A sober diplomatic analysis of China, the West and others quest for African oil minerals
By: Josephus Moses Gray
“This might sound ridiculous”, but it is a fact that the oil’s curse can be avoided and hence, be turned into a fruitful and praiseworthy blessing; but the saddest nightmare is that dozen of oil -rich African states mismanaged their resources, thereby restricting the bulk of the home population to abject poor. In many of Africa’s most oil-rich countries, such as Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, —oil becomes a curse.
The western capitalists over the centuries, beginning with the slave trade, has ruthlessly exploited the African continent, as Karl Marx described it, “the turning of Africa into a commercial warren for the hunting of black skins” was one of the chief sources of “primitive accumulation” that “signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” But the abduction and enslavement of millions of Africans was only the beginning of the continue misfortune. In the late nineteenth century, in what became known as the “race for Africa,” the continent was arbitrarily carved up into colonies by leading European powers, which violently subjected its peoples, and plundered the continent of its rich natural resources to the advantage of the west and other global powers. The trend still continues, Africa is yet to wake up!
In some continents, the situation is to the contrary, oil is a blessing and not a curse, it removes the people from poverty to better their livelihoods. Let’s look at the case of North America that produces more oil than Africa, has the lowest resource rents as a share of GDP and has good governance ratings, while Canada remains among the top ten world oil producers, according to the US Department of Energy, has one of the least corrupt governments in the world, on the other hand, Norway is one of the top ten exporters of crude oil in the world, while maintaining its stature as a perennial leader of the United Nations Human Development Index. From the 1950s to 2000s, Africa has experienced lots of assassinations either by coups d’etat or by civil strive, thus depriving Africa of the men and women who would perhaps have built a better future. Each assassination, each coup d’etat, each civil strive and each political exile has dealt a blow to Africa. All these ugly activities are direct results of bad governances perhaps encouraged by foreign powers to enable the powers directly or indirectly loot Africa minerals. Africa is perceived mainly by the West as insignificant, but the continent’s oil and gas are among the few outstanding exceptions to the perceived insignificance of Africa by the West and other foreign capitalists. Accordingly, the United States will soon depend on Africa for a quarter of its total crude oil imports, and Africa already accounts for more than a quarter of China’s oil imports today. In the words of the former chief executive of BP John Browne, unless geologists succeed in finding new and so far unidentified provinces, as consumers, we will all be dependent on supplies from just three areas — West Africa, Russia and the Middle East. Dozens of findings point to the fast that the United States’ interests in Africa are complex, and many issues such as terrorism are high on the agenda. Africa is littered with fragile states. Upcoming and existing oil-producing countries in Africa have been marred by political unrests. In addition, the failure to share the revenues generated by natural resources such as oil in an equitable manner has created disenchanted and disillusioned youths, which have provided a fertile ground for crisis and a haven for rebellion, as evidence of the ‘Arab Spring’, which rapidly propelled the destruction and demised of many leaders. According to research, crude oil is one of the world’s most important strategic resources, and Africa has attracted a lot of attention among corporate and political decision-makers because of growing global oil demand. Indeed, it has been suggested that Africa is experiencing a ‘New diplomatic race; thanks primarily to its oil and gas wealth, with the United States and the People’s Republic of China are actively competing for access to Africa’s resources. China is currently Africa’s third most important trading partner, ahead of the United Kingdom and behind the United States and France. In a world where both developed and developing countries require huge quantities of oil resources, Africa has once again become strategic for major actors in the international system. Strategic considerations related to Africa are, of course, influenced by global processes and rivalries, with China’s great power status having recently received particular attention.
The study of international relations has historically focused on the activities of large and powerful states, dismissing the smaller entities of the international system as unimportant or merely objects of policy for their causes. This truism extends especially to those entities that exist in a partially recognized limbo, neither a full part of the international system nor an ungoverned space. Yet in the post-Cold War world, following the dissolution of large multi-national states such as the USSR, these entities have begun to proliferate, such is the case of Moscow in Ukraine and Syrian’s brutal civil crises, in which Russia as emerged as a major player. This proliferation provides a significant challenge to an international system in which the primary participants are states, and to the institutions created to oversee their interaction for world peace. As such the study of these entities and their interaction with the world outside their borders is a study important for a systemic understanding of contemporary international relations. This article highlights the geopolitics as it relates to the politics of oil while at the same time, this article aims at addressing the role of diplomats’ and the impact of diplomacy in this new era of foreign policy of Africa. This new race for Africa’s resources is already engendering conflicts across the region. By analyzing the likely impact on the economies of oil-producing states, it considers whether we should be dismayed or rejoice over the ‘New Scramble for Africa’. It concludes that the existence of a New Scramble or a US–Chinese race for African minerals should be treated with some caution, while the economic impact of oil investments is likely to be bleak. Both the American and the Chinese Governments were important in paving the way for American and Chinese oil interests in expanding in Africa. The US Government used diplomatic instruments such economic incentives and military aid. China has proven more supportive and has provided loans, debt relief, scholarships, training, and provision of military hardware without political or economic pre-conditions, in exchange for a foothold for oil and minerals. In turn, incumbent African leaders have identified Chinese unconditional financial resources, cheap products, and know-how as an important tool to fend off pressure for political and economic reforms from international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Western governments. China is the new superstar on the African continent when it comes to new diplomatic ties, trade expansion and investments in large-scale development projects. This was emphasized at the recent China-Africa summit in Beijing. While most hailed the new Chinese drive, some fear a new scramble for Africa’s vast natural resources is at hand. Widely believed to become the world’s largest economy soon, eventhough the United States is still the dominant military and economic power, China is successfully seeking its place under the African sun. Starting out with pariah nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, excellent relations are now held with almost all of Africa’s 53 states.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where copper and diamonds have inspired wars and mayhem, there is currently intense competition and militia rivalries over the mining and sale, a critical raw material used in mobile phones and electronic devices. The battle over uranium, used in feeding nuclear reactors, continues to be at the root of conflicts in Niger. The connection between conflict and foreign exploitation of mineral resources can be drawn with respect to other countries, including Nigeria, Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Libya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. More recently, the West has choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) than on health care, education, infrastructure, and other vital services combined.
For African governments, China’s new interest mostly has been a blessing. Diplomatically, their dependence on Western countries is eased, allowing new diplomatic competition as in the Cold War era, and giving pariah leaders an alternative backing. Chinese aid funds are also popular, because Beijing asks no questions on good governance and is fond of prestigious grand projects. Economically, however, the Chinese advance has come with mixed blessings for Africa. With China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has boomed into an economic superpower of cheap mass produced exports, giving no room for African competition. But Beijing is not only interested in gaining African export markets. The economic superpower is not endowed with many natural resources, making Beijing dependent on mass imports of crude materials. Most importantly, there is evidence of greater involvement of the United States and China in Africa, in terms of both commercial interests and political engagement. “China’s bilateralism in relation to Africa” could undermine regional and continental institutions as “it replays the colonialist divide and conquer tactics.” Wars need money. From Liberia to Sierra Leone, Angola to Cambodia, natural resources such as timber, diamonds and minerals have helped fund armies and militias who murder, rape and commit other human rights abuses against civilians. Currently, there is an amazing infrastructure race taking place within East Africa, helping to reduce investment risk within the region. We see East Asian powers providing infrastructure in order to gain a competitive advantage in these regions.
China is taking a very broad approach and accessing the region whole heartily. We are also seeing Japan’s involvement, and the US through Anadarko’s involvement in Mozambique. Infrastructure is being built for mining and mineral interests, and hydrocarbons are taking a secondary spot. This will provide energy companies with an opportunity to wait for infrastructure to develop. This fact increases a company’s incentive to be a little less aggressive in terms of entering and building infrastructure specifically for energy. Battling to overcome its own created problems such as bad governance, Africa throughout the Cold War until the mid-2000s, played only an insignificant role on the world’s stage in the context of international relations and diplomacy. This is not to say that Africa was irrelevant but the developments of the Cold War somewhat overshadowed the continent on the global stage. During the Cold War period, most of Africa remained within the spheres of influence of the former colonial powers, which made use of the relative freedom they were given by the Great Powers to materialize their interests in Africa, but with the end of the Cold War, things somehow turned the other way in the interest of the continent. Africa’s recent advancement on the world’s stage has sparked out neurons calls for the continent to occupy a seat on the Security Council with an equal veto, but the question that arises is which of the three African countries to occupy the dedicated seat ? Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco are all vying and not ready to allow either one of the three to represent Africa if the occasion arises. The continent in recent time has been re positioning in the international system as far as international relations and politics are concerned, but greed for power and wealth, and bad governances, are some of the major problems that are affecting the continent. In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy; most recently, the West and East have choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts. The legacy of Western domination has left Africa devastated with crippling rates of poverty, hunger, and disease. The continent today has a gross national per-capita yearly below that of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in most African countries, and an average life expectancy of only fifty years. According to UN’s report, eighty-five percent of Africans have no access to standard pipe borne water, good healthcare delivery system, electricity, social security benefits, sanitation facilities and good meals a day. The report further indicates that 25.8 million people of the two-thirds of the total world population suffering from HIV/AIDS live in Africa. Africa remains a continent abundant in human and natural resources, but are managed to enrich only a handful of African leaders, corrupt bureaucrats, certain individuals and foreign capitalists who continue to exploit the continent.
If we are to single out few obstacles which continue to tie down progress and growth on the continent; indeed, bad governance, corruption, greed for wealth and political power, abuse of resources and human rights will openly go under-roll without second thought. While on the other-hand, one factor which is primarily responsible for the transformation of Africa as it has done elsewhere in the world, this will be undoubtedly modern international relations and diplomacy. It is international relations which has been the gateway to link the continent to other continents, helping Africa to get in touch with other continents and influential multilateral institutions and organizations to establish its status among the comity of nations on the world stage. Africa has succeeded speedily in pushing and occupying key positions in the world, but on a larger scale, failed to make an impact. This situation perpetuated the hierarchical structures of the colonial past, not necessarily against the will of the African ruling influential leaders. The view of Africa as a subordinated entity in the international system was even further reinforced by the continent’s marginalization within the discipline of International Relations and world’s politics. Some political pundits and commentaries argue that the continent was described less important by the big powers in the face of international relations and politics but nowadays, the situation has proven otherwise. Africa’s bilateralism in relation to the world in recent time has been successful while bad governances still remain a critical issue of a major concern. As new nations emerged, the problems of nations building, economic reconstruction loomed over the horizon and that one cannot ignore the impact of the 1960s. This was the first decade of independent Africa and it has been characterized by violence from north to south, from east to west. What we saw at the beginning of the 1960s was a precursor of what is taking place now.
The Congo crisis, the secessions of Katanga and Kasai were symptoms of the malady of the continent. At the beginning of the 1960s it was fashionable then to look upon the Congo tragedy as the unique example of Belgian colonial ineptitude. Now with years of bitter experience behind us, we can say that the Congo situation pointed to all the issues which would afflict Africa from the ‘60 to 2000s. The Congo gave us also the first real taste of the cold war involvement in Africa. As the Congo became a battle sound of international strife, it was unfortunately the African who bore the brunt. It was once again the Congo which gave Black Africa the first indication of the importance of diplomacy in African politics. This has become a fact of life and no one in Africa today can think of resolving conflict without a diplomatic intervention and leaves out militarism, which is the last course of action. This has become a fact of life and no one in Africa today can think of resolving conflict without a diplomatic intervention which is the last course of action. Since the Congo-Brazzaville war in the 1960s, the continent experienced dozen of brutal wars in several countries including the Nigeria-Biafra war, the rebels’ war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire), Angola, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopian-Eritrea war, Rwanda war between the Hutu and the Tutsi, Senegal-Casamance Region, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Northern and Southern Sudan’s war, Kenya post-election violence, Libyan, and now Mali, just to name few. All these wars were direct results of abused of state resources and national wealth, bad governances, corruption, class system and abused of state power and authority by handful of African leaders, cronies and foreign capitalists. But farsighted political figures, however, agree that Africa has entered a new phase of history, which is characterized by increased African actors on the world stage, with greater influences. For instance, a good marker of this change is the greater interest that the continent has received from Asian and other developing countries and the resulting competition between well-established and new actors on the African continent. Another critical juncture that contributed to the repositioning of Africa in world politics is the fight against terrorism. Virtually overnight the African continent gained new significance in relationship to the global war on terror. In light of the political instability across the Middle East , Africa has come to be ‘of major geo-strategic importance to the oil-dependent industrialized economies’, and giving an attention that Africa receives from actors all over the international system, the idea of an African rebirth seems to be finding more and more acceptance within international relations. Referring to the colonial scramble, which hit its peak at the end of the 19th century and the partition of the entire African continent along borders brokered between a handful of European colonial powers, some scholars see a ‘new scramble for Africa’ emerging. However, this ‘new scramble’ differs in at least two regards from its colonial predecessor. First, the pool of actors has widened and Europeans are no longer the dominant outside actors in Africa. China, for instance, has emerged as one of the most active players in Second, while African governmental elites currently are key players with considerable bargaining leverage.
More cautionary thinkers who read international politics point to the prevailing poverty and corruption, civil disobedience, bad governance and the weak political parties and institutions in Africa, while other analysts predict the continent will have a promising future. Most likely the truth lies somewhere in between with a 50-50 reality. Evaluating the continent’s key actors performances on the global stage, many observers see Africa steadily moving towards Beijing, while others regard tales of a successful Sino-African future with suspicion and point to the robustness of US–African ties. Nowadays more than ever, as Jean-François Bayart wrote rather provocatively a decade ago, the ‘discourse on Africa’s marginality is baloney. The economic, demographic, and political developments on the African continent suggest that Africa is moving away from the periphery of the international system, not without consequences for the traditional international actors in the region. But farsighted political figures, also agreed that Africa has entered a new phase of history, which is characterized by increased African actors on the world stage, with greater influences. For instance, a good marker of this change is the greater interest that the continent has received from Asian and other emerging countries and the resulting competition between well-established and new actors on the African continent. Another critical juncture that contributed to the repositioning of Africa in world politics was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The governance crisis in the Arab world and elsewhere on the continent is fuelled. Part Two will discuss the doctrines of powerful world leaders in international relations. Far back when the colonial masters found great pleasure in imposing the menace of colonialism on the then troubled- Africans and the their respective homelands, and at the time, it was all ha..ha..ha, but in this time and age, the Africans have in return decided to issue the sons and daughters of the former colonial masters a check written on it “return to senders”. Meaning, yesterday, they infested the continent with colonialism; today, Africa is sending them a generation of refugees they are now terming as problematic and unhealthy for their respective economies and comfort of the citizens. This race, according to political observers, has been joined by others from Syria and other parts of the world they once milked disturbingly.
About the Author: Josephus Moses Gray is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern city of Barclayville in Grand Kru County; holds BA and MA Degrees in Communications and International Relations. He currently serves as Senior Policy advisor to the Office of the Foreign Minister of Liberia and formerly served as Assistant Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also as Programs Coordinator at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He previously worked at the Embassy of Liberia in Paris with distinction as a Political Counselor and later appointed as Master Counselor to Liberian Permanent Mission to the United Nations and International Organizations in in to Geneva. He is a graduate of the ICFA Global Journalism Program, Washington D.C., USA; he holds certificates and post-graduate diplomas in Journalism, international affairs, peace studies and diplomacy from Chinese Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, China; New York, USA; Paris, France; Cape Town, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal; and Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He is a PhD fellow in Paris, France with concentration in International Relations, Diplomacy and Public Policy-: “China Strategic Oil Interest in Africa- the Diplomatic Race for African Riches”, is the focus of Gray’s 550 –page dissertation topic. He also enrolls in the Walden University’s MBA Project Management program; he authors two books and written extensively and published over 45 articles on contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email:firstname.lastname@example.org