Africa: The Reluctant Global Goldmine?

Published on 1st May 2007

Despite Ghanaian Defence Ministry officials debunking the claim that Washington is not building a military base in Ghana, some Ghanaians, believe that it exists and that the US has built a secret tunnel from the new US Embassy complex to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. Credence of the rumor is based on the increasing US military activities in Africa following the September 11.


The increasing US military activities in Africa are widely viewed to go beyond narrow military concerns. It has a broader geopolitics agenda, which is its energy security. From newly oil rich Mauritania down to the Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, South West African coast to some of the equatorial African states such as Uganda, oil is being discovered each day. While Ghanaians may not have physical proof of US military bases in Ghana, their rumor is fed by the ongoing climate, where the US is building military bases in some African states to secure energy supplies. According to BBC, the US is currently building a naval base in Sao Tome and Principe to protect its oil interests.  Sao Tome and Principe also hold a strategic position in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea from which Washington could monitor the movement of oil tankers and guard oil platforms. Since the 1940s, according to Michael Renner, director Washington-based Global Security Project at the Worldwatch Institute, the US has “gone to great length to maintain its dominance over world oil.” Effectively, pretty much of US military bases in the world are strategically aimed at protecting oil and gas supplies or as Renner explains, “influencing the routing of oil export pipelines, and patrolling the sea-lanes through which much of the world’s oil is shipped.”


According to Nigerian Toyin Falola, Professor of history at the University of Texas (Austin, USA) the United States has over 175 military bases in Africa today and it imports more oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia. The volatility in the Middle East has made oil exploration and production attention to be shifted to equatorial African states.


Emerging economies—China and India—are also scrambling to gain access to Africa’s crude oil to fuel their growing economies.  This has made sub-Sahara the scene of a rivalry between major powers, especially the two major global oil consumers – the United States and China. Despite China, increasingly looking to sub-Sahara Africa for its energy security, the United States remains the most voracious user of oil in the world.


Yet so far, this scramble for Africa’s oil has done little to promote development for the majority of Africans in the regions where oil is produced.  Nowhere is the gap between oil wealth and development more evident than in Equatorial Guinea, where, despite a booming oil business producing growing revenues, this new wealth has generally not been used for the larger well-being of citizens. Equatorial Guinea ranks at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index (UNHDI, 2005) rankings world-wide. In Canada, the Alberta oil industry has contributed enormously to the province’s overall development. Why do African states consistently fail to use oil for development? Bases or no bases, Ghanaians should project how they will exploit Africa’s emerging new geopolitics of energy for their development process.

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