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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Equatorial Guinea Watch: The New Scramble For Africa

While the press is the western world breathlessly awaits indictments in the Plamegate fiasco, a boon in oil exploration and extraction in West and Central Africa is rapidly rearranging the geopolitical priorities of major economic powers.

The role of western powers and multinationals in Africa follow three patterns of exploitation, historically...

1. The Greased Palm Tactic:
The preferred method is to operate in collusion with the corrupt aristocracy of a ruling clique. In Nigeria, powerful Shell has long partnered with the Nigerian military in the exploitation of oil resources in the homeland of the Ogoni people in the area around Port Harcort. The high water mark of this strategy was the 1995 execution of Ken Saro Wiwa--whose death greatly affected me due to the fact that I knew his children.

2. The Balkanization Tactic:
This method establishes a secure area within a war-torn country with the aid of paramilitaries and security forces. This is the modus operandi in rubber-rich Liberia and Sierra Leone and the Congo--where Colton is mined for use in our cell phones and blackberries.

3. "The Git Saddam Tactic"
The third rail is overthrowing a "corrupt, despotic dictator" and installing a puppet regime friendly to western extractive industries.

It's fair to say that this approach is what the U.S. employs in Afghanistan and attempted to employ via Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq.

It's also, I believe, the indisputable covert strategy of western nations toward Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea discovered massive deposits of oil in the 1990s, and currently produces 350,000 barrels a day, second only to Nigeria and Angola in Africa.

For oil-hungry nations, E.G. is a plum ripe for the picking--by any means necessary. The despotic rule of President Teodoro Obiang Nquema--whose government has a human rights abuse rap sheet a mile long, has provided the perfect pretext for a neocolonial takeover, and that's exactly what was attempted in March, 2004.
Mark Thatcher, the son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was arrested for his role in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, and pleaded guilty in January.

Western nations aren't the only players fighting for a slice of African oil pie.

A thrilling drama is unfolding pitting the East against the West in a new resource cold war. China and India are agressively pursuing oil contracts throughout Africa, most notably in Chad, the Central African Republic, and yes, Equatorial Guinea.

President Nguema is currently negotiating oil rights with China.

Obiang also spoke highly of the role played by China in international affairs, saying that Equatorial Guinea would increase co-operation with China in economic and scientific fields and natural resources exploration.

Equatorial Guinea hoped to expand trade relations with China in such fields as oil exploration, timber processing and aquatic products, said Obiang.


Currenly oil companies Marathon, ExxonMobil, and Amerada Hess all operate in Equatorial Guinea. South Africa's Creamer Media's Engineering News reports what this means for the people of Equatorial Guinea...

While oil firms have pumped more than $6-billion into the tiny Africa state, the latest United Nation's development index for this year showed Equatorial Guinea slipping down the list of countries fighting poverty - down 12 places to 121 spot.

So let's sum it up...The Equatorial Guinean government currently has a greased palm relationship with western oil powers. Western economic interests apparently prefer a Bushlike Git Saddam solution, and the Nguema regime is courting an Eastern sugar daddy in the form of China to compete for its corrupt affections.

What are the ramifications of this struggle for resources?

The winner in all of this could be the Equatorial Guinean government, which could negotiate a more favorable contract.

At this point, however, they must realize they're playing a dangerous game. If a greased palm relationship is negotiated with the Chinese rather than western multinationals, they risk another coup.

There is an old African saying, popularized by Jomo Kenyatta, that "when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled". Only the most ideologically blinkered freemarketeer would conclude that competition for Equatorial Guinean resources have a chance of improving the lot of the rank and file citizenry.

What can work is increased attention to the situation in Africa on the part of NGOs, human rights groups, and concerned citizens.

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