by Saeed Shabazz
President Bush was goading the UN General Assembly to draft a new
resolution threatening Iraq with possible military attack if they do not
allow weapons inspectors in, he was quietly preparing the way for U.S.
companies to exploit the next oil frontier: Sub-Saharan Africa.
Following his haughty mid-September UN speech, he met with 11 African
leaders, most of whom represented states who are current major oil
producers or are involved in the expansion of oil exploration in the
region. Press reports state that the president discussed fighting
terrorism and ending conflicts on the continent, but observers say oil
was the real purpose for the meetings.
"The United States wants to take the teeth out of OPEC because they
stand up to the U.S.," said Elombe Brath of the New York-based Patrice
Lumumba Coalition, a group active in African issues. "If they can talk
Nigeria into leaving OPEC, the U.S. will be able to exploit African oil
producing countries," he said, referring to the Organization of the
Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel which currently dominates world oil
production and pricing.
Nigeria is the only African oil-producing nation in OPEC, and has
recently charged that the OPEC quota of 1.78 million barrels a day, down
from 2.1 million, is hurting the Nigerian economy.
West Africa sends almost as much oil to the United States as Saudi
Arabia and its market share is rising fast, according to analysts.
Nigeria and Angola are expected to double and triple exports in the next
decade; sub-Saharan Africa could supply 25 percent of U.S. oil by 2015,
according to the Petroleum Financing Company, a Washington, D.C.-based
consulting firm for the oil industry.
The U.S. imports around two-thirds of its oil from foreign countries
to the tune of 8.5 million barrels daily.
Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Ngresso told reporters after
meeting with President Bush that U.S. oil companies were "delighted"
with their growing involvement in Africa. A recent report by the
National Intelligence Council, a CIA think-tank, noted that in the next
20 years Western oil companies would invest $40 billion to $60 billion
in Equatorial Guinea. The tiny country is expected to produce 350,000
barrels a day by 2006. The CIA think tank report is titled, "Global
Trends 2015 Report."
Africa provides secure oil
In February 2002, Shell Oil announced a $7.5 billion project that
will increase oil production in the country by 1.5 million barrels a
day. The World Bank, Exxon and Chevron are major partners in the
development of the Chad/Cameroon pipeline to the tune of $4 billion. The
project should be completed by 2004. However, Chad’s Minister of Affairs
Mahamat Saleh Annadif told the General Assembly that Chad would start
selling their first barrels by July 2003.
It was also in February that the strategic importance of expanded
exploration of African oil was examined at a conference sponsored by the
Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, also based in
Washington. The main theme of the conference was the benefits that could
flow from a stronger relationship with West and Central African
oil-producing nations, Paul Michael Wihbey, a fellow at the institute,
said in a report.
"West Africa could rival the Gulf region," he wrote.
Mr. Wihbey’s report said Africa would provide the U.S. with secure
oil supplies and that the Bush administration should provide economic
development. He added that the proposed partnership would not work if
the administration continued America’s one-sided diplomatic arrangement
that has been characteristic of policy in the past.
President Bush has announced a planned trip to Africa early in 2003.
According to sources, Mr. Bush may stop in Nigeria, the fifth largest
oil exporter to the U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has already visited Gabon and Angola,
major oil exporters. Industry analysts say that Angola increased its
output to 930,000 barrels a day in 2002 from 722,000 barrels a day in
2001. By 2020, Angola is expected to produce 3.28 million barrels a day.
On Sept. 16, Mr. Powell addressed the United Nations General Assembly
"Special Session" on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD),
the apparatus that is charged with Africa’s development with promises of
Western aid as incentives for democratizing African governments, among
Mr. Powell noted that two of America’s largest capital investments
are the methanol plant in Equatorial Guinea and the Chad/Cameroon
Also, the president of Sao Tome, an island off the West African coast
that is believed to sit on massive untapped oil reserves, recently
announced an agreement to establish a U.S. Navy base on the island.
Walter Kansteiner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African
Affairs, has said it is "undeniable ... that African oil has become of
national strategic interest to us."
"This is a very important issue," commented Min. Akbar Muhammad, the
international representative of the Nation of Islam who has spent many
years in Africa and has traveled extensively. He added that President
Bush’s upcoming trip to Africa "is not out of concern for Africans. Oil
is the key to all of this."
"Imagine a right wing conservative president who won’t even meet with
the Congressional Black Caucus going to Africa," he said.
Min. Akbar said increased U.S. interest in African oil at this time
is linked to the failed coup in Venezuela this year. He said the U.S.
was behind the coup that was meant to not only to get President Hugo
Chavez out of office, but also to make sure the U.S. had someone
responsive and supportive of the U.S. in power.
He said even the death of Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel, is linked
to U.S. oil interests. "They (U.S.) tried to get Savimbi to go to the
peace table, but when he refused to play ball he shows up dead. Then the
government immediately signed a peace accord with UNITA (the rebel
group)," Min. Akbar said.
He added that the U.S. and Europe have their tentacles in the NEPAD
group in order to control events on the continent and that the pipeline
the World Bank wants to finace from Chad to the Atlantic Ocean on
Africa’s west coast is a clear example of what’s going on.
"It would be easier to build a pipeline (northward) to the Red Sea.
They’re building it all the way to Africa’s west coast. When they do
that they will have to protect it," Min. Akbar said.
Supporters of the administration’s plan to buy more African crude say
it is of high quality and the shipping distance is half that of the
Persian Gulf. Jewish-sponsored think tank spokespersons such as Mr.
Wihbey pull no punches in declaring their objective is to convince the
administration that continued dependence on Persian Gulf oil could prove
to be catastrophic, particularly if there is an attack on Iraq. They
also note that most of Africa’s oil is drilled offshore.
How will U.S. defend oil reserves?
"What they are really saying is that because most of African oil
deposits are found in the ocean, it is easier to protect them
militarily, and that also allows them to ignore issues facing Africa’s
indigenous people," Salih Booker of the Washington, D.C.-based Africa
Action told The Final Call. "America is interested in Africa’s
black gold, not Africa’s Black people. So, what are the economic
benefits for Africa?"
According to a UN report, Africa grew faster than any other
developing region in 2001. With oil prices likely to stay around $20 a
barrel, African nations are expected to grow by an average of 3.4
percent in 2002. The report says that because of "booming" oil revenue,
real GDP growth in Equatorial Guinea—Africa’s fastest growing
economy—continues to be extremely high, at 65 percent in 2001. The
report stresses that lower oil prices had a positive impact on the
economies of several non-oil-producing nations on the continent.
Several African representatives attending the General Assembly debate
on NEPAD explained that oil revenues would factor into the overall
growth plan for all of Africa in the very near future. They said
agreements between African nations and oil companies are a bilateral
issue, and not something that could be regulated by NEPAD.
"We are optimistic that oil exploration will become something that
NEPAD would regulate, but for now we are moving on other fronts," one
diplomat said. The diplomats said they hear from observers that Africa
through NEPAD should gain control of its oil industries.
"People want to see things happen instantly, and that is not
reality," they said, citing the inability of African nations to generate
the kind of capital needed for exploration, and the paucity of people
with technological skills.
In the meantime, dissent by activists continues in several oil-
producing nations. Environmentalists and members of Chad’s parliament
had called for suspension of the pipeline until their concerns were met,
and until there was a clearer understanding of how much the government
should be involved in the management of the project. They also said it
was not clear how the Chadian people would benefit from the revenues.
However, the World Bank announced on Sept. 14 that they were going
ahead with the pipeline. "This project has enormous potential to bring
great benefits to the people of Chad and Cameroon," a World Bank
Observers say the major shareholders in the Chadian oil industry are
the large oil companies Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Activists add that the
World Bank has had many projects in Chad, and the country is still one
of Africa’s poorest and least developed.
On Sept. 19, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned the
government of Cameroon $21 million. The IMF said the loan was necessary
because of Cameroon’s decline in oil output. But, they also said the key
challenge in Cameroon would be the allocation of oil revenues to social
programs and better investment in the infrastructure.
"That is a polite way of saying that government officials are
pocketing the money," Steve Kretzmann, a policy analyst with the
Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, told The Final Call. He
said the problem in Chad and in Cameroon are their repressive regimes.
"We have called on Exxon Mobil to suspend operations in these areas
immediately," he said, adding that what the Bush administration calls
development is actually corporate welfare for the oil companies.
"We want to see the people of these countries empowered," he said.
Nigeria has had its problems with oil protests. Recent demonstrations
involved women demanding that oil revenues benefit the people through
jobs and pensions and improvement to the environment.
On Sept. 18, a Nigerian state governor delivering a speech in Lagos
questioned why the government continued to bank Nigerian oil revenues in
foreign banks. He suggested that these revenues be deposited in local
banks. He added that loans to indigenous people and corporations could
be made available, thereby "empowering" the people.
Black business sitting at the table
Three months ago, Melvin Foote, president and CEO of the U.S.-based
Constituency for Africa, an African policy coalition, was part of a
delegation sent to Casablanca, Morocco, to talk about the "role" of
Black Americans in the oil paradigm. He said the trip was sponsored by
the Department of Energy.
"America realizes they need African oil, and they cannot go there and
snatch it up," he told The Final Call, adding, "We as Black
business people and entrepreneurs are in the middle of all this."
Mr. Foote said he met recently with the Chadian ambassador and Exxon
executives for dinner in Washington, D.C. What needs to happen now, he
said, is the granting of loans by the World Bank to Black businesses to
enable them to compete in the service industries that go hand-in-hand
with oil exploration such as supplying computers, food and technology.
Robert Hill, president of the American Association of Blacks in
Energy (AABE), said training programs in Africa and in America are
scheduled to start at the turn of the year. AABE was formed 25 years ago
and has 35 chapters and 1,200 members.
"We want our braintrust to work globally. So what we are proposing is
an institution that directs its attention solely to the African oil
issue that is run by Blacks. We are also proposing a business
relationship with the major oil companies allowing Blacks to enter into
the arena of building oil rigs," he said.
However, Mr. Booker offers a word of caution.
"We must interact with activists and mon-governmental organizations
(NGOs) in the African oil-producing nations, so they do not see us as
just another group of exploiters. We must listen to their concerns," he
Elombe Brath agrees.
"It is very important that we understand the leadership issues in
these countries. We must not help the West in its quest to re-colonize
Africa," he said.
"Some of the African leaders do not hand the resources from the oil
revenues down to the people. We hope to impact on this issue by talking
to NGOs, but first we must get our foot in the door," said Mr. Hill.