NEW YORK (–While President Bush was goading the UN General Assembly to draft a new resolution threatening Iraq with possible military attack if they do not allow weapons inspectors in, he was quietly preparing the way for U.S. companies to exploit the next oil frontier: Sub-Saharan Africa.

Following his haughty mid-September UN speech, he met with 11 African leaders, most of whom represented states who are current major oil producers or are involved in the expansion of oil exploration in the region. Press reports state that the president discussed fighting terrorism and ending conflicts on the continent, but observers say oil was the real purpose for the meetings.

“The United States wants to take the teeth out of OPEC because they stand up to the U.S.,” said Elombe Brath of the New York-based Patrice Lumumba Coalition, a group active in African issues. “If they can talk Nigeria into leaving OPEC, the U.S. will be able to exploit African oil producing countries,” he said, referring to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel which currently dominates world oil production and pricing.

Nigeria is the only African oil-producing nation in OPEC, and has recently charged that the OPEC quota of 1.78 million barrels a day, down from 2.1 million, is hurting the Nigerian economy.

West Africa sends almost as much oil to the United States as Saudi Arabia and its market share is rising fast, according to analysts. Nigeria and Angola are expected to double and triple exports in the next decade; sub-Saharan Africa could supply 25 percent of U.S. oil by 2015, according to the Petroleum Financing Company, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm for the oil industry.

The U.S. imports around two-thirds of its oil from foreign countries to the tune of 8.5 million barrels daily.

Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Ngresso told reporters after meeting with President Bush that U.S. oil companies were “delighted” with their growing involvement in Africa. A recent report by the National Intelligence Council, a CIA think-tank, noted that in the next 20 years Western oil companies would invest $40 billion to $60 billion in Equatorial Guinea. The tiny country is expected to produce 350,000 barrels a day by 2006. The CIA think tank report is titled, “Global Trends 2015 Report.”

Africa provides secure oil

In February 2002, Shell Oil announced a $7.5 billion project that will increase oil production in the country by 1.5 million barrels a day. The World Bank, Exxon and Chevron are major partners in the development of the Chad/Cameroon pipeline to the tune of $4 billion. The project should be completed by 2004. However, Chad’s Minister of Affairs Mahamat Saleh Annadif told the General Assembly that Chad would start selling their first barrels by July 2003.

It was also in February that the strategic importance of expanded exploration of African oil was examined at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, also based in Washington. The main theme of the conference was the benefits that could flow from a stronger relationship with West and Central African oil-producing nations, Paul Michael Wihbey, a fellow at the institute, said in a report.

“West Africa could rival the Gulf region,” he wrote.

Mr. Wihbey’s report said Africa would provide the U.S. with secure oil supplies and that the Bush administration should provide economic development. He added that the proposed partnership would not work if the administration continued America’s one-sided diplomatic arrangement that has been characteristic of policy in the past.

President Bush has announced a planned trip to Africa early in 2003. According to sources, Mr. Bush may stop in Nigeria, the fifth largest oil exporter to the U.S.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has already visited Gabon and Angola, major oil exporters. Industry analysts say that Angola increased its output to 930,000 barrels a day in 2002 from 722,000 barrels a day in 2001. By 2020, Angola is expected to produce 3.28 million barrels a day.

On Sept. 16, Mr. Powell addressed the United Nations General Assembly “Special Session” on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the apparatus that is charged with Africa’s development with promises of Western aid as incentives for democratizing African governments, among other goals.

Mr. Powell noted that two of America’s largest capital investments are the methanol plant in Equatorial Guinea and the Chad/Cameroon pipeline.

Also, the president of Sao Tome, an island off the West African coast that is believed to sit on massive untapped oil reserves, recently announced an agreement to establish a U.S. Navy base on the island. Walter Kansteiner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, has said it is “undeniable … that African oil has become of national strategic interest to us.”

“This is a very important issue,” commented Min. Akbar Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam who has spent many years in Africa and has traveled extensively. He added that President Bush’s upcoming trip to Africa “is not out of concern for Africans. Oil is the key to all of this.”

“Imagine a right wing conservative president who won’t even meet with the Congressional Black Caucus going to Africa,” he said.

Min. Akbar said increased U.S. interest in African oil at this time is linked to the failed coup in Venezuela this year. He said the U.S. was behind the coup that was meant to not only to get President Hugo Chavez out of office, but also to make sure the U.S. had someone responsive and supportive of the U.S. in power.

He said even the death of Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel, is linked to U.S. oil interests. “They (U.S.) tried to get Savimbi to go to the peace table, but when he refused to play ball he shows up dead. Then the government immediately signed a peace accord with UNITA (the rebel group),” Min. Akbar said.

He added that the U.S. and Europe have their tentacles in the NEPAD group in order to control events on the continent and that the pipeline the World Bank wants to finace from Chad to the Atlantic Ocean on Africa’s west coast is a clear example of what’s going on.

“It would be easier to build a pipeline (northward) to the Red Sea. They’re building it all the way to Africa’s west coast. When they do that they will have to protect it,” Min. Akbar said.

Supporters of the administration’s plan to buy more African crude say it is of high quality and the shipping distance is half that of the Persian Gulf. Jewish-sponsored think tank spokespersons such as Mr. Wihbey pull no punches in declaring their objective is to convince the administration that continued dependence on Persian Gulf oil could prove to be catastrophic, particularly if there is an attack on Iraq. They also note that most of Africa’s oil is drilled offshore.

How will U.S. defend oil reserves?

“What they are really saying is that because most of African oil deposits are found in the ocean, it is easier to protect them militarily, and that also allows them to ignore issues facing Africa’s indigenous people,” Salih Booker of the Washington, D.C.-based Africa Action told The Final Call. “America is interested in Africa’s black gold, not Africa’s Black people. So, what are the economic benefits for Africa?”

According to a UN report, Africa grew faster than any other developing region in 2001. With oil prices likely to stay around $20 a barrel, African nations are expected to grow by an average of 3.4 percent in 2002. The report says that because of “booming” oil revenue, real GDP growth in Equatorial Guinea–Africa’s fastest growing economy–continues to be extremely high, at 65 percent in 2001. The report stresses that lower oil prices had a positive impact on the economies of several non-oil-producing nations on the continent.

Several African representatives attending the General Assembly debate on NEPAD explained that oil revenues would factor into the overall growth plan for all of Africa in the very near future. They said agreements between African nations and oil companies are a bilateral issue, and not something that could be regulated by NEPAD.

“We are optimistic that oil exploration will become something that NEPAD would regulate, but for now we are moving on other fronts,” one diplomat said. The diplomats said they hear from observers that Africa through NEPAD should gain control of its oil industries.

“People want to see things happen instantly, and that is not reality,” they said, citing the inability of African nations to generate the kind of capital needed for exploration, and the paucity of people with technological skills.

In the meantime, dissent by activists continues in several oil- producing nations. Environmentalists and members of Chad’s parliament had called for suspension of the pipeline until their concerns were met, and until there was a clearer understanding of how much the government should be involved in the management of the project. They also said it was not clear how the Chadian people would benefit from the revenues.

However, the World Bank announced on Sept. 14 that they were going ahead with the pipeline. “This project has enormous potential to bring great benefits to the people of Chad and Cameroon,” a World Bank spokesman said.

Observers say the major shareholders in the Chadian oil industry are the large oil companies Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Activists add that the World Bank has had many projects in Chad, and the country is still one of Africa’s poorest and least developed.

On Sept. 19, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned the government of Cameroon $21 million. The IMF said the loan was necessary because of Cameroon’s decline in oil output. But, they also said the key challenge in Cameroon would be the allocation of oil revenues to social programs and better investment in the infrastructure.

“That is a polite way of saying that government officials are pocketing the money,” Steve Kretzmann, a policy analyst with the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, told The Final Call. He said the problem in Chad and in Cameroon are their repressive regimes. “We have called on Exxon Mobil to suspend operations in these areas immediately,” he said, adding that what the Bush administration calls development is actually corporate welfare for the oil companies.

“We want to see the people of these countries empowered,” he said.

Nigeria has had its problems with oil protests. Recent demonstrations involved women demanding that oil revenues benefit the people through jobs and pensions and improvement to the environment.

On Sept. 18, a Nigerian state governor delivering a speech in Lagos questioned why the government continued to bank Nigerian oil revenues in foreign banks. He suggested that these revenues be deposited in local banks. He added that loans to indigenous people and corporations could be made available, thereby “empowering” the people.

Black business sitting at the table

Three months ago, Melvin Foote, president and CEO of the U.S.-based Constituency for Africa, an African policy coalition, was part of a delegation sent to Casablanca, Morocco, to talk about the “role” of Black Americans in the oil paradigm. He said the trip was sponsored by the Department of Energy.

“America realizes they need African oil, and they cannot go there and snatch it up,” he told The Final Call, adding, “We as Black business people and entrepreneurs are in the middle of all this.”

Mr. Foote said he met recently with the Chadian ambassador and Exxon executives for dinner in Washington, D.C. What needs to happen now, he said, is the granting of loans by the World Bank to Black businesses to enable them to compete in the service industries that go hand-in-hand with oil exploration such as supplying computers, food and technology.

Robert Hill, president of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), said training programs in Africa and in America are scheduled to start at the turn of the year. AABE was formed 25 years ago and has 35 chapters and 1,200 members.

“We want our braintrust to work globally. So what we are proposing is an institution that directs its attention solely to the African oil issue that is run by Blacks. We are also proposing a business relationship with the major oil companies allowing Blacks to enter into the arena of building oil rigs,” he said.

However, Mr. Booker offers a word of caution.

“We must interact with activists and mon-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the African oil-producing nations, so they do not see us as just another group of exploiters. We must listen to their concerns,” he said.

Elombe Brath agrees.

“It is very important that we understand the leadership issues in these countries. We must not help the West in its quest to re-colonize Africa,” he said.

“Some of the African leaders do not hand the resources from the oil revenues down to the people. We hope to impact on this issue by talking to NGOs, but first we must get our foot in the door,” said Mr. Hill.