West Africa Rainforest Network - US

Africa’s Gulf of Guinea and the new Gulf crisis

Earth Island News

On November 10, 2005, communities around the world paused to remember the life and legacy of Nigerian novelist and human rights champion Ken Saro-Wiwa. To many, Saro-Wiwa was to Nigeria as Mandela was to South Africa – a loud and courageous voice speaking out against the gross injustices of oppression and neglect inflicted on his people by his own government, to benefit an elite few and their foreign business interests. Unlike Mandela’s protests, Saro-Wiwa’s call for freedom from the poverty and despair grown in oil-soaked farms under gas flares – so intense that night never settles – fell on deaf ears.

On November 10, 1995, one of Africa’s few committed leaders of nonviolence, peace, and justice, was executed by hanging, along with eight others. Their only crime: building a successful, nonviolent movement to protect the land they lived on from disgraceful pollution by the richest, most powerful companies in the world, Shell Oil and Chevron. The Nigerian government and its Big Oil financiers finally extinguished the nonviolent movement for clean environment and community resource rights. However, they did not extinguish the basic human needs for clean water and air, healthy soil and land, dignity and respect. They killed the nonviolent movement and ignited one of armed violence, sabotage, and kidnapping. As violence strikes, now the world, especially the US, is listening as Nigeria is expected to become our new “alternative energy source.”

As US relations in the Middle East become more volatile and oil supplies more costly, energy strategists have turned their attention to other oil-producing regions, determined to diversify and increase US oil supplies. Once largely considered “unimportant” or “nonstrategic,” Africa’s Gulf of Guinea has now become a top “national security” priority on the basis of securing access to the region’s oil as well as preventing the region from becoming the African “Axis of Evil.” And not unlike residents of the oil-producing nations in the Middle East, the people in countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea rank among the poorest in the world and suffer from government corruption, neglect, and abuse.

Twelve African nations currently provide 10 percent of the world’s oil output. Four countries in particular make up 85 percent of Africa’s output: Nigeria, Algeria, Libya and Angola. Nigeria and Angola both border the Gulf of Guinea, producing almost half of the continent’s oil. Nigeria is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the US; over the next five to ten years, Nigeria is expected to provide America with an estimated 25 percent of its oil imports. At the same time, China and Korea are also courting Nigeria to help meet their growing energy demands. Not coincidentally, this increasing reliance on African oil suppliers in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria in particular, has prompted the US government to begin a series of strategic investments in the region, including development aid missions, military training and base establishments, arms supplies, and general political diplomacy.

For more information, read “Imperial Oil: Petroleum Politics in the Nigerian Delta and the New Scramble for Africa” by
Anna Zalik and Michael Watts (www.socialistreview.org) and The Next Gulf: London, Washington and Oil Conflict in Nigeria by Andy Rowell, James Marriott, and Lorne Stockman.

In 2003, as US bombs were being dropped on Iraq and sights were set on toppling Saddam Hussein and seizing his WMDs, the government of the small Gulf of Guinea island nation of Sao Tome e Principe was also being toppled by a US backed coup d’état. Today, the country is home to a developing US military base.

Thus the growing importance of Nigerian and Gulf of Guinea oil to the US has justified an increase in US military presence in the region. Do we have a plan to make US relations in the Gulf of Guinea region different from our relations with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia – more peaceful and beneficial to the locals?

So far, all we see is business as usual.

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