Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Africa, Oil and the United States: Jan Zahorik Discusses American Oil Interests and Diplomacy in the African Continent

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Africa, Oil and the United States: Jan Zahorik Discusses American Oil Interests and Diplomacy in the African Continent

Article excerpt

Oil production and the search for new oil deposits in sub-Saharan Africa have had a great impact on global politics in recent decades. In this context, a new scramble for Africa or new globalisation are the most used terms. Even though the era of colonialism (1870-1960) and the Cold War (1960-1990) cannot be compared to the contemporary situation, we may observe some similarities in relations between Africa and global powers. On the other hand, the number of differences is even bigger since there has been a remarkable economic growth of smaller powers, including India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and some others since the 1990s. Moreover, especially in the 1990s, the African policies of the United States, Russia or the European Union have shown certain deflation since the end of the Cold War.

Perhaps surprisingly, Africa's loss of strategic meaning coincided with enormous economic growth, as demonstrated by rises in GDP. The beginning of the new century has witnessed a growth of around 5.3 per cent and African markets have become more attractive for foreign investors, especially when compared with the beginning of the 1990s. The intensification of oil production and exploitation of other natural resources is the sector of African economies growing the most. It is being developed also by new powers, such as China, India and Malaysia. Chinese investment in the African continent has been the subject of hundreds of publications in recent years, as it is often viewed as a threat to European or American interests. Some African politicians usually stress the economic character of relations with China as opposed to European demands for democratisation and liberalisation of markets.

Obviously, Africa is one of the world's most important areas of oil. Leaving aside the Middle East, as the most important locality, Africa has approximately the same value of oil reserves as Eurasia and South/Central America. Data showing estimated income from oil production of each country lead us to an interesting conclusion: the countries with the most autocratic regimes, like Equatorial Guinea or Chad, have the least profitable position. In these countries, political corruption and abuse of oil incomes is well expected, and it contributes to a generally sensitive atmosphere around the whole oil industry. In some cases international oil companies are blamed for corrupting local officials as well as state leaders, which then results in ethnic conflicts and political tensions. Nine countries seem to be the most important in terms of oil production and export: Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Sao Tome e Principe. The last of these initiated oil exploration only in relatively recent times and its oil industry is still prospective, but in our research it is included among the geo-strategic localities of oil production.

The lack of good governance, political instability, ethnic and social tensions, corruption and abuse of economy incomes remain the most serious threats and challenges to all oil producing countries and regimes in sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorism was added to the list after 11 September 2001 with the US-led war on terror seeking to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from infiltrating the West African states and to explore and stop their potential activities. Of oil producing countries, the most debated challenge to regional and international security is presented by Sudan, which despite the 2004 peace agreement signed by representatives of north and south remains in a state of instability and chaos, with Darfur being the most intense crisis.

Angolan contrast

By contrast, Angola has successfully overcome the long-lasting civil war, which officially ended in 2002; since then the country has been among the fastest growing economies in the world. It is, of course, also due to enormous foreign, mainly Chinese, investment. Nigeria has belonged to the most important producers of oil for decades, but because of vast corruption, ethnic hostilities and regional marginalisation the state administration has not been able to use the financial benefits from oil to develop infrastructure, health care, education and job opportunities. …

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