Wednesday, August 1st, 2007


Map of Tullow’s recent oil discovery in Ghana
click on the map to see the larger view

The Guardian published an article this week about the oil discovery in Ghana, and potential effect on the Ghanaian economy. Ghana enters oil age with wary eye on neighbors.

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. . as the euphoria dies down, people are debating whether oil is really the economic injection their country needs.
. . . “Nigeria has oil in abundance, yet the local people have nothing,” said George Moore, a 29-year-old restaurant worker in Axim, a fishing village near Cape Three Point. “Is that what is going to happen here?”
. . .

“Our country works, but the idea of us producing oil still scares me,” said Kofi Bentil, a business lecturer at Ashesi University in Accra. “It will totally change the structure of the economy. It could push us into overdrive, but it could also lead us to self-destruct.”

One advantage that Ghana has over its oil-producing neighbours, said Mr Bentil, is experience and political stability. While countries such as Nigeria were already swimming in oil money at independence, Ghana has had 50 years to build up institutions to manage its finances.

It is also one of the few countries in the region to hold free and fair elections with peaceful transitions of power.

Although corruption at state level remains significant, accountability has improved greatly in recent years, donor officials say.

Mats Karlsson, the World Bank country director for Ghana, said that even without oil, Ghana was on track to become a middle-income country by 2015, when it would start to wean itself off aid. Oil revenues could accelerate that process.

Or, oil revenues could reverse the process.

The US Africa Command could be a destabilizing influence in Ghana as well as other countries. The focus of Africom is oil. Cooperation with African military organizations is an attempt to manage this resource. And the more the interests of the military in a country are supported above the interests of other citizens, the more chance there is of creating and extending coups and military governments. Currently Nigeria, Equitorial Guinea, and other places, are experiencing this kind of US military support. In the words of Vijay Prashad:

Resource wars in the Congo (over diamonds and coltran) and in West Africa (over oil) have set the continent on fire. The U.S. has thus far engaged with these conflicts through Africa’s national armies, who have increasingly become the praetorian guards of large corporations. None of this can be justified directly as a protection of the extraction of resources, so it has increasingly been couched in the language of the war on terrorism. The Pan-Sahel Initiative (created in 2002) draws U.S. Special Operations Forces to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In 2004, the U.S. extended this to the major oil producing countries of Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia and renamed it the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative. After 9/11, the U.S. moved a Special Operations Force into a former French Foreign Legion base, Camp Le Monier, in Djibouti. In July 2003, the U.S. earned the right to deploy P-3 Orion aerial surveillance aircraft in Tamanrasset, Algeria. Under the guise of the War on Terrorism, the U.S. government has moved forces into various parts of Africa, where they were able to train African armies and to intervene in the increasingly dangerous resource wars.

Ghana needs to diversify her economy, and protect and develop her agricultural sector, if the oil is to help rather than hurt. And Ghana needs to provide health care, and free universal public education. This is a public good, even necessity, and should not be an individual privilege. Ghana needs all its brain power active and healthy, not just the brain power of the rich. Rich brains are not always the best brains. Every cedi invested in education will be paid back many times over in business development and revenues.

As b real points out in a comment, the US Senate has a hearing today on the Africa Command, Exploring The U.S. Africa Command And A New Strategic Relationship With Africa. In his opening remarks there were a few words Senator Feingold said that offer a glimmer of optimism even though the goal is still to acquire African oil and resources. I have emphasized them below.

I am prepared to fully support a unified, interagency U.S. approach that creates a military command with the primary mission of supporting our policies towards Africa and ensuring continued diplomatic, development, humanitarian assistance, and regional initiatives led by the Department of State, USAID, and other key stakeholders – including national and international NGOs, other bilateral and multilateral development bodies, and of course, African political and military leaders.

African leaders look a bit like an afterthought, but at least they are mentioned, unlike in the Bushco documents from the Heritage Foundation that lay out the Bush/Cheney vision of Africom.

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Rwandan Forces stand at attention with their weapons as senior Rwandan leaders walk to a C-17 at the start of a ceremony kicking off the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS 2), at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda, July 17, 2005. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Church

I came across an interesting bit of analysis of Africom here, that includes this:

In a 2003 study entitled “U. S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution,” the Heritage Foundation argued, “Creating an African Command would go a long way toward turning the Bush Administration’s well-aimed strategic priorities for Africa into a reality.” Rather than engage Africa diplomatically, it is better to be diplomatic through the barrel of a gun. “America must not be afraid to employ its forces decisively when vital national interests are threatened.” Nevertheless, the U.S. will not need to always send its own soldiers. “A sub-unified command for Africa would give the U.S. military an instrument with which to engage effectively in the continent and reduce the potential that America might have to intervene directly.” The AFRICOM would analyze intelligence, work “closely with civil-military leaders” and coordinate training and conduct joint-exercises. In other words, the U.S. would make the friendly African military forces “inter-operable” not only with U.S. hardware but also with U.S. interests.

Assuming this is Bush/Cheney thinking, and it is pretty well spelled out by the Heritage Foundation, they are planning to use African military as agents protecting and furthering US interests, in other words, colonial armies.