia. Appalshop’s 1986 video, “Mine War on Blackberry Creek,” documents the two year, bitter strike of the United Mine Workers of America against an Appalachian coal mining subsidiary of Shell. The pitting of Appalachian union miners against miners in the international corporation’s South African coal operations, who are paid much less, was an issue in the 1986 strike.

The long-term effects of Shell’s presence in central Appalachia are similar to the effects in central Rivers State: the impoverishment of Appalachian people and the destruction of their natural environment.

As reported in the New York Times, Saro-Wiwa in a 1993 interview stated, “What Shell has done is to wage ecological war against the Ogoni people.” He noted that “people in oil-bearing regions get nothing . . . the oil the U.S. government is buying from Nigeria is stolen property.” He concluded that in order to better their circumstances, “the Ogoni people are ready to die.” It is with empathy for the Ogoni people that we contemplate what the nine hangings mean for us, thousands of miles away in the Appalachian Mountains.One wants to know what social vision the leaders and stockholders of Shell Oil follow?

Cite This

Dudley Cocke. “Playwright's Hanging: Appalachia in a Globalized Economic Reality.” February 8, 2017.

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