On one side of the jungle: Mexico’s Zapatistas, burrowed in the flora of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest states. For 15 years, the rebels have declared themselves in war against the Mexican government.
On the other side of the jungle: Nigeria’s MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), nestled in the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria’s poorest — but most oil-rich — regions. For at least three years, the rebel group has staged attacks on foreign oil pipelines and soldiers in open battle against the Nigerian government.
Leading the Zapatistas is Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, a political writer, poet and activist who opposes globalization and capitalism and who has achieved rock star infamy in Mexico but is equally shrouded in mystery. Defending the land and resource rights of his indigenous compatriots, Marcos himself is likely of Spanish ancestry, hence his lighter skin. Often through violent struggle, the Zapatistas have fought against development on the Mayan land and argued for more inclusive politics, with Marcos as spokesman. But with his ever-present mask, it’s hard to tell exactly who he is.
Henry Okah aka Jomo Gbomo, a wealthy engineer by training, is one of Africa’s most famous guerilla leaders — and a pain in the ass to oil multinationals. Heading MEND on behalf of the people of Niger Delta who live on top of billion-dollar oil reserves yet are impoverished without basic services, Okah led his group to attacks that have cut a significant percentage of Nigeria’s oil production, up to 25 percent. Okah, who also never showed his face and operated under the name Jomo Gbomo while representing MEND to the press and the public, is currently in secret government custody.
Both groups have taken hits lately: low current interest in their causes hasn’t been kind. But both outfits, complete with charismatic leaders, say they continue to fight for the neglected peoples of their country, amid rampant corruption.
And again, different worlds (rebel worlds, this time) collide.