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OPEC Loses its Secretary General in the Midst of Energy Crisis by Hélène de Lauzun

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OPEC Loses its Secretary General in the Midst of Energy Crisis

While the energy sector is in turmoil due to the disruption of oil and gas distribution caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine, OPEC has been left temporarily without a leader, following the death on Wednesday, July 5th, of its Secretary General, Nigerian Mohammed Barkindo.

Barkindo died prematurely at the age of 63. The exact circumstances of his death are not yet known. He was not affected by any long-term illness and had met the Nigerian president only a few hours before the presumed time of his death.

Mohammed Barkindo’s death comes as his term as OPEC Secretary General was due to end July 31st. According to sources close to the deceased, he would join the Atlantic Council as an emeritus member of the Global Energy Centre once his term at OPEC was over. 

He joined OPEC to represent Nigeria in 1986 and had held the post of secretary general since 2016. He was due to hand over the position to Kuwaiti Haitham Al-Ghais in August. Barkindo was credited with developing links between OPEC countries and other producers, notably Russia, to form an “OPEC +” to improve oil price control during the pandemic period. OPEC’s Secretary General, without executive power in the strict sense, usually plays a decisive diplomatic role in facilitating discussions between producer countries with often divergent interests—such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example.

The organisation has been in trouble since the start of the war in Ukraine, as producing countries have struggled to increase production to compensate for the disruption of Russian oil supplies, drawing strong criticism from consuming countries.

While his death will not have any long-term consequences for OPEC’s strategy, it does increase the uncertainty and volatility in the oil and gas markets in the short term. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).