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UC Berkeley Web Feature

UC Berkeley geography professor wounded in Nigeria

– A University of California, Berkeley, geography professor who studies violence in the oil fields of Nigeria was injured today in the center of the country's oil-rich Niger delta by a group of gun-wielding men who attacked a newspaper office.

Michael Watts
Michael Watts (Jane Scherr photo)

Michael Watts, professor of geography and director of UC Berkeley's Center for African Studies, was shot in the hand by one of nearly a dozen heavily armed men and told the Associated Press that he believes they followed him to the office after he'd made a trip to the bank.

In an e-mail to UC Berkeley colleague Edward Miguel, associate professor of economics, Watts said he was visiting a radical journalist and friend at the National Point newspaper in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State in the Niger delta, when the gunmen, some apparently high on drugs, arrived on motorcycles.

"In the total chaos, there was a lot of shooting; one (person was) shot in the leg," he wrote. "They came calling for 'the white man' and asked me for money after hitting me on the head with a Beretta," which is a brand of handgun.

Watts told reporters that some of the men appeared to be aiming to shoot him in the leg, but missed and hit his left hand instead.

"Please assure people I am OK, if shaken," he wrote in response to an e-mail from Media Relations.

Watts ascribed the shooting to criminal "thugs," but noted in his email to Miguel that "the city is in lockdown and is unraveling . wrapped up with enormous post-election instability."

One of Watts' research interests is the political economy and the political ecology of oil, and he has been studying why the oil-producing communities in the Niger delta are the site of intense conflict and what has been called "petro-violence."

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