8 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Zim, E. Guinea's Great Escape


What does Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea have in common? On the surface, nothing much inter-connects the two countries apart from both belonging to the African continent. Geographically, Equatorial Guinea lies in central Africa and Zimbabwe on the southern tip of the continent. Historically, Equatorial Guinea was a former Spanish colony - the only African country to have come under Madrid's control - while the British were the masters in Zimbabwe, and surrounding territories.

But there is some link, in fate and nature, between the two countries, much of which has come to the fore lately.

In nature, Equatorial Guinea has just discovered it was "obsessively" blessed by God with oil and gas, coveted commodities from time immemorial. Geological surveys indicate the country is sitting on 4,3 percent of the world's known oil reserves and is still adding up the numbers as exploration on its share of the Atlantic Ocean continues.

The numbers for its gas holdings are equally impressive, as are for gold, diamonds, bauxite, timber and other natural resources. Quite "obsessive" blessings considering Equatorial Guinea is one of the tiniest nations in the world with a land area of only 28 051 square kilometres, and a population of less than 700 000.

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is comparatively bigger than Equatorial Guinea both geographically, and in terms of population, but small by world standards.

Like the central African country, Zimbabwe is also discovering it was bountifully blessed by the Lord with a variety of coveted natural resources. For instance, it commands the second largest reserves of platinum in the world, has top five holdings of diamond deposits globally, and big unexploited coal, uranium and iron reserves.

But it is the recent discovery of oil and gas in Equatorial Guinea, and diamonds in Zimbabwe which inter-connects the fate of the two nations. For long years, Equatorial Guinea "dutifully" entrusted its former colonial power Spain with exploring its Atlantic shores for oil and gas, after most of its neighbours with the same geological settings had discovered both.

Gabon, Congo Brazzaville and Angola to the south and Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana to the north had reported impressive findings. Authorities in Malabo felt the country, tiny as it was, surely could not have been "omitted" by the Lord in such a bountiful neighbourhood. But for years, Spain reported no "sightings" of the black gold, as oil is known in the industry, or its blue cousin, gas. Envious of its neighbours, Equatorial Guinea became exasperated, and unconvinced of the accuracy of Spain's oil and gas exploration "science."

It enlisted the "digging" services of oil majors from other countries to try their hand, and suddenly 4,3 percent of the world's reserves of the black gold popped up.

Malabo, naturally, was furious with the trickery of the former colonial master, and in reprisal shut Spanish oil firms out of the newly discovered bounty. Madrid seethed with anger, and envy.

Similarly, Zimbabwe entrusted De Beers - a British company - to survey its promising diamond fields in Marange, and for years the company also reported no "sightings" of the precious gems. Only for its exploration "science" to be disproved by hungry men and women, boys and girls "armed" with nothing other than bare hands who descended on the sprawling fields in droves for the rich pickings on offer.

The result of the stampede in Marange was the discovery of the largest diamond reserves to have been found anywhere in the world in the last 100 years; rich enough to supply more than 25 percent of global output at full capacity. As was the case with Malabo, Harare was, and still is, also furious with De Beers' trickery, which in this case included robbery.

For years, the company took hundreds of thousands of tones of ore from Marange for "further exploration" at its mills in South Africa. It turned out De Beers was mining unofficially without declaring to the authorities. The authorities responded by stripping the company of its mining rights to the rich new diamond fields, and substituted it with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and partners.

De Beers, and its home country Britain, seethed with anger and envy. In the early stages of canvassing for international support to finish his father's war in Iraq, former US president George Bush found few "willing" coalition partners, even among NATO countries.

Most countries found his grounds for war both unconvincing, and unsettling. But Britain, under prime minister Tony Blair, signed on fairly quickly, and Spain came on board later after some initial hesitation by then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

London's fury grew even sharper after Harare foiled the coup bid in Equatorial Guinea. This represented a serious setback of the "Texas Ranch Accord". Spain was furious and took this as Britain's failure to deal decisively with its "rebellious" ex-colony.

New Ziana

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