Mohammad Barkindo, OPEC Secretary-General, Dies at 63
Mohammad Barkindo, OPEC Secretary, was a Nigerian oil industry veteran, who led the group’s creation of the OPEC+ Alliance. He was 63 years old.
Barkindo, who was the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ top diplomat for six years, was near the end of his tenure. He headed the Vienna-based Secretariat. Barkindo had recently returned from Abuja to prepare for a post-OPEC career. There was no immediate cause of his death.
Barkindo oversaw one of the most turbulent periods in the organization’s history, beginning with the creation of the OPEC+ coalition just months after his appointment in summer 2016. The Nigerian engaged in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy to establish the once-unthinkable partnership with non-members, personally lobbying leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
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He was responsible for a string of production cuts that helped to maintain global oil markets balance. This culminated in unprecedented declines in Covid-19 in 2020. With a warm and jovial style — and a fondness for wearing local headdress while visiting OPEC+ member nations — Barkindo was often key in easing tensions inside the fractious alliance.
“This is indeed a very sad day for the OPEC family,” said Haitham Al-Ghais, the Kuwaiti oil official due to become secretary-general next month. “He was without doubt a great industry leader and also a friend. The legacy that Mohammad leaves behind him will be remembered in the history of OPEC for many years to come.”
During a trip to Houston in 2017, Barkindo took the unusual step of reaching out to OPEC’s rivals in the US shale industry, and over dinner with executives such as Mark Papa and Harold Hamm, struck an unlikely rapport that soothed years of acrimony between the producers.
The act of “breaking bread,” as the Nigerian put it, would become an annual custom and yielded long-lasting relations with industry figures. The new-found sympathy of oil men like Hamm—who had once dismissed OPEC as a “toothless tiger” — may have eventually helped the group navigate relations with President Donald Trump, whose hostility turned to enthusiastic support during the OPEC+ market intervention of 2020.
“With his long and effective work in OPEC, he has rightfully gained a high international reputation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an address to his Nigerian counterpart, according to remarks on the Kremlin website. “Mohammed Barkindo will always be remembered in Russia as a true friend of our country.”
It was also characteristic that when fossil fuel protesters demonstrated outside OPEC’s Vienna secretariat during a meeting in 2019, Barkindo — who had once represented his country in climate negotiations — invited some of them into the building for a discussion.
Barkindo, who was in Abuja on Tuesday when he had a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, died unexpectedly. Following his resignation from the organisation, Barkindo’s career plan included a fellowship at Atlantic Council. His last trip was to Baghdad (where OPEC was first founded).
“Barkindo was a friend to Iraq And loved its people,” said Iraqi Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar. “He was keen on strengthening OPEC’s role in stabilizing oil markets in the face of challenges that had stormed the oil sector and the global economy.”
—With assistance from Ben Bartenstein and Olga Tanas.
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