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a time for fear
Tuesday, July 08, 2003  
The Future Will See Rivers of Oil, Rivers of Blood

Bush arrives in Africa like he's on some business or reconnaissance mission, or a clever hybrid of the two, when in fact it's neither - why on earth would they send him? There's a strong symbolic investment in W.'s tour, but the work and the calculation is being done quietly, covertly, for sure, because material, monetary, strategic, and political interests of the gravest importance are in the frame, there to be worked through and put in place. Let's not be cynical, but let's not be silly, either: this is no good-will charity jaunt on the part of the US, that much is clear - solid alliances are being courted with oil-rich states, for the sake of...the Objective. W. tours to introduce his presence, assert subtle authority (muscle and money), indicate US intentions to the world in disingenuous terms. The continent is a hive of "big whities", from the Whitehouse to the oil companies to the military. Ambitions and appetites are quite clear. On the campaign trail in 2000, Africa was not important to the national strategic interest, said W.: "there's got to be priorities". Then two years ago the US Middle East Adventure became less secure, less assured, and Dick Cheney predicted that West Africa would become the fastest growing provider of oil and gas to the US. Untapped oil fields were marked throughout the Gulf of Guinea. These are ready to be extracted by advanced drilling techniques and massive multicorporate spending by ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, amongst others.

The geopolitical balance veers. New military bases, new money. "We can't just rely on these Saudi punks." "We gotta go where nobody is watching."

The US has indentified increasing African oil imports as an issue of 'national security' and has used diplomacy to court African producers regardless of their record on transparency, democracy or human rights.
Ian Gary, Bottom of the Barrel: Africa's Oil Boom and the Poor

2 Main Oil States:

Nigeria (2002 production figure: 2100 x 1000 barrels a day), a country ruined by economic mismanagement, apart from the oil sectors that are rife with corruption. Local revolt against government domination of oil revenues has led to brutal military repression in the Niger Delta. Nigeria does not publish details of oil revenues in the national budget.

Angola (900 x 1000 barrels a day), oil revenues helped maintain and extend civil war for 3 decades, as diamonds funded the UNITA rebel movement, oil revenues of $2 billion meant the goverment could continue to fight the conflict. Angola does not publish details of oil revenues in the national budget.

In terms of charity it's interesting how much US interest there's been regarding the deposition of Charles Taylor from Liberia - at the top end of the Gulf of Guinea - and how little US intervention, or even mention, there is regarding Congo's appalling civil war. Meanwhile Oil Men swan into Angola's city and coastal districts, drink cocktails and beers in air-conditioned bars, discuss geological reports, strike deals, discuss shares and political strategy . The prize draw: a US contracter is set to build a massive oil refinary on the Angolan Coast. The country is in ruins, a scene of destitution and decimation, something unlikely to change because of the oil industry's newest bonanza, or US desire to buy non-Opec oil. The largest influx of revenue in Africa's history, ready to disappear into the world's most brazen network of corruption and venality. Either a golden opportunity for aid, or a golden opportunity for war. And so far the record says...what do you expect? Don't be cynical, but don't be silly.

There's plenty of talk about combating AIDs and poverty and sorting out some nice free trade systems for whoever wants it (they'll all want in sooner or later), but less talk of combating combat itself, of solving internal, ethnic, tribal divisions. The UK government and business watchdogs talk of open transparency and corporate responsibility, while companies continue to pour billions of dollars into the coffers of rotten governments and corrupt, murderous states. Less talk of changing deep structural causes, of diminishing a ready market for neoliberal reform and wide profit margins for the sake of social welfare or wealth distribution (it's sweet as it is, mate). No talk of actually trying to assauge Africa's internal conflicts and schisms, because the US has been burnt like that before (cf. Somalia again). The US (along with the former USSR) is responsible for supporting infamous regimes during the Cold War that fermented corruption and systematically encouraged tribal division, eventually leading their countries to ruin, civil war, and in the worst case, outright holocaust (Rwanda). Interests of security exaggerated by paranoia and dropped right into the swirling crucible of post-war independence, a whole load of loose canon states, looking for backing and structural assistance (money and models) from either Cold War power bloc. Military regimes who led their countries to independence, only to lead them into meltdown and suicide, because of avarice, depravity, and lust for power. Africa in the 1990s: the most horrific legacy of the Cold War, bar the Hydrogen Bomb. The US has always remained silent about this, about its
political, diplomatic and material role in the origins of African interstate and civil war and genocide. But I saw a clip of Reagan and Mobutu outside the Whitehouse on TV the other day, and I read that George Bush had met Mobutu 13 times by 1989 and had invited him to the Bush family home. It makes you want to puke! (Ironic touch being the tacit support the US gave to Laurent Kabila's overthrow of the Mobutu regime and the dissolution of Zaire in 1997. And look where that's led...)

Obscuring the Roots of Genocide

One of the big obstacles to ever solving anything in Africa is a global inability - or refusal - to understand the roots of conflict, or its complex, paradoxical underpinnings, loyalties, and schisms. Western media still suffers from the Michael Burke syndrome: the harsh truth is that African reporting too often resorts to the sympathy trope, the sentimental spur, the call for compassion, things we can understand and feel sick about, starving children and refugees and disease, but without focusing on why there are starving children, why there are refugees, why AIDS and malaria are never effectively contained. Because...because why? Because political motivations and machinations are too complex, too easily manipulated and distorted by those who perpetrate and perpetuate them, too easily misunderstood by those who report. Because people generally don't care to look for culpability and complicity, and are only too willing to be brought by their own governments and corporations, to capitulate to cultural expectations, and to turn away from their own fears and their disgust. Because it's easier to see and do things a certain way, the way that is whom? By Somebody, by anybody who wants things to be simple, a conflict of two sides, with clear criminals, clear victims, and simple motives. It's easier than seeing what is there - dark impulses, human sickness, planned genocide, paradoxical schisms, micro-seperatisms, democratic duplicity, etc. It's easier than opening your eyes to horror and then trying to articulate it.

The worst example being Rwanda, left to its suicidal fate in 1994 by the UN, the aid agencies and the journalists, while Hutu-perpetrated genocide raged throughtout the country. As the Tutsi RPF swept back through Rwanda thousands of Hutu refugees poured into Tanzania and the Congo. Aid agencies advertised their plight and global media attention switched: here is a story that could be packaged in compassion. The official US and French line held: that the Hutu refugees were innocent civilians fleeing a brutal civil war. Unable - shamefully - to report that there was no war in Rwanda, but only systematic genocide of the Tutsis, Hutu moderates and Tutsi-sympathisers, anyone unlucky enough to be victim of the civilian militias' fever for death. Unable to report a genocide carried out by the Hutus now pouring into refugee camps (to call what was happening in Rwanda "genocide" would have necessitated immediate intervention, something neither the US or the UN were prepared to do after their disaster in Somalia, thus Rwanda was left to self-destruct). Western news agencies poised to tell a story of sympathy and sentiment rather than a story of killers fleeing the same fate they had just delivered to their neighbours. As Mark Huband said: for the distant news desks of London, Washington, and elsewhere, it was deemed necessary to call it war, because then the worldwide inaction could seem more justifiable...But there was no war.

12:55 PM

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