Africa - Where the Next US Oil Wars Will Be
On Feb. 7 George Bush announced the formation of AFRICOM, a new Pentagon command which will, under the pretext of the so-called "Global War On Terror", plan and execute its oil and resource wars on the African continent. What does this mean to African Americans? And to Africans? BAR consults Prexy Nesbitt, an architect of the anti-apartheid struggles of the 70s and 80s.
Africa - Where the Next US Oil Wars Will Be
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
"It´s about the oil. And the diamonds. And the coltan. But mostly about the oil."
The Pentagon does not admit that a ring of permanent US military bases is operating or under construction throughout Africa. But nobody doubts the American military buildup on the African continent is well underway. From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials. They´ve conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets.
Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead "forward staging depots", and "seaborne truck stops" for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are "protected anchorages" and offshore "lily pads" from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa´s oil and mineral wealth for decades to come.
BAR caught up with Chicago´s Prexy Nesbitt, one of the architects of the US anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and ‘80s. We asked Dr. Nesbitt about the importance to Africans and African Americans of George Bush´s Feb. 7 announcement of AFRICOM, the new Pentagon command for the African continent.
"It means a tremendous amount to Africans, because African people, from working people to university elites all follow very closely everything that the US government does wherever it does it in the world. ...More and more African Americans in the US are following carefully what´s the US is doing in Africa, but not enough... What we´re seeing (is) ...a US military penetration of the African continent and that this penetration is...motivated by the US quest...for new sources of oil and other minerals."
In other words, it´s about the oil. And the diamonds, and the uranium, and the coltan. But mostly about the oil. West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world´s oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption. Most oil from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East winds up in Europe, Japan, China or India. Increasingly it´s African oil that keeps the US running.
"West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world´s oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption."
A foretaste of American plans for African people and resources in the new century can be seen in Eastern Nigeria. US and multinational oil companies like Shell, BP, and Chevron, which once named a tanker after its board member Condoleezza Rice, have ruthlessly plundered the Niger delta for a generation. Where once there were poor but self-sufficient people with rich farmland and fisheries, there is now an unfolding ecological collapse of horrifying dimensions in which the land, air and water are increasingly unable to sustain human life, but the region´s people have no place else to go.
Twenty percent of Nigerian children die before the age of 5, according to the World Bank. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil have been extracted from the Niger Delta, according to Amnesty International in 2005. But its inhabitants
"...remain among the most deprived oil communities in the world - 70 per cent live on less than US$1 a day. In spite of its windfall gains, as global oil prices have more than doubled in the last two years, the Nigerian government has failed to provide services, infrastructure or jobs in the region."
In a typical gesture of disregard for local black lives and livelihoods, the natural gas which sits atop many oil deposits but is more expensive to capture and process than petroleum is simply burned off or flared at African wellheads. Throughout the 1990s it is estimated that 29 million cubic feet per day of Nigerian natural gas was disposed of in this manner. Many of the flares, according to local Niger delta residents, have burned continuously for more than twenty years, creating a toxic climate of acid fogs and rains, depositing layers of soot and chemicals that stunt or kill ocean and riverine fish and livestock, and poison the few surviving crops. For this reason, flaring at oil wells has long been outlawed in the US. But many African communities near the mouth of one of the planet´s largest rivers are now entirely dependent on water trucked in from outside.
According to Dr. Nesbitt:
"Years ago people from the then American Committee on Africa brought back slide footage which showed...people living in oil mud slime fields, drinking water that´s made up of oil slime. It was just [an] extraordinarily frightening situation... As far as we know not much has changed [in about 15 years] except that [now] there is a movement for justice taking place. But the United States military command has indicated, has partnered up really, with the Obasanjo government...to try to control that justice movement. Some very explicit comments have been made by US military people; they will be prepared militarily to move into that arena...securing that oil source for the United States"
Local Africans are demanding respect and a share in what is after all, their oil. They are now routinely, viciously suppressed in eastern Nigeria, in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere, by African troops trained and equipped with American tax dollars. When resistance continues, as it certainly will, America is preparing to up the ante with more American equipment, with military and civilian advisers, with bombs, bullets and if need be, with American bodies. That´s what AFRICOM is about, and what it will be doing in the new century.
Empire in Africa: A Business Opportunity For Black Americans?
Doug Lyons, an African American columnist at the Orlando Sun-Sentinel is one of those ugly black Americans who see, in the ratcheting up of merciless exploitation of humanity´s motherland, great career and business opportunities for a few black henchmen and women.
"AFRICOM shouldn´t be shunned as another appendage of our nation´s military industrial complex, even though it is. It also offers a unique opportunity for black America.
"There´s potential for those individuals who have interest in African and African-American heritages to become more knowledgeable about Africa, and its links to the United States.
"That knowledge should lead to better cultural understanding and greater business opportunities for blacks on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to expanded opportunities for African-Americans in world trade and the diplomatic corps.
"...imagine the possibilities. The vehicle is about to be put in place, and for a select few, the chance will come to make even more black history. "
"AFRICOM will indeed open new vistas for a handful of qualified black Americans in the corporate, military and intelligence establishments."
The imaginative need look no further than GoodWorks International, the business consulting firm founded by former Atlanta mayor, UN ambassador and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Andrew Young. GoodWorks is making black history indeed, along with buckets of cash from clients like Barrick Gold, a Bush-connected operation whose Congolese mines help fuel a bloody civil war with 5 million dead and counting so far. Young´s firm enjoys intimate and lucrative connections with the shadowy Maurice Templesman, a prominent figure in the trade of African blood diamonds for decades. It´s the registered lobbyist for the Nigerian government in Washington, and implicated in at least one money laundering scheme for Nigeria´s president Obasanjo, in addition to fronting for various multinational oil and mineral companies on the African continent.
"There´s an increasing number of...a class of African Americans who...feel no sense of responsibility, no shame, no ties to the continent, who are incapable of playing any kind of role. I think we see that with Condoleezza Rice. We see it even more clearly in some of the other appointments which have been recently made, like for example the new assistant secretary of state for Africa. She seems...an individual to be very concerned about given her past, and her military background, with regard to what type of role she will play in the system. So we see African Americans often emerging as functionaries of the system, the gendarmes, if you will, of the system for the recolonization of Africa both by corporate and military establishment in the United States."
Nesbitt seems to agree with Doug Lyons, in a twisted sort of way. AFRICOM will indeed open new vistas for a handful of qualified black Americans in the corporate, military and intelligence establishments. Andy and Condi were first, but they may not be the last. There are plenty more African gold mines, oil tankers and mass graves waiting to be named after black Americans.
We asked Dr. Nesbitt what the Congressional Black Caucus and ordinary Americans here ought to be doing to stall imminent US military intervention on the African continent.
"We need a stronger voice from the Congressional Black Caucus. It needs to become much more enraged about these developments and help to politicize and educate the masses of the black American community across the country so that we don´t let this constant history of the United States [allow them to feel] that they need not worry about any ramifications...from the population that is most concerned... those of us in the African diaspora in the US. I think we are at a very important passage point with regard to the relationships of the African American community in general with the continent of Africa.
"Africa is a part of the world that has immense resources and immense riches. But...the history has been nothing but the capitalist system sucking Africa dry of those riches. I think that the particular challenge facing Americans - Americans who care about other human beings, who care about the planet - is what steps will they take to help African people stop this continual rape and plunder of the African continent."
George Bush, Big Oil, Andy Young and the Pentagon are already implementing their plan for Africa. It looks like Nigeria, the classic case of a rich country full of poor people. It looks a lot like the impoverished, poisoned, festering wasteland of the Niger delta, where they´ve had a free hand for decades. And when Africans resist, as they surely will, the backup plan is to declare Africans who want to control their own resources "terrorists", and through AFRICOM, deploy US military might to lock down Africans and African resources. It´s time for black America and the Congressional Black Caucus to take Dr. Nesbitt´s advice, and come up with a couple of our own plans to end more than five hundred years of Western pillage of Africa, and to keep AFRICOM and the US military off the African continent.
BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon can be contacted at Bruce.Dixon (at) BlackAgendaReport.com.
Awash in Oil and Misery -- Equatorial Guinea´s U.S.- Backed Dictatorship
Rich in both oil and misery, the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea is the recipient of big-time US military aid and attention.
Awash in Oil and Misery -- Equatorial Guinea´s U.S.- Backed Dictatorship
by Augustin Velloso
This article orginally appeared in Counterpunch
"Dictatorship and neo-colonialism work hand in hand, greased by oil."
United States sponsored secret flights and clandestine detention centers in Europe and elsewhere have received plenty of comment recently. Politicians and journalists tell us the "war on terror" demands extreme measures. At the same time, in countries which have nothing to do with that "war," detainees are held incommunicado, without effective judicial protection and routinely tortured in carefully ignored prisons. Reports about conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan are widespread, but very little appears about what is going on in Equatorial Guinea, a country friendly to the West. One of Equatorial Guinea´s prisons, surrounded by a tropical sea, has the same name as a relaxing California beach: Black Beach. In spite of this, it is not a sunny spot in a lost paradise. It is an ugly compound in Bioko Island, near Malabo, Equatorial Guinea´s capital.
This tiny country of 28,000 square kilometers and 500,000 inhabitants is located on West Africa´s Gulf of Guinea between Cameroon and Gabon. Until independence in 1968, it had been a Spanish colony for almost 200 years. Since the landmark "scramble for Africa" Berlin Conference in 1884, it has been known mainly for its cocoa production, endless penury, dictatorships and the natural beauty of its jungles and beaches.
Until recently nothing much seemed to change, except now for the beauty and the cocoa, both for the worse. The country´s beauty is being mercilessly spoiled by pollution from the offshore oil industry and intensive timber exploitation. The oil industry is controlled by head of State, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who seized power from his uncle, through a coup in 1979. Timber production is controlled by the Minister of Forestry, Obiang´s eldest son. Cocoa production, formerly run by colonial entrepreneurs, has nose-dived since independence when international pressure ended Spanish rule.
"Wealth is channeled overseas to benefit Obiang and his entourage and the foreign corporations that back them.
Following independence, dictatorship and neo-colonialism (globalization in modern parlance) have grown and are now even stronger than before. The prison at Black Beach is a glaring example of their perverse synergy, compounded by the effects of extreme poverty on the general population. Dictatorship and neo-colonialism work hand in hand, greased by oil. Wealth from the oil industry over the last ten years has not trickled down to the population, its legitimate owner. Instead, it is channeled overseas to benefit Obiang and his entourage and the foreign corporations that back them. Equatorial Guinea is the paradigm of the "curse of natural riches."
Governments in Western capitals know this very well. International agencies and human rights organizations routinely criticize General Obiang´s rule. However, those Western governments increasingly support him, steadily developing economic, political and military ties with his regime. When it suits them, the United States and Spanish governments, two of Obiang´s major trading partners and close supporters, declare a willingness to cooperate with Equatorial Guinea´s government in what they call its "democratization process."
This and similar statements appear in the media to mark political summits and official visits. The Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister told the Spanish Parliament after a visit to Equatorial Guinea in 2005, "the President asked Spain to accompany him in his endeavors to modernize the State and reform the administration." In response, the Minister said the Spanish government was fully devoted to this task, although remaining "extremely critical and mindful concerning the rule of law and encouragement of those citizens willing to contribute to Equatorial Guinea´s democracy and political life."
Some of this "democratization process" was reported in a press conference in June 2006 by Weja Chicampo, leader of the banned MAIB (Movement for the Self-determination of Bioko Island). Chicampo arrived in Madrid after being expelled from his own country by Obiang. During the two years, three months and two days he spent in Black Beach, without proper charges, trial or legal assistance, he says, "they (the jailers) beat me until I lost my vision; then, after some more beating, I lost consciousness. My family and children were terrified. From that moment on a long agony starts and it will last for days, weeks.... In order to give you an idea I can say that I was handcuffed for four months in a row. There were many other instances of torture like this." (Chicampo press conference of June 22nd, 2006.)
"Prisoners have no contact with the outside world."
The number of political prisoners in Equatorial Guinea has averaged 200 in the last six years. A proportionate comparison would mean a figure of 20,000 in Spain [150,000 in the U.S. - BAR editors]. It must be noted that some detention centers escape any kind of control. Prisoners have no contact with the outside world. They remain at the mercy of their jailers and the jailers´ boss: General Obiang. Chicampo reports that "there are transfers from Black Beach to other detention centers, in order to obstruct access of Red Cross teams to the prisoners while visiting facilities. I was transferred to a military prison (Acacio Mañé Military Unit) on April the 5th, 2004. Other prisoners that should not be seen were transferred to Punta Fernanda and other places."
The Spanish government has plenty of information about this reality and about the torture. But this does not prevent it from cooperating with the dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea even as, together with other European Union governments, it demands the closure of the US government´s Guantánamo prison in Cuba.
The United States government too has the same information. Its Department of State has even made it partially public in its annual reports. The one released in March 2006 notes of Equatorial Guinea:
"The government´s human rights´ record remained poor, and the government continued to commit or condone serious abuses... security forces reportedly killed several persons through abuse and excessive force.... The following human rights problems were reported: arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention.... There were reports of politically motivated kidnappings, there were continuing reports of government figures hiring persons in foreign countries to intimidate, threaten, and even assassinate citizens in exile."
What can "abuse and excessive force" be except mealy-mouthed diplomatic jargon for torture?
Despite this, inter-governmental relations are excellent, according to the US ambassador in Malabo. In his 2005 Independence Day remarks at the US embassy, in front of Obiang and some members of Obiang´s regime, he said: "We value our relations with Equatorial Guinea and are pleased that they are excellent and indeed, growing closer. I personally had the pleasure of accompanying his Excellency President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo on his June visit to Baltimore and Washington. In both cities, the President was well-received. Among both business and government leaders, he made an excellent impression and called effective attention to further opportunities to strengthen our relationship."
Beyond the specious political discourse, attention should really focus on the United States´ role in Equatorial Guinea: the enormous growth of its oil industry and the consolidation of dictatorship in the face of mounting internal opposition and foreign criticism. United States oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea have made it the third largest African oil producer south of the Sahara (behind only Nigeria and Angola) in just ten years of industrial activity. The US embassy, formerly closed because of political differences with the Obiang regime, as was hinted at in the State Department report quoted above, was reopened once the oil companies established themselves, even though the dictatorship did not change its policies.
"United States oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea have made it the third largest African oil producer south of the Sahara."
A review of the hard facts corrects the ambassador´s rosy picture. ExxonMobil, Chevron-Texaco, Amerada Hess, Marathon Oil and other companies transfer vast profits to the United States from exploiting Equatorial Guinea´s oil. For exploitation rights these companies pay huge sums of money directly to Obiang and his family into United States bank accounts. It is crystal clear that these sums should benefit all the people of Equatorial Guinea, not just the ruling family. But that is not happening.
The European Union has reported:
"Equatorial Guinea´s GDP growth was the world´s highest between 1995 and 2001 and well above average growth in the region ...although it had one of the lowest only ten years ago. However, this increase in resources has not yet been matched in the social sphere by a similar improvement in the living conditions of the population, which still show worrying indicators."
Equally illustrative of the level of corruption among the country´s elite are the findings of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in their "Money Laundering and Foreign Corruption" report, made public on July 15th, 2004. Among other issues, the report deals with Obiang´s - and his family´s - accounts in Riggs Bank: "The Subcommittee investigation found that Riggs opened multiple personal accounts for the President of Equatorial Guinea, his wife, and other relatives." The total amount of bank deposits held by Obiang in the United States and other countries is unknown, but it is believed to exceed seven hundred million US dollars, in addition to the value of luxurious villas and other real estate investments.
In the meantime, Equatorial Guinea´s Human Development Index is near the bottom of the medium human development group: position 121 out of 177 countries in the UNDP 2005 Human Development Report. The country has experienced some minimal improvement: in 1999, it was in position 131 out of 174 with GDP per capita (PPP$) 1.817 in 1999, while in 2005 it was 19.780. The fact that not a single country in this medium human development group has a similar current GDP per capita indicates the grotesque injustice of wealth distribution in Equatorial Guinea.
"The people barely enjoy even the most meager crumbs while the dictator´s family and the oil companies feast."
Self-evidently, the triangle in Equatorial Guinea formed by Obiang´s dictatorship, the country´s oil wealth and Western economic interests results in prisons like Black Beach and another one in Bata (second most important city in the country). In other words: the Obiang clan´s machinations, thoroughly greased by United States oil companies, have turned them into plutocrats amidst an impoverished, oppressed population, who barely enjoy even the most meager crumbs while the dictator´s family and the oil companies feast.
General Obiang is a dictator. Backed by Western governments, he denies fundamental human rights to his compatriots. The United States government and its allies hypocritically tolerate Obiang´s dictatorship so long as their international companies enjoy rights to exploit Equatorial Guinea´s oil wealth. While an exclusive minority obtain huge benefits, the majority only enjoy a notional "democratization process," which in practice means occasional fraudulent elections, Presidential birthday "pardons" for prisoners, and empty political speeches on Independence Day, all under the complacent gaze of Western ambassadors.