Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Scramble for Africa's Oil

The radical American radio/tv news show Democracy Now carries an interview with historian and journalist John Ghazvinian and the author of "Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil." .

Some excerpts from the interview :-

AMY GOODMAN: But in Nigeria, the way -- when it is covered in this country, the discussion is of the vandals, the criminals that are tapping into the oil pipelines, stealing the oil. Can you describe who it is who is organizing in the Niger Delta, John?

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: That’s a very good question, and if I knew the answer to that, I’d have a lot more insight than I do. I mean, the truth is that it changes often, and these groups splinter, and often, to be honest, a lot of criminal elements also kind of jump on the bandwagon. It really varies day-to-day, and it’s a very difficult and very complex situation to follow.

But in recent -- in the last year and a half, the big kind of group, the umbrella group that’s been getting most of the attention is a group called MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. They’re kind of an Ijaw group. They have kind of inherited the mantle of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, which was also an Ijaw group from a couple years ago. You know, like I say, things have moved on a lot since the days of the Ogoni and MOSOP, but to try to say who exactly is responsible for some of the vandalism or kidnapping, or so on --

AMY GOODMAN: John, their concerns? Talk about who is profiting from the drilling in the Niger Delta?

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: Yeah, this is at the bottom of the issue, basically, is that for more than forty years, international oil companies have, you know, pumped billions of dollars worth of oil out of Nigeria. $400 billion has gone into the pockets of the Nigerian government, and most of that money, frankly -- a lot of that money -- has been salted away into foreign bank accounts by corrupt politicians and then, of course, has gone away, disappeared in the form of profits to multinational oil corporations.

Who has not seen the profits from oil exploration is probably the real question, which is the people of the Niger Delta. You have people living in stone age squalor, in mud huts, you know, in swamps with no roads, no electricity, no running water. I spend a lot of time in the Delta, and I’ve seen the way people live there. And, you know, through their backyards you have thousands of miles of pipelines, ultra-modern, multi-million-dollar, air-conditioned, state-of-the-art facilities going up, and people just haven’t seen any benefits from the oil exploration. And over time, that has turned into a fairly nasty sort of militant insurgency, as I think shouldn’t surprise anyone, really.....

AMY GOODMAN: John, can you talk about how China has emerged as a major oil player in Africa and their difference in diplomacy and strategy than the United States and the US multinational oil companies?

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: Yeah. This is a very interesting question, actually. I mean, China is a big, big part of the story. They now get 30% of their oil from Africa, which is really extraordinary, and about 10% from Sudan, specifically. This is, you know, I think --

JUAN GONZALEZ: When you say 30%, are you talking 30% of their imports or 30% of their total oil use?

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: When it comes to China, there’s not a really appreciable difference, to be honest, but 30% overall, actually -- 29%, I think it is now, specifically.

But the thing about China is, you know, I think we hear a lot of this kind of Yellow Peril talk in the press, you know, that they are kind of a maligned force in Africa, and I think it’s actually a mixed bag. It is true that China goes in and doesn’t ask a lot of questions of countries like Zimbabwe or Angola or Equatorial Guinea. But, you know, there’s also a sort of, if you like, less threatening side to China's presence in Africa. They, for many years, have trained thousands of Africans in Chinese universities, sent thousands of doctors to Africa, and Africans haven’t forgotten that.

The Chinese are very good at -- you know, like they came into Angola a couple years ago, and they said, “Look, you just had a thirty-year civil war, you’ve got a lot of needs. You need a new airport. You need a new railway, a new highway. We’ll build all that for you, and we’ll give you a $2 billion credit facility, no questions asked.” Now, that got a lot of criticism, because basically for many, many years, the IMF has been in this kind of longstanding battle with the Angolans, saying to them that you have to be more transparent, you have to tell us what happened to the $4 billion of oil money that went missing in the final years of the civil war, all of which is fair enough, but at a certain point the Angolans said, “Actually, the hell with you. We’re getting a lot of money from oil now. We’re getting - we have a lot more oil than we’ve ever had. The price of oil is really high. And the Chinese have just given us all this money. So we’re not going to open our books to you.” And, yes, that did get a lot of criticism, and I think it is important for people to know what happened to the missing $4 billion, and I wouldn’t want to play that down. But at the same time, it’s also very important for the Angolans to get a new railway, a new highway and a new airport. And that’s something that I think tends to get ignored often in this kind of very polarized debate over the influence of China in Africa....

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk a little bit about the impact of this kind of development on poor countries like Chad, the influx of oil workers -- I think you call them oilfield trash -- that come in from all over parts of the world, end up working and living in these areas, and all kinds of clandestine industries arise to meet their needs?

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: Yeah, it’s really extraordinary. You know, you start to see this again and again and again, as I did, you know, as I traveled through all these oil towns in Africa. You have often hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers from all over the world sent on four-week shifts in to work on the rigs, and they’re often housed in these extraordinary compounds with kind of -- behind these very high razor-wire walls in these kind of sprawling Southern California-style compounds with, you know, swimming pools and air-conditioned basketball courts, and so on, and, you know, kind of everything that you’d want, really, all the food flown in from the States or from Europe.

And then, just on the other side of the wall, you have people who are living without any running water, who are walking for miles just to fill up their buckets of water, people who are suffering from malaria, living on less than a dollar a day, and so on. I mean, the contrast is one of centuries, really -- the gap, the gulf, if you will, in living styles. And this is a real affront, actually, in the face of the people who are sitting there, who realize, you know, there’s a lot of oil in our country, there’s a lot of money being made, but somehow we’re not seeing any of that. And that’s something that you hear a lot of anger and a lot of frustration about just on a very visceral level.

Prostitution also is a big problem in a lot of these places. You know, obviously, you have these guys, and they’re all sort of men, really, who come and work on the rigs from all over the world and have a lot of money, obviously, that they bring with them. So you have girls coming from all over the place, you know, to kind of service their needs, as it were. And that obviously, you know, contributes to HIV and broken homes and all kinds of social problems, as well.

You can read extracts from his book :-

Here you can read about When ExxonMobil Came to Chad

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