The U.S. Administration in Africa: Altruism or Oil?
It seems the White House and the Obama administration has made the African continent the focus of their P.R. campaign this summer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon begin her seven-country tour of Africa. This comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s speech in Ghana earlier this summer; the aim of both tours appear to stress U.S. commitment to Africa. The public is made to believe that addressing health, corruption, gender-based violence, poverty, trade, conflict, democratization and foreign assistance, among others, are the goals of a U.S. newly devoted to Africa and its unique challenges.
In their recent book, The Scramble for Africa: Darfur, Intervention and the USA Steven Fake and Kevin Funk eloquently detail how U.S interests in Africa are far from altruistic or humanitarian, even though they appear so on the surface.
According to the authors, the U.S. is engaged in a scramble for Africa’s resources, chiefly oil. The U.S. gets more oil from Africa than it does from the Middle East; by 2015, up to a quarter of its oil imports will come from Western Africa, including Ghana. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that Ghana was chosen for Obama’s first Sub-Saharan Africa appearance. It is a democratic and stable country for one, and the recent discovery of oil certainly has weight. U.S. interest in Africa has grown as the oil fields have multiplied. Africa is of national strategic importance because of what it can do for the U.S., not because of what the U.S. can do for Africa.
It is becoming clear, the authors assert, that stability and peace on the continent is simply a component of the U.S. interest in African oil. AFRICOM has been established in part to protect these interests on the continent. In the process, American dollars support corrupt and oppressive regimes in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan in order to maintain a hold on their oil production and exports. Oil clouds humanitarian judgment, creating allies from perpetrators of gross human rights violations in exchange for this precious commodity. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is just one example of this oil cronyism. Far from humanitarianism, the U.S. policy towards Africa has become increasingly concentrated on creating an environment amenable to resource exploitation, no matter the consequences on the level of poverty or democracy in African nations.
Michael Stulman is Associate Director, Policy and Communications, Africa Action