Urhobo Historical Society

Comparing Rivers: The Mississippi and the Niger

The Fifth Randall L. Gibson Conference

Sponsored by:

Tulane University
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District

New Orleans, Louisiana, 7-8 November 2002

The Fifth Randall L. Gibson Conference, jointly sponsored by Tulane University and the New Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be presented on 7-8 November 2002 at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans's historic French Quarter on the topic of “Comparing Rivers: The Mississippi and the Niger.” A major purpose of the conference is to review historical experience in the two regions and its relevance for current development policies, plans, programs, and projects. A related goal is to forge and strengthen linkages among a broad range of institutions in the two countries. 
The “taming” of the Mississippi is surely one of the “great projects” in the epic story of the building of America (Tobin 2001), one in which the Corps of Engineers played a leading role. The lessons learned from this encounter with the forces of nature are highly pertinent and timely for river and regional development planning, at home and abroad.
In 1953, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, then Minister of Transport, visited the United States and observed how the Mississippi River was contributing to the nation’s economic development. He became convinced that the Niger and Benue rivers could play a similar role in Nigeria. After independence from Britain in 1960, Balewa became Nigeria’s first prime minister. Although he died tragically in 1966, his dream of inland waterways development has continued down to the present.
In June 1999, the newly elected civilian government initiated a master planning process for physical and social development to achieve “the speedy and global transformation of the Niger Delta Region into a zone of equity, prosperity and tranquility.” Convergently, in 2001 the government approved a plan to dredge a navigation channel in the Lower Niger River some 573 kilometers inland from Warri to Baro in Northern Nigeria. Some communities along the proposed waterway and throughout the Niger Delta region have voiced concerns however about potential environmental, social, and economic impacts of the proposed action.

The Corps of Engineers possesses unequalled experience and expertise in river basin planning and in dredging operations. They also have a mission to assist the Federal Republic of Nigeria in its national development. In July 2001, Lieutenant General Robert Flowers, Chief of Engineers, visited Abuja to assess the country’s needs in light of the Corps’ resources and responsibilities. This conference is one contribution toward realizing the aims and aspirations of both countries.

The substantive focus of the conference explores the central theme of “development” in its many dimensions and proportions—river development and regional development; economic, social, and environmental development, and capacity development—at scales ranging from local to global. Participants will include Nigerian and American government officials, industry representatives, natural and social scientists, nongovernmental organization and community representatives.

The desired outcome of the conference is to survey the knowledge base and identify development problems and possibilities for the two regions as an agenda for further research and application.

Tobin, James. Great Projects: The Epic Story of the Building of America, from the Taming of the Mississippi to the Invention of Internet. New York: The Free Press, 2001.

Conference information can be found at http://nigerdelta.aaas2.orgor contact:
Edwin Lyon +1 504 862 2038 <edwin.a.lyon@mvn02.usace.army.mil> or
Joan Exnicios +1 504 862 1760 <joan.m.exnicios@mvn02.usace.army.mil>