America, Africa And Oil
America’s sudden interest in Africa has far less to do with its subjectively defined term ‘terrorism' than is Africa’s rich and diverse cache of natural resources. Oil in particular is of interest to the current US administration. Petroleum is abundant in Africa and in some regions, has very special incentives for western investment. Oil off the west coast of Africa has less of a threat of insurrection and local instability which hampers drilling efforts. This is because most oil drilling takes place off-shore. Additionally, African oil, especially West African oil has the added benefit of having shorter transport routes to US refineries. Without the need to transport it through politically sensitive or militarily vulnerable routes. This makes African oil very attractive to US oil interests.
The exploitation of resources in Africa is a long and sordid history. Western nations have always plundered the resources of Africa for the gain of Western nations. Much of the blame lies not only with Western nations and corporations but with corrupt, cynical and even what can be described as evil African leadership. Men who have used the proceeds from oil and other commodities to line their own pockets, letting their nations go into financial decay and even ruin in the process. Consequently, this paper will not be a typical exercise in Corporate bashing while decrying the maltreatment of Africans. It is the view of this author that there is enough blame to go around for everyone.
Development of Africa’s resources for Western exploitation is going to be a key issue from now until the end of the age of oil, or until a viable alternative energy source is discovered. Thus Africa, the war on terror and America’s new found interest in deploying troops into long running conflicts needs to be explored with care and accuracy so as not to fall into typical cliché’s and well-worn conclusions.
Map & Graph: Africa: Energy: Oil reserves
In Billions of Barrels Of Oil Reserves
These numbers are largely estimates, Nigeria's in particular have been publically stated as only 22 billion barrels, yet the Oil ministers is assured that there is really 30 billion. The politics of oil reserve calculations is intricate, exasperating and at times quite deceptive.
Yet we must understand the while there are substantial oil reserves in Africa, they are dwarfed by the reserves in the Middle East and Russia. It would be wise to remember the overenthusiastic estimates of oil reserves in the Caspian Sean Basin. While significant oil and Gas reserves are present, the actual amount of recoverable oil that exists in Africa may once again be somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, because oil production in many parts of the world is declining, Africa will be a target for Western nations and companies for exploitation. Not only for western nations but for India and China as well, as their economies become increasingly industrialized.
Africa has been racked by many different types of conflicts from ethnic and religious infighting to other less clear conflicts that have more to do with the control over natural resources than exist in the areas where conflict and war rages. Diamonds, Gold, Silver, Platinum, Uranium, and various other precious resources are located in Africa and as the world becomes hungrier for these resources, Africa will and already has become a battle ground for them. Oil is just one part of a complex and fluid picture that will change once again in 5-10 years. The governments of Africa, most notably Angola and Nigeria have shown a consistently lack of Transparency and long running trends of governmental corruption that has marked its oil policies and revenue accounting. Indeed the Angolan government’s problems with oil revenues have received international attention. An investigation was launched by KPMG sometime ago to look into missing oil revenues. Persistent and well documented allegations of money laundering, shady arms deals, ‘parallel budgets’ and borrowing against future oil production has been reported. A deep seated corrupt element exists in Angola in particular but in many other African capitals as well. It seems however, that some western interests have profited greatly from the criminality of these leaders and they are loathe to allow genuine democratic elections transpire that would bring about more transparency and accountability to their transactions. Such new leadership would surely kill the cash-cow that enriches so many oil companies, insurance conglomerates, banks and arms manufacturers. Complicity of the oil companies can be seen in the fact that they too, refuse to report the actual amount of money that they pay to the Angolan state. Many of these have a vested interest in the status quo and recognize the need to repress insurgent groups that seek genuine democracy or simply a better distribution of wealth. Indeed, Global Witness reported that ChevronTexaco and ToalFinaElf refused to engage in discussions on transparency. Data obtained by Global Witness shows that $770 million disappeared from the Government treasury. This coupled with the mortgage of future oil revenues displays a reckless disregard for their own population. According to the same report by Global witness, these leaders borrowed 3.5 billion dollars in future oil revenues. These actions lead many to resort to unconventional means in solving the problems of corruption in their regimes.
While many African insurgent groups are not interested in democracy, the need to overthrow corrupt elements becomes such a fixation with disaffected portions of the population that it is not difficult for these groups to find recruits for their armies and rebel movements. The lack of democratic input, transparency, rampant corruption, racism, suspicious diseases, war and yes even genocide are all converging on Africa, a continent that possesses the world’s most abundant resources. Even more tragically, these natural resources which are extracted during and after bloody conflicts always benefit Western Corporations, a few corrupt African leaders but never the African people.
Privatization in many parts of Africa is simply another world for corruption and Western exploitation. Nevertheless the real problem with corruption rests with African leaders, who make much noise regarding their desire to rid their nations of corruption, but do little concrete to root it out. The African summit in Dakar, dubbed the ‘Accra Declaration on Collaborating against Corruption’ that transpired in 2001 is a good example. West African States got lots of Media attention, made a lot of noise about justice and anti-corruption efforts but no tangible results have been observed. Corruption exists on every level of society in many African nations. From bribes extracted from taxi cab drivers and tourists, crooked policemen, to the more noteworthy instances of serious graft in government contracts. It is important to note here that corruption such as this deeply affects perceptions in other nations and many traders, businesses and merchants will not do business in a nation that is rife with corruption.
Peak Oil: Africa in the Crosshairs
To state it simply and bluntly, one day in the not too distant future, oil will become too expensive and valuable to allow every American to drive a car to work everyday. This is because soon the world will have drawn more oil out of the ground than there is left in it.
The future supply of crude oil is only indirectly governed by the amount of reserves still available; it is much more determined by future production capabilities. An eventual future supply crisis will not be the result of the production of the “last drop“ of oil; long before this ever happens the peaking of the world wide oil production will mark a turning point for our energy economies. Then a period of time which has seen ever growing production volumes will be followed by a time with steadily shrinking production volumes year after year. - Future world oil supply A report from the University Of Salzburg
This has made Africa and its oil reserves an important piece of the Bush administrations violent oil policy. There is only so much oil in the ground and while precise estimates are impossible determine, it is becoming clear that soon we will have reached a critical juncture in the industrial age, that being that we have reached peak oil. Once this occurs, oil prices will escalate significantly and permanently, year after year. This will make it necessary for the governments of the world to prioritize oil consumption. While all of this is not likely to occur with any real ferocity until early in the next decade, the need has been recognized now of the necessity in securing oil reserves for the not too distant future.
China has recognized Africa as a key source of mineral wealth and has agreements with the government of Sudan to provide oil through its Block 7 and block 4 concessions. China has recognized the need to secure oil for its future and its oil needs increase with its growing economic might. Other nations who have concessions in Sudan are Canada, Malaysia, Qatar, and Australia along with other Global Oil Conglomerates. You see, other nations have recognized the need to secure oil for their industrial future and America is certainly no exception. Despite the backdrop of a horrific civil war and international condemnation for their part in that war, these conglomerates and nations see the need for petroleum as the overriding consideration, despite the human cost.
Despite the talk of terrorism on the nightly news, the real issue it is becoming increasingly clear is oil, who controls it and who gets to sell it. Oil will be used as an economic weapon in the near future. Venezuela has already threatened not to sell its oil the US unless America ceases to fund and support elements in Venezuela that seek to overthrow the elected government. The oil question is one that is well understood by the world’s leaders. Recently we have seen strange arrests, unusual mergers talks, suspicious fatal plane crashes all related directly to the Russian oil industry. Russia has huge oil and natural gas reserves and while many inside Russia wish to merge some of its oil interests with Western Conglomerates, other more nationalistic elements, which are directly linked to Putin, resist this and wish to keep Russia’s oil in firmly in Russian hands. Elements in Russia understand the implications of the coming oil crisis and are preparing to keep the control and profits for themselves.
In Africa, the story is very different. Central governments and their accompanying institutions are by and large comparatively rather weak compared to their western counterparts. Thus, they are much easier to corrupt, influence and in extreme cases, overthrow. While many readers will have trouble understanding that Western governments have by and large had a hand in many African coups and insurrections, well read researchers and government insiders will attest that this is not only an occasional event, but a frequent and recurring one. The recent drama in Zimbabwe with 60+ mercenaries headed reportedly to Equatorial Guinea shows that there are elements who are very much interested in seizing control of the governments of oil rich nations. The specter of coups, plots and armed insurrections funded and supported by western ‘democracies’ in African states will increase as we reach and pass the critical juncture of ‘peak oil’.
The National Intelligence Council Issued a report called Africa 2020 decrying Africa’s poor governance as a major impediment to Africa’s future. Yet nowhere does this report discuss Western influence in African ‘regime changes’. While recognizing Africa's rich natural resources the report focuses in on the lack of development, prognosticating (perhaps even hoping) that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future the report again refuses to delve into the part Western institutions have played in this trend1. Education and scientific development is derided as being atrophied, yet no steps are outlined to show how with minimal investment such trends could not only be alleviated but reversed. The entire report has a veneer of Western superiority and arrogance and lacks a thorough review or all pertinent factors which could bring Africa out of the mire of Western exploitation and its own self inflicted violence. While the report downplays the need of African resources curtly stating that only 1% of all trade with the US is from Africa, it does not mention that some of the resources extracted are mission critical for many US defense applications and are obtained at times for bargain basement prices, provided the regime in power is corrupt enough or brought to and sustained in power by Western governments. The entire report is laced with critical omissions and a condescending tone that reminds one of an exasperated parent scolding an errant child, without mentioning that the parent is a child molester.
These think-tank prostitutes do not speak of the long standing support the west gave to the decades long regime Mobutu Sese Seko and the rampant corruption that benefited Western interests, particularly American interests. Indeed, a key mouthpiece for these western financial interests warned of the danger to ‘western interests’ if Kabila were to take power in the Congo. Such a concern was not voiced over Mobutu’s theft of billions of dollars of wealth with the assistance of these same ‘western interests’. When Kabila was ousted by the combined forces of Rwanda and Uganda (both military-style regimes) the charges of ‘corruption’ were leveled at him loudly and mendaciously. Cobalt and diamonds are key resources that the Congo posses as well as high grade uranium, used in nuclear weapons. Western Governments have been largely blamed for the downfall of Kabila. While Kabila can hardly be called a hero, his ouster served the interests of Western governments, the same interests who benefited so conspicuously under Mobutu.
Again, we can look at African states from the tip of the horn to the Cape of good hope and you will see the hand of western intelligence services, private security firms and other interests funding the violence that is depopulating the African continent, leaving the natural resources to be stolen by the west, without 'useless-eater' human interference. One need only to look at what can only be described as oil proxy wars in the Republic Of The Congo (a nation not to be confused with Mobutu’s Congo) during the mid 1990’s between rival French and US oil companies to see that the responsibility for human rights abuses cuts both ways.
Nevertheless, the specter of some of the most macabre human rights abuses that plague so much of Africa cannot be layed exclusively or even largely on western interests. Nigeria is a good example of this. It is the oil revenues that allow the Nigerian Government to buy arms that includes heavy equipment such as fighters, ships and tanks. These are often used to repress their own populations. Additionally, the environmental damage left by the Oil companies in Nigeria is extensive and environmental groups have duly noted this devastation. Even so, much of the work (as in employment in the oil industry) that is being done is not done by Nigerians but by Westerners, thus leaving out Africans from sharing in the most basic part of the revenues. Much of the revenues, however, does stay with the government and its cronies.
Other problems that plague the Nigerian oil industry is theft from the pipelines and violence. The violence is particularly directed at or even by the oil companies, using security forces. In Nigeria we see serious problems with the the influence of Western oil companies and the concomitant violence. One company has been accused of colluding to violently repress protests during the 1990's. While they loudly protested their innocence, it did nevertheless admit to making direct payments to the 'security forces' involved in the abuses. This has been the real specter of some of the big oil companies in Nigeria, funding violence in order to keep as much of the revenues for themselves and the human cost is subordinate to profits. Fortunately, the new Nigerian government has been far less repressive and understands the need to look out for the needs of Nigerians, though security services operating in the Ogoni homeland, where oil drilling takes place, have still been characterized as heavy handed.
Nigerians however see cheap oil as their birth right and pay considerably less than world market prices. At least that is the conclusion of one American think tank. This criticism is not leveled at other oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait who also have inexpensive petrolatum prices for their citizens. In short, western oil company involvement has been a very mixed blessing for Nigerians.
Yet other forms of corruption in Nigeria are commonplace. Nigeria has been a haven for drug money laundering and a place where drug trafficking is a serious problem. These things all show that Africa’s institutions are ill equipped to deal with serious graft which often is induced by the presence of large amounts of a valuable commodity, like oil, which is in high demand by the west. Nigeria conundrum, which is Africa's most populous country, shows that many governmental institutions lack the maturity, transparency and oversight necessary to administer properly revenues that oil brings in. This is not to be condescending, as corruption seems endemic to human behavior. Nevertheless, the scope of corruption and the unwillingness of Africa’s leaders to come to grips with this serious problem has and continues to set Africa back and gives ammunition to those condescending Mathusian-Darwinian forces who look on Black Africa as a less evolved part of the human family and believe that is only fit for depopulation or subjugation.
Oil is going to be the curse of Africa if better leadership is not brought to power. We are not speaking of leadership that can't or won't recognize the need to develop these resources, but leadership that recognizes this as well as the need to see to it that their citizens, nations and institutions also benefit from the revenues.
African Private Security
The Price of Oil by Human Rights Watch
Sudan Oil and Human Rights – By Human Rights Watch
Oil in the Niger Delta – By Human Rights Watch
All the President's Men – A Look at the Angolan Oil Industry – By Global Witness
Bottom Of The Barrel – A Look at Africa's oil boom and the poor – By Catholic Relief Services
1Weak governments are easier to manipulate, influence and overthrow. The last thing certain elements in the West wants are strong democracies in Africa that will demand more of the wealth that will come from its rich resources for their populations. Such people will be labeled 'terrorists' and links to Al Qaida will be manufactured and then demonization and destabilization will begin.