Diving into the deep blue sea

While both the government and oil companies are the beneficiaries of the crisis raging in the oil fields, enjoying huge profits and windfalls, both are equally vulnerable to the challenge of access to oilfields. One Nigerian activist (in private conversation) posited that the Nigerian government is a victim of disaster capitalism. The new government is caught in the web of supremacist gangs, engaged in the kidnappings of oil workers and the abductions of children and parents of politicians. Unless they take steps to look away from short-term profits and to work for the security of the environment, livelihoods and the rights of the people to live in a way that is favourable to their development (according to the 2008 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Article 24), oil companies and governments are unlikely to continue to enjoy ongoing oil revenues.

Offshore activities are being intensified in the Gulf of Guinea: Nigeria, Sao Tomé and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and newcomers such as Ghana and Sierra Leone. But even access to offshore installations is becoming less secure. Deep sea and remote offshore locations pose financial risks besides the physical ones.

One factor that makes offshore drilling and platforms so attractive is their perceived security and the lack of accountability to 'host communities' since no one can easily monitor their activities out at sea. However, a recent attack of one of the Bonga floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) facilities, 75km offshore, allegedly by Niger Delta militants, has made the claim of security a mere dream (Arubi et al, 2008). Perhaps for the oil companies, ultimate security will only come with the landing of US troops in one of the nations under their AFRICOM, which came into full operation as a unified command in October 2008.

Following the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, US policy towards Africa has been largely built on oil and terrorism (Feller, 2003, p149). The US is seen as building deeper military ties with neoliberal protégés such as Nigeria, South Africa and Mozambique, working to weaken OPEC by trying to persuade her allies to leave the cartel, and doing this, as an industry operative put it, by peeling off certain countries. By 2002, President Bush's Africa policy was already characterized as 'build the military and extract the oil' (Montague, 2002)

About 42 per cent of Nigeria's crude is exported to the US. Together with the prodigious fields of the rest of the Gulf of Guinea, about 25 per cent of the crude needs of the US are to be met from Nigeria by 2015. Already the US has suggested that the Gulf of Guinea is an ungoverned space, implying that she may be intending to provide this governance through military bases. It was initially believed that this would come through AFRICOM; but it now appears as if the troops will be engaged in community development services. Such services will include building schools and digging wells. However, many observers believe that, ultimately, the command seeks to protect oil resources to ensure supplies to the US and to counter Chinese incursions into the region.4

In a policy brief, the Trans-Africa Forum described AFRICOM as 'the newest iteration of a failed foreign policy agenda driven by exploitation of natural resources and the expansion of the Global War on Terror' (TransAfrica Policy Brief, 2008). The body describes the US foreign policy in Africa as 'one of unilateral prioritizing of US government and corporate interests over African development'.

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