Equitorial Guinea

Dubai by night

One way to fight the oil curse is to look for models, countries who have managed to use oil revenues for the benefit of their citizens. The secret for success is to use the oil money to strengthen other sectors of the economy, rather than undermine them, as has been the case with African oil so far, where agriculture in particular has been devastated. And most critical for long term success, is to make health care and education available to all citizens.

Some countries have used their petrodollars to actually improve the lives of their citizens. In the Arab world, the Emirates of Dubai and Bahrain have utilised their petrodollars to diversify their economies.

In 2006, oil and gas revenues accounted for only around 3 percent of Dubai’s gross domestic product (GDP) of 46 billion US dollars. It is expected that the country’s oil reserves will run out within the next two decades. Yet the economy is booming thanks to the promotion of tourism and the positioning of the country as a shoppers’ paradise.

In Bahrain, 30 percent of GDP is derived from the oil industry. Structures are in place which see huge amounts of money being poured back into education, the tourism sector and health services. This has created jobs and investment opportunities for the local people.

In Norway, with around 50 percent of its exports consisting of oil, the government has secured the income for citizens by investing it in a national pension fund. Since 1990, the fund has seen dramatic growth and, with 200 billion US dollars, it is the largest pension fund in Europe.

‘‘These countries have realised that oil is a finite resource,” said Athmani. ‘‘They have diversified their economies. They are not overly dependent on oil. If this resource does run out, the other sectors will be strong enough to support the economy.”

. . .
Mary M’mukindia, an independent Kenyan analyst for the oil industry . . . argued that governments have to put in place structures which ensure that citizens benefit from oil wealth. She supports initiatives such as ‘‘Publish What you Pay” which forces international oil companies to publish the amounts of money they pay to governments.

Cesar Chelala, the award-winning writer on human rights issues, wrote in an article in the ‘‘Gulf Times” on 16 May this year that oil companies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and powerful governments should demand transparency from African governments.

In 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Under the regulations of this initiative, countries rich in mineral and oil wealth as well as the companies extracting the wealth have to publish payments received and made.
. . .
M’mukindia says there should be three-way compliance. First: governments should ‘‘want to have” a transparency model. Second: extractive companies should be keen. In this regard, governments can implement laws which force companies to comply.

Third: Civil society organisations (CSO) should be involved. ‘‘They represent the people who are the real owners of the resources,” said M’mukindia.

But for CSOs to have an effect, they need to be well-informed. ‘‘They need to be brought up to speed with international standards and the intricacies of the industry.

The most curious feature of this article is that it reports Nigeria, and oil companies working there, are the only ones who have indicated willingness to submit their accounts. Since transparency, both in federal and state government, and from the oil companies, has been completely lacking in Nigeria, and a source of much of her problems, I’m extremely doubtful about EITI having that much effect as yet. If it is, that would be a very good sign. Transparency, accounting for money coming in, and money spent, is critical to anything resembling an equitable distribution of profits.

There isn’t a chance of the US putting any pressure, or making any push for transparency. Bush/Cheney are the most secretive and imperial of any US government to date. They refuse to share information with their citizens, and both Bush and Cheney are part of the oil industry. Their foreign policy and flair for incompetence have severely undermined US credibility, and the credibility of institutions associated with the US, such as the World Bank. The US is likely to provide more hindrance than help. Its recent actions in Somalia, its support for Nguema in Equitorial Guinea show behavior and motives more sinister than friendly. And rather than working for an equitable solution in Nigeria, the US seems to be supporting the Nigerian government in treating the Niger Delta as a military problem.

If Ghana, and other African countries rich in resources, can support and diversify their economies, and establish some financial transparency, they will be in a good position to develop themselves. They won’t get much outside support, and the dangers are many.

A quote from Gandhi: “We must be the change that we want to see.”
From a street mural in Esteli Nicaragua.

Once again the US is getting it backwards. The neocons running US foreign policy like to think the end justifies the means. When people say the end justifies the means, they miss the point entirely.

The means you use determine the ends you get. Military means beget military ends, diplomatic means beget diplomatic ends, violent means beget violent ends, democratic means beget democratic ends. There are a few exceptions, but if you base your planning on assuming you will be the exception, it is the same as basing your financial planning on assuming you will win the lottery.

UPI reports that Africom is seeking 25 percent of the billets in the new command to be filled by the departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services and other agencies. Those agencies, who have generally seen their budgets slashed, are not eager to anti up. Why should they turn over scarce resources to the Pentagon whose budget is gargantuan in comparison to theirs? Supposedly:

AFRICOM will be untraditional in that its staff will focus not on preparations for military action in Africa but instead on stabilizing governments, training their militaries, encouraging their economies and helping governments address destabilizing problems like AIDS and famine. AFRICOM’s aim is less to be prepared for military conflict than it is to avert the possibility of it.

Recent actions against the government of Somalia and Somali citizens
, and the alliance with Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, put the lie to these claims of helpful intentions.

Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, EUCOM commander appears to understand what is needed. As a member of the US armed forces, I am sure he is doing his best to fulfill his mission. Unfortunately, the mission itself is flawed. As he says:

“Very few (of Africa’s) challenges can be solved by the department of the military,” Craddock told reporters Friday. “It’s Health and Human Services, Commerce, Department of Justice, Energy, Agriculture.

Diplomatic and technical problems need to be addressed with diplomacy and technology. If the US wants to address the real challenges in Africa, it needs to do so with skilled diplomacy, working through the State Department, allied with other departments of the US government who can bring their expertise. The US must show by example it believes in what it preaches. Military assitance yields militarized results.

One way to understand Gandhi’s words is that in order to effect change, one must assume the nature of the change one wishes to effect. In other words, the word justify is irrelevant, the means determine the ends.

Rice calls brutal oil-rich dictator a “good friend.”
Condoleezza Rice sharing a photo-op with Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema is “one of the most brutal, most corrupt and unreconstructed dictators in the world”; he also controls the third-largest oil reserves in Africa.

The Council of Foreign Relations has published a Backgrounder on The Pentagon’s New Africa Command.

Though Africom will be led by a top-ranking four-star military general, unlike other regional commands, its deputy commander will be a State Department official.
. . .
Even if interagency personnel are brought into the command, it is not clear how instrumental they will be in the command’s decision-making process.
. . .
Some defense officials say that Africom could function like the interagency task force within Southern Command; in that structure, interagency members have the authority to make decisions without consulting Washington.

. . . lack of information extends to other aspects of the command.

Before Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, the US had the best trained and best equipped military in the world. There are many smart people in the military, patriotic people who understand the ideals and principles on which the country was founded: representative democracy, and the rule of law. Many soldiers understand these principles far better than the people currently running the US government. Training and cooperative agreements with the US military might be very beneficial in many countries, improving professionalism and competence.

Unfortunately, Rumsfeld and Cheney are the creators of the Africa Command. These two have never been right about anything in US policy. With Bush, they have broken the US military in Iraq, and it will take decades to recover. Their destructive incompetence has damaged or destroyed everything it has touched.

With all the talk of good intentions and cooperation, the actual deeds we can see do not look good. Immediately after the announcement of the creation of Africom:

. . .the Bush administration organized the overthrow of the first stable government Somalia has had since 1991, stirring up a hornet’s nest of regional rivalries in the strategic Horn of Africa.

And then there is Equatorial Guinea. It has huge oil deposits, and its leadership has been been described by a variety of human rights organisations as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.

Given the modest population size of Equatorial Guinea, about half a million people, one might expect there to be plenty of money for everyone by way of revitalizing the economy and building up infrastructure. But most Equatoguineans are malnourished, typically with no running water or electricity. Malaria and yellow fever are rampant. The average life expectancy is 54. Sewage runs free on the streets of Malabo, the capital city, and there is no public transportation. Most citizens eke out a living, as best they can, farming rice, yams, and bananas
. . .
For 1998, the IMF, which Obiang stated will never learn how much money he takes in, calculated that Obiang’s government received $130 million in oil royalties. The government had only reported $34 million (9). This record of mismanagement of revenues has led the World Bank and the IMF to discontinue many aid programs since 1993
. . .
African officials claimed that international oil interests influenced the U.N.’s decision to stop regular human rights monitoring in the troubled country.

The US government is good friends with Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, and US military assistance to date seems intent on shoring up his repressive regime.

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.

This is exactly what the US should not be doing. It is exactly what the delegations traveling around Africa are claiming is not happening, and that this is not the intention of Africom. But even if US citizens are not informed, other people around the world can see what is going on. And it does not look good.