April 2007

The Iraqi hydrocarbon law, which was planned in Washington and is still pending, has many implications for West Africa. It shows the intentions of the western oil companies, and the Bush administration, toward any oil reserves they can exploit anywhere. African governments take heed. Some regard this law as the victory Bush and Cheney intended when they invaded Iraq.

You can read a discussion of the present status of the bill, and the various viewpoints here.

But I think The Spy Who Billed Me, which is a particularly noteworthy blog, states the situation most succinctly:

The proposed law will allow international oil companies to retain 70% of production over the next 30 years. An additional 20% of production will be tax-free. These are particularly lucrative terms. Countries that allow foreign ownership of a portion of production generally limit this to 20%. US allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have completely nationalized production and do not allow any portion to go directly to the firms.

The Niger delta from Google maps

This is another in a series of posts based on the work by b real at Moon of Alabama. Understanding AFRICOM: A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command part I. The article is in three parts, part II and part III and a PDF version of the complete series is available here. This post is based primarily on part II .

(The US) strategic objective focuses on securing Nigerian and Gulf energy supplies To achieve this strategic goal, American military planners have launched a two-pronged pincher movement whose main objective is “Ring-Fencing Nigeria” from the north and south.
. . .
(The US) is developing a coastal security system in the Gulf of Guinea called the Gulf of Guinea Guard.
. . .
Few Americans realize the scale and significance of Nigerian oil and gas production centered in the Delta and how this complex impacts American energy security.

With the offshore oil that is being discovered in Nigerian territorial waters, Nigeria is one of the few places in the world that oil reserves may yet increase for awhile. This means almost unimaginable wealth.

Shell started commercial production of Nigerian oil in 1956. Nigeria became independent in 1960. Since that time conditions have not improved for the vast majority of the people of the Niger delta. In fact, the delta is still occupied by foreigners and conditions have probably gotten worse. Air, land, and water are seriously polluted by the flaring of gases, and oil leaks and spills.

Looking at the Niger Delta on a satellite map, probably the first thing to catch the eye is the spidery plethora of rivers and creeks weaving across the terrain. It’s an area of great ecological significance, the kidneys, quite literally, of West Africa. The mangrove forests here are the third largest of its kind on the planet, and the extent of the ecological value is known only to the locals, as the majority of scientific surveys of the Niger Delta have been done strictly for economic reasons. If you zoom in on the Delta area you will soon start seeing gas flares, the most visible sign of the results of that research. The landscape is dotted with oil and natural gas wells and the production facilities required to contain and transport these fossil fuels to foreign lands, and gas flaring here has long been a problem.

In their efforts to get to the oil underneath, the extraction industries have typically burned off the gas reserves that have collected on the top of these deposits, allowing large gas flares to burn for years, adding toxins into the atmosphere which then return to poison the lands and those living there. It is said that “some children have never known a dark night even though they have no electricity.”

Shell has dealt with a succession of Nigerian governments, made payments as needed, and totally ignored the living conditions and needs of the people whose wealth they were extracting. Had Shell had any sense of corporate responsibility, or concern for human rights and safety, it could easily have pressured successive Nigerian governments into treating their citizens with more dignity and respect, returning some of the wealth, and facilitating genuine development, education, healthcare, and jobs for the people of the delta. Shell, and the other oil companies always had the economic clout. Development would be cheaper than war. They never had the good sense or good will.

Buhari, (a current candidate for President) in his earlier authoritarian rule, had centralized much of the power in Nigeria, especially sticking it to the states in the Delta, dropping their share of Nigeria’s oil rent revenues over a period of two years from 20 to 1.5 percent. (emphasis mine) But then Obasanjo himself, (the current President) during his rule in the 1970s, had laid the ground for Buhari by seizing lands and granting the oil majors rights to exploit the Niger Delta and, hence, its people, further undermining their abilities for representation and retaining control over their own lives.

In fact Shell, and the other oil companies operating in the delta, are trying to persuade the US that the local resistance movements, in search of self determination and a share of resources, are terrorists, and that the oil companies need backup from the US military in dealing with them.

And the US military is responding.

Much has been made of the attempts to link these resistance groups into the GWOT, especially on the part of the oil companies, in order to use the power of the U.S. military to stabilize these areas and secure the energy flows.

However times are changing.

The volatility surrounding oil installations in Nigeria, and elsewhere in the continent, is used by the U.S. security establishment to justify foreign (and domestic) military presence in African oil producing states while contributing to the oil industry’s windfall profits. Yet the depth of resentments, and the military capabilities of insurgent groups armed in large measure through oil theft suggests that the oil companies’ operations – what they call their social license to operate – may be in question.

The US risks further damaging itself by fighting against democracy in the form of local people who want self determination, and a share of the wealth generated in their own home. And Nigerians, and other citizens of Africa and the world, can look at the disaster the oil wars have created in Iraq as a warning of what could happen in the Niger delta. But the US does not appear to be learning the right lessons yet. In fact, as long as Bush and Cheney run things, there is no chance of the US learning, and turning in the right direction. The US military now appears to be planning to develop techniques of riverine warfare to fight the peoples of the delta. And the US is missing the bottom line. It would be cheaper to work with the peoples of the Niger delta than it is to fight against them. The problem is that it would be complicated, and require people who know something about the place and the people, not a characteristic of Bush and his cronies.

There have been recent reports in the Ghanaian press, such as here, and here, mentioning the Cheney report and creation of (a) military base(s) in Ghana. I believe this is the report that is being cited (corrected from an earlier version):
Overview: PDF: Energy for America’s Future (8 pages)
Complete PDF version: PDF Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group (170 pages)

For a more complete bibliography of relevant documents, and much more relevant information and insight as to how this applies to Ghana and West Africa, see the bibliography at the end of this article:
Understanding AFRICOM: A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command part I.
The article is in three parts, part II and part III and a PDF version of the complete series is available. Each part has a bibliography at the end of the article text.

Moon of Alabama has a series of articles by b real providing some history and some of the thinking behind the formation of Africom. Part I, part II and part III. A PDF version of the complete series is available here. In this post I’ll look at some of what it says in part II of this series.

When the US announced the creation of Africom, it cited terrorism and oil as its two main areas of focus, as documented in these articles. As long as the US has this narrow focus, things will work badly for African countries. There is a lot of US talk about supporting development and democracy. I have cited the following, but it bears repeating, the one thing that all people around the globe, including in the US, should remember about Bush:

. . . the Bush Family and their allies and cronies represent the confluence of three long-established power factions in the American elite: oil, arms and investments. These groups equate their own interests, their own wealth and privilege, with the interests of the nation – indeed, the world – as a whole. And they pursue these interests with every weapon at their command, including war, torture, deceit and corruption. Democracy means nothing to them – not even in their own country.

There are rumors of US military activity in a number of places in Ghana. In some places it is fairly clear something is going on, but nobody is saying what. Today there are several articles at GhanaWeb about possible military bases in Ghana: US military base for Ghana, and No US Military Base for Ghana – Addo Kufuor, one worried speculation, one a denial. Ghanaians should make no mistake. There is already a US military presence in Ghana. It is probably what the US military calls “lily pads“. And this presence will grow. As it grows, neither the Ghana government, nor the US government are likely to be open or forthcoming as to exactly what is going on.

Bush continually praises Kufuor. It isn’t because of democracy in Ghana, it is because Kufuor has been compliant with Bush’s wishes. This is the ONLY test the Bush Cheney administration use in evaluating individuals or countries, are they compliant and loyal to Bush? Praise from Bush should set off alarms everywhere.

The US will continue hiding any military developments and activities. There have been demonstrations against US bases in a number of countries, and people from many countries are organizing to resist global and US militarism:

In a new surge of energy for the global struggle against militarism, some 400 activists from 40 countries came together in Ecuador from March 5-9 to form a network to fight against foreign military bases.

The following, from part II of the articles cited above, describes what has been going on pre-Africom, and provides us some clue about what is going on now, in Ghana and elsewhere:

In West Africa, the U.S. military’s European Command has now established forward-operating locations in Senegal, Mali, Ghana (my emphasis), and Gabon — as well as Namibia, bordering Angola on the south — involving the upgrading of airfields, the pre-positioning of critical supplies and fuel, and access agreements for swift deployment of U.S. troops. … [It] is developing a coastal security system in the Gulf of Guinea called the Gulf of Guinea Guard. It has also been planning the construction of a U.S. naval base in Sao Tome and Principe, which the European Command has intimated could rival the U.S. naval base as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The Pentagon is thus moving aggressively to establish a military presence in the Gulf of Guinea that will allow it to control the western part of the broad trans-Africa oil strip and the vital oil reserves now being discovered there.
. . .
U.S. naval protection of the sea-lanes that transport oil is of paramount importance.” The report also called for stepped up U.S. naval engagement in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Nigeria.

China has altered the strategic context in Africa. All across Africa today, China is acquiring control of natural resource assets, outbidding Western contractors on major infrastructure projects, and providing soft loans and other incentives to bolster its competitive advantage.
. . .
For the Council on Foreign Relations, all of this adds up to nothing less than a threat to Western imperialist control of Africa.
. . .
The goal of building large regional battalions may very well foreshadow larger proxy wars
. . .
Already, the U.S. supports unpopular governments in nations such as Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Central African Republican, Somalia, and Algeria.
. . .
Algeria, with its documented record of torture and ‘disappearances,’ is in many ways a model of how not to fight terrorism.
. . .
One Central African country in particular illustrates the need for State Department perspective and guidance to temper Defense Department enthusiasm. The country is unstable, desperately poor, and run by a repressive government that is being challenged by a persistent armed resistance. . . With extensive “under-governed spaces” as potential terrorist havens and bordering countries with equally uncertain futures, the country was termed “a model country for security assistance” by the regional combatant command. Civilian embassy officials, however, are demonstrably less keen. They question the rate at which military programs are rapidly escalating and the sizable and still growing presence of U.S. military personnel in-country. . . It would be a major setback if the United States were to be implicated in support of operations shoring up the repressive regime, regardless of the stated intent of such training.

The US Secretary of State is weak, and does not appear to have diplomatic skills, her background is academic, and she is invested in the oil business. The State Department will not be able to counter the growing militarism as long as she is there, and she may support it. And even if she leaves, as long as Bush is US President, countries should be wary of any US offers and deals, including offers and deals made with their neighbors.

Any citizen of any country who has watched the debacle in Iraq will not welcome Bush Cheney attentions to their territories and resources.

Covering the news here.

Moon of Alabama has a series of articles providing some history and some of the thinking behind the formation of Africom. Part I, part II and part III. A PDF version of the complete series is available here.

The U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) will replace the AOR (Area Of Responsibility) for each of three other geographic combatant commands (there are now a total of six) currently tasked with portions of the second-largest continent, with the small exception of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) retaining AOR for Egypt. Further details on operations have not been made public apart from the usual basic press briefings and the formation of a transition team, though it not a mystery to identify what role AFRICOM will play in both the U.S. and Africa’s future.
. . .
That context is centered on strategic energy supplies and, explicitly, that of oil. In the petroleum age, these energy stores – along with the territories concealing them — have taken on great significance in the foreign policies of the industrialized nations, fueled by an insatiable fever for black gold and the seemingly instant wealth and power it delivers to its possessor.
. . .
Oil is the lifeblood of contemporary, militarized western civilization.
. . .
Paradoxically, as the military reach grew, so too did the need for more oil. The Pentagon is currently “the single largest oil consumer in the world.”

The article is scholarly and well documented, complete with footnotes. I am just looking at Part I in this post, but will return to these articles. The Bush administration is very secretive. And there have been movements around the globe to block or limit the reach of US military bases. So what they are doing in Ghana is not clear. What I suspect is that the US embassy, like many around the globe is becoming more militarized. The US Secretary of State is weak, and seems unable to make deals. The Pentagon has the money and the clout under Bush. There have been publicized visits from important military figures to Ghana. In terms of what is happening, or may happen, with the US military in Ghana, I suspect that they are setting up lily pads.

In its efforts to secure other basing options, the United States has negotiated agreements granting it access to airfields and other facilities in several African nations. These facilities are often referred to as “lily pad” facilities, because American forces can hop in and out of them in times of crisis while avoiding the impression of establishing a permanent – and potentially provocative – presence. They include Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the United States has built two “K-Span” steel buildings to house troops and equipment; an airfield near Bamako, the capital of Mali; an airfield at Dakar, Senegal; an airfield in Gabon; and airfields and port facilities in Morocco and Tunisia.

The article does not cite Ghana specifically in this regard. But I doubt either the Bush administration or the Kufuor government are eager or likely to provide details to their citizens as to what exactly they may be discussing. Africom is just beginning. It would be well to watch the direction it takes. Ghana, and other African governments will need to be extremely clever and nimble in their dealings with it. As I mentioned, the articles are well worth reading to understand a more complete picture.

This is the message of Easter, and one of my favorite pieces of music, here sung by Jerome Hines.

« Previous PageNext Page »