25 May 2006

Africa: The Scramble for African Oil

guest column

After decades of Cold War, when Africa was simply viewed as a convenient pawn on the global chessboard, and a further decade of benign neglect in the 1990s, the African continent has now become a vital arena of strategic and geopolitical competition for not only the United States, but also for China, India, and other new emerging powers.  The main reason for this is quite simple:  Africa is the final frontier as far as the world's supplies of energy (both oil and natural gas) are concerned.

World oil production is only just meeting world demand and old fields are being drained faster that new production can be brought on line.  Supplies will be tight for the foreseeable future, so any new source of supply is significant.  Most importers are also trying to reduce their dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  In the next 10-15 years, most of the new oil entering the world market is going to be coming from African fields because it is only in Africa—and to a lesser extent in the volatile Central Asia region—that substantial new fields have been found and brought into production.

The United States and the Militarization of African Oil Production

As in the Middle East and the Caspian Sea region before it, Africa is now a target for military intervention by the United States, France, China, and other powers competing to gain control over energy supplies.  The most public expressions of this linkage have come from American officials.  Since 1980, the United States has been officially committed (in the words of President Jimmy Carter which have become known as the "Carter Doctrine") to the use of "any means necessary, including military force," to ensure the free flow of Persian Gulf oil.  President Clinton announced the establishment of military ties with the new republics of Central Asia as needed because "in a world of growing energy demand, our nation cannot afford to rely on any single region for our energy supplies."  Now the "Carter Doctrine" has been extended to Africa.  "African oil is of strategic national interest to us," US Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner declared during a visit to Nigeria in July 2002, and "it will increase and become more important to us as we go forward."

As in the Caspian, the establishment or expansion of military aid programs in Africa and the provision of U.S. arms, military equipment, and technical assistance has accompanied these statements.  To a considerable extent, this aid is intended to enhance the internal security capabilities of friendly African states, so that they can better control (or suppress) the ethnic, religious, and factional divisions that roil many of these countries.  Not surprisingly, the largest chunks of U.S. aid to Africa are going to Angola and Nigeria, Africa's two leading oil suppliers to the United States.  Total U.S. security aid to these two countries in Fiscal Years 2002-04 amounted to approximately $300 million, a substantial increase over the previous three-year period.

In addition to the U.S. aid programs directed at individual countries, the United States is supporting a number of multilateral or regional initiatives aimed at enhancing African states' internal security capabilities.  Typically, these programs are described as being designed to improve anti-terrorism actions in the region or to support international peacekeeping operations, but the skills and techniques being imparted–small unit maneuvers, counter-insurgency, light infantry operations, and so on—are of a sort that could easily be employed in the suppression of ethnic, religious, and sectarian strife.  And while relatively modest in dollar terms–that is, when compared to the amounts being spent by the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) in the Middle East and Asia–these efforts represent a significant investment in the African setting, where military expenditures are much smaller.

Washington has used a variety of U.S. security assistance programs to enhance its military influence in Africa, including military sales and other arms transfer programs, military training, U.S. Navy exercises, and the acquisition of basing rights in strategic African countries.

U.S. Arms Sales and Military Training Programs

U.S. government-to-government arms sales to Africa through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) rose from $25.6 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 to $61.5 million in FY 2005 and then fell again to an estimated $20.1 million in FY 2006.  Major recipients included Djibouti ($19.4 million in FY 2005 and $8.5 million in 2006) and Kenya ($23.5 million in FY 2005 and $5 million in 2006).  Other major recipients in recent years have included Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Uganda.

The U.S. government has approved arms sales directly from U.S. companies through the Commercial Sales program (overseen by the U.S. Department of State) to Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.  Moreover, Algeria (a major oil producer and potentially a major supplier of natural gas to the United States) has been permitted to buy very large quantities of sophisticated counter-insurgency equipment—most notably night-vision equipment—to outfit the army and other internal security forces for operations against the Salafists. American firms delivered $78 million worth of military hardware to Algeria in FY 2004 and an estimated $80 million worth in FY 2005 and FY 2006.

The U.S. provides professional military training in the United States and in Africa to African officers through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.  In recent years, the DoD has allocated approximately $10 million per year to provide training to some 1,300 to 1,700 African personnel annually.  Major recipients include: Algeria ($750,000 in FY 2006), Angola ($400,000 in FY 2006), Chad ($250,000), Cote d'Ivoire ($50,000), Democratic Republic of Congo ($150,000), Republic of Congo ($100,000), Eritrea ($450,000), Ethiopia ($600,000), Gabon ($200,000), Nigeria ($800,000), and São Tomé ($200,000).  The DoD also plans to initiate new IMET programs in Equatorial Guinea and Sudan in FY 2006.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2003, the DoD has allocated funds to the new African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBSP).  ACBSP provides specialized training, equipment, and intelligence data to selected African countries for efforts aimed at combating smuggling, piracy, and other cross-boundary threats to internal and regional security.  This effort has also included efforts to promote intelligence-sharing among the nations involved.  In FY 2005, $4.0 million was appropriated for this purpose and another $4.0 million was requested for FY 2006.  Among the many countries participating in this initiative are Angola, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, São Tomé, and Uganda.  In 2003, the DoD also commenced the delivery of seven surplus U.S. Coast Guard cutters to Nigeria, significantly enhancing the Nigerian Navy's ability to protect offshore oil installations and oil tankers.  In addition, the FY 2006 budget request includes $9.7 million in Economic Support Funds for the Africa Regional Fund, of which 25 percent will go to support counter-terrorism training and assistance for efforts to combat smuggling and money laundering.

Beginning in Fiscal 2006, American funds for peacekeeping training in Africa will be channeled primarily through the new Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), replacing African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) and other U.S. aid programs.  Out of the $114 million requested for GPOI in FY 2006, African states will receive most of the $14 million requested for training, exercises, equipment; an additional $37 million is to be funneled directly to ACOTA program accounts.  The Bush administration has also requested $41 million in FY 2006 for the Africa Regional Peacekeeping account to support operations in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sudan, and to strengthen the peacekeeping forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In FY 2002-03, the DoD allocated approximately $16 million in Africa peacekeeping money to establish the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI).  The PSI funding was used to deploy teams of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) to provide counter-terrorism training and equipment to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.  This effort entailed the provision of training and equipment to six light infantry companies in the four countries.  As a result of strenuous lobbying by U.S. military officials, PSI was transformed into new Trans-Saharan Initiative (TSI) in March 2004 and expanded to include the important energy-producing countries of Algeria and Nigeria, as well as Senegal and Tunisia, along with the original PSI participants.  The TSI program obtained initial funding of $16 million in FY 2005 and will receive $100 million annually from FY 2007 to FY 2011, for a total of $500 million.

Expanding U.S. Naval Operations in Africa

In recognition both of Africa's growing role as a supplier of oil to the United States, the U.S. Navy has significantly increased its presence in African waters.  Much of this activity is focused in the Gulf of Guinea, the body of water closest to the major West African oil producers and itself the site of some of Africa's most promising offshore oil reserves.  The U.S. Navy has also conducted joint training operations with the naval forces of African states and engaged them in joint discussion of security problems in the region.  A number of recent naval exercises and other events are evidence of the active interest in Africa now being taken by the U.S. Navy.

In May 2003, NATO Supreme Commander General James Jones indicated that in the future, U.S. naval forces under his command would spend much less time in the Mediterranean Sea.  Instead, he predicted, "I'll bet they'll spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa."  The most impressive demonstration of this new posture came in July 2004, when the United States carried out the "Summer Pulse 04" exercise.  This exercise was explicitly designed to show that the United States could carry out naval operations simultaneously in every part of the world and, thus, that U.S. naval forces could respond to a crisis in one part of the world even if it was already engaged elsewhere.  The African element of the exercise was conducted off the coast of Morocco, where the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise commanded a U.S. carrier battle group that led a massive joint exercise with naval forces from nine countries, including NATO counties and Morocco itself.  The exercise involved a total of 20,000 personnel (both sailors and marines) on board 30 ships.

In October 2004, the U.S. European Command (EURCOM) hosted a three-day Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security Conference in Naples, Italy (headquarters of the U.S. Sixth Fleet).  Participants included naval leaders from Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, São Tomé, and Togo, along with personnel from the United States, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.  The conference reportedly focused on common efforts to combat threats posed by piracy, smuggling, and drug trafficking, as well as the fight against terrorism.  It ended with joint statement pledging participants to engage in ongoing dialogue, cooperation, and joint activities.

In January 25, 2005, the U.S. Navy commenced a two-month Gulf of Guinea Deployment with participation by the USS Emory S. Land, carrying about 1,400 sailors and Marines.  The deployment was the direct result of the 2004 Maritime Security Conference held in October 2004, and involved port calls at Douala, Cameroon; Port Gentil, Gabon; and Sekondi, Ghana.  Instructors and sailors from Cameroon, São Tomé, Gabon, Ghana, and Benin also participated in the operation.  A second Gulf of Guinea Deployment was conducted in May-July 2005, with participation by the US Coast Guard Cutter Bear.

From late-June to early-July 2005, the U.S. Navy held ten days of exercises in the Mediterranean Sea with naval forces from Britain, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.  The exercises, known as "Barbary Thunder II," consisted of joint maritime interdiction operations by U.S. Marines along with their counterparts from Italy, Morocco, and Algeria.

And on September 27, 2005, the U.S. Navy commenced a five-week West African Training Cruise (WATC) exercise with the deployment of the dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall and the high-speed vessel Swift.  Host nations for the WATC include Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, and Morocco.  Planned activities include small boat training, live-fire exercises, and amphibious raids.  At the same time, American sailors and Marines participated in Exercise Green Osprey, a British-led amphibious landing exercise on the coast of Senegal.

These operations are particularly significant because they constitute the necessary preparation for what are, in fact, the most likely scenarios for direct U.S. intervention in Africa.  While land bases would be required for large-scale ground operations—as, for example during humanitarian relief operations or to actually try to occupy and control large parts of a country like Nigeria should that ever be contemplated—they would not be needed for more focused attacks, such as air strikes or airborne assaults against insurgents who threatened to interrupt oil supplies.  Not only would Washington prefer to avoid establishing a highly visible, and thus highly provocative, presence on the ground in Africa, it would actually be easier for the United States to conduct such operations from an off-shore naval armada which could be rushed to oil-rich regions of Africa at short notice in less than a week.

The Search for Bases in Africa

However, to ensure that the United States can deploy troops and equipment to Africa, particularly in times of emergency when even a few days might be to long to wait, the DoD is now beginning to establish a basing infrastructure in Africa, again following the trajectory first seen in the Gulf and the Caspian regions.  In recognition of Africa's colonial past and likely popular resistance to anything resembling a permanent military garrison, the DoD does not seek elaborate installations but rather "bare-bones" facilities – usually an airstrip, basic communications links, and a warehouse or two – that can be tended by local troops or contract personnel most of the time, until needed by American forces for particular operations.  Although Pentagon officials tend to emphasize the threat from terrorism when discussing the need for such facilities, they have also expressed a need to protect the flow of oil.  In 2003, for example, a senior Pentagon official told Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal, "a key mission for U.S. forces [in Africa] would be to ensure that Nigeria's oil fields, which in the future could account for as much as 25 percent of all U.S. oil imports, are secure."

Among the countries that have reportedly been considered as a potential site for the establishment of a U.S. military base in Africa is the island state of São Tomé e Principe.  São Tomé is located in the Gulf of Guinea near the major West African oil producers, yet is conveniently distant from the ethnic and political strife that has often overtaken countries on the mainland; it is also expected to be a major oil exporter itself, in conjunction with Nigeria (with which is has established a Joint Development Zone in the Gulf of Guinea.)  Although the DoD has not formally expressed an interest in acquiring a base there, the Deputy Commander of the U.S. European Command (EURCOM), which exercises command authority over much of sub-Saharan Africa, visited the islands in July 2001 to examine possible basing locations.

In its efforts to secure other basing options, the United States has negotiated agreements granting it access to airfields and other facilities in several African nations.  These facilities are often referred to as "lily pad" facilities, because American forces can hop in and out of them in times of crisis while avoiding the impression of establishing a permanent—and potentially provocative—presence.  They include Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the DoD has built two "K-Span" steel buildings to house troops and equipment; an airfield near Bamako, the capital of Mali; an airfield at Dakar, Senegal; an airfield in Gabon; and airfields and port facilities in Morocco and Tunisia.

The DoD has also sought basing facilities in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, primarily to support anti-terror operations in the region.  After 9/11, the United States received permission from Djibouti to use Camp Lemonier as the headquarters for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a multinational naval force led by the United States that monitors and interdicts possible terrorist travel routes at sea and suspected terrorist activities in adjacent countries, specifically in Somalia.  Along with the headquarters element, 800 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) troops have set up base at Camp Lemonier.  Likewise, under an agreement reportedly signed in July 2003 during Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's visit to Washington, the DoD was granted the right to use the airfield at Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, for the deployment of US P-3 Orion aerial surveillance aircraft.  (In March 2004, P-3 "Orion" aerial surveillance aircraft based at Tamanrasset were reportedly used to gather intelligence on the activities of Algerian Salafist guerrillas operating in Chad and to forward this intelligence to Chadian forces engaged in combat against the Salafists.)


It is still early days, but the United States has already dramatically increased its military presence in Africa and its military links with oil-rich African governments.  Whether all this will lead to something greater–and potentially far more perilous—is something that cannot be foreseen at this point, but it is certainly something that bears close watching, given the dangers this could pose for the states and peoples of Africa.

Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and the author of numerous articles on US security policy and African security issues.


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