By: Josephus Moses Gray
Africa has come to be a major geo-strategic importance to the oil-dependent industrialized economies’, and giving an attention that Africa receives from state actors on the global stage in the context of international politics, the idea of an African rebirth seems to be finding more and more acceptance within the contemporary global politics due to its rich oil but had this new love for Africa developed by Beijing and Washington nowadays produces any benefits for the continent’s larger impoverished inhabitants and eliminate the curse of rampant corruption and bad governances?
“This might sound ridiculous”, but it is a glimpsing fact that oil’s curse can be avoidable and turn into fruitful and praiseworthy blessings; but the saddest nightmare always plagues dozen of oil -rich African states that mismanaged their resources that generate most needed wealth; since oil resource often in many instances fostered corruption, benefits and profoundly serves foreign capitalists and corrupt leaders’ deep-seated interests to the displeasure of the largest society, thereby restricting bulk of the population to abject poor and inhumane sufferings.
In many of Africa’s most oil-rich countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Libya, Southern Sudan, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, oil, instead of being a blessing for the population, it becomes curse and produces corruption as an endemic debacle. Oil discovery in Africa automatically leads to corruption menace which gives birth to doom and gloom-driven poverty.
In some continents the situation is to the contrary, oil is a blessing and not a curse, it removes the people from poverty to better their livelihoods; let’s look at the case of North America that produces more oil than Africa, has the lowest resource rents as a share of GDP and has good governance ratings. According to US Department of Energy, Canada as one of the top ten world oil producers, has one of the least corrupt governments in the world, on the other hand, Norway is one of the top ten exporters of crude oil in the world, while maintaining its stature as a perennial leader of the United Nations Human Development Index.
From the 1950s to 2000s, Africa has experienced lots of assassinations either by coups d’etat or by civil naughty including political detentions, thus depriving Africa of the men and women who would perhaps have built a better future. Each assassination, each coup d’etat, each civil disobedient and each political exile dealt a blow to Africa. All these ugly activities are direct results of bad governances perhaps under the influences of foreign capitalists to plunge the continent into perpetual crises to enable the foreign powers indirectly loot Africa rich oil and other riches.
Africa is perceived mainly by the West as insignificance, but the continent’s oil and gas are among the few outstanding exceptions to the perceived insignificance of Africa by the West and other foreign capitalists. The United States will soon depend on Africa for a quarter of its total crude oil imports, and Africa already accounts for more than a quarter of China’s oil imports today. In the words of the former chief executive of BP John Browne, unless geologists succeed in finding new and so far unidentified provinces, as consumers, we will all be dependent on supplies from just three areas — West Africa, Russia and the Middle East.
Dozens of research findings point to the fast that the People’s Republic of China and United States’ interests in Africa are complex, and many issues such as terrorism are high on the agenda. Africa is littered with fragile states. Upcoming and existing oil-producing countries in Africa have been marred by coup attempts and poverty. In addition, the failure to share the revenues generated by natural resources such as oil in an equitable manner has created disenchanted and disillusioned within the young populations, which have provided a fertile ground for crisis and a haven for rebellions as evident of the ‘Arab Spring’, which rapidly propelled the destructions and demised of many leaders.
Accordingly, crude oil is one of the world’s most important strategic resources, and Africa has attracted a lot of attention among corporate and political decision-makers because of growing global oil demand. Indeed, it has been suggested that Africa is experiencing a ‘New diplomatic race; thanks primarily to its oil and gas wealth, with the United States and the People’s Republic of China actively competing for access to Africa’s resources. China is currently Africa’s third most important trading partner, ahead of the United Kingdom and behind the United States and France.
In a world where both developed and developing countries require huge quantities of oil resources, Africa has once again become strategic for major actors in the international system. Strategic considerations related to Africa are, of course, influenced by global processes and rivalries, with China’s great power status having recently received particular attention.
China’s new style of diplomacy and its foreign policy principle of “non-interference” but one China policy have been characterized as sensitive to local conditions in Africa rather than imposing standards, as the case of the United States which imposes conditions such as human right, political and economic performance criteria for its foreign investment, aid assistances and support towards projects in Africa.
Unlike in other region like Latin America and Europe where the United States maintains political influence, China on the other hand maintains robust economic influence in Africa. The United States finds it difficult to outweigh China in its financial aid to African due to Beijing new “checkbook diplomacy” and aid to African governments and institutions, although the U.S. militarily out-spent China
In contrast and comparison, this subject looks at Washington and Beijing growing impact on the African continent in the context of influence and support to the continent. While it is difficult to draw out a definite conclusion, empirically China is posing greater threat to the U.S. influence in Africa, except for other regions such as the Latin America, Asia and Middle East where U.S. commends greater respect.
China and the United States use tools of soft power in different ways and with varying effects. Since the mid-1990s, the PRC has adopted an increasingly active and pragmatic diplomatic approach in Africa that emphasizes complementary economic interests. China’s influence and image have been bolstered through its increasingly open and sophisticated diplomatic corps as well as through prominent PRC-funded infrastructure, public works, and economic investment projects in many African countries; Beijing have diplomatic mission in 49 African countries.
The U.S. international public image is gradually declining on the continent perhaps due to its foreign policies that remain unpopular abroad. The U.S. government has persistently criticized U.S. state diplomacy as being neglectful of smaller countries or of countries and regional issues that are not related to the global war on terrorism.
The United States continues to exert global foreign aid leadership and maintain a major, and much appreciated, aid presence in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. U.S. foreign assistance to Southeast Asia has increased markedly since 2001, although most new funding has been directed at counter-terrorism.
The regions with the largest U.S. public diplomacy efforts in terms of funding are Europe/Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere (Latin America and the Carribean). Likewise, the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) program seeks to promote democratic values, mutual understanding, and professional and personal relationships in addition to military capacity.
Many aspects of U.S. social, economic, cultural, academic, technological, and other forms of influence, much of which emanate from the private sector or outside the scope of government, remain unmatched in the world. Many American ideals have long-term, universal appeal, while the United States continues to be a magnet for immigrants and foreign students. Despite a perceived lack of attention among elites, the United States has maintained favorable public image ratings in many African and Latin American countries as well as in the Philippines, a U.S. ally.
The United States and China share the same vital national interests of security and prosperity, although each has a particular additional interest and each defines its interests somewhat differently. Each seeks freedom from fear and want and to preserve its territorial integrity. For the United States, its particular interest lies in value preservation and projection of those values.
China has thus made in-roads into the oil sectors in Nigeria (Africa’s largest oil producer) and Angola (Africa’s second largest producer), which accounts for “13 per cent of China’s crude oil imports”. Other African countries with Chinese oil interests include Gabon, Mauritania, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria, Liberia, Ghana, Southern Sudan and Chad.
US oil interests are locked into major oil producers such as Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, Gabon, and the “new oil boom states” Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe. Since most of the oil being discovered is off-shore, it also has the added advantage of being beyond the reach of protesting oil communities on land that are capable of disrupting the oil flow, as had been the case in the restive Nigerian oil-rich Niger Delta since the 1990’s (Obi 2006a: 93-94).
It is fair to argue that the African continent has not traditionally been at the centre of United States of America (USA) foreign policy. Historical links between the U.S. and African countries date back centuries, but significant change in both relations has been the growing concern about the hunt for resources and terrorist activities on the continent, particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions. The United States recent re-engaging with the continent indicates that Africa does occupy a central place in US global foreign policy strategy. The US is the world’s largest development aid donor and has programs dedicated to Africa with billions of dollars being spent in various sectors on the continent.
The Sino-African oil relationship can become complex due to other linked areas of concern. Oil, as part of China’s desire to acquire more natural resources, has brought criticism of China’s “neo-colonialist” presence in Africa, and questions whether China’s presence benefits governance and the African people.
China and Africa have since then become all-weather friends that understand, support and help each other. Fifty-one of the continent’s fifty-four countries have established diplomatic ties with China thus far, the most recent being South Sudan in 2011 while most western analysts believe that the main driving force behind China’s investment in Africa is for natural resources and thus focuses on a few resource rich countries.
China is currently the second-largest consumer of oil in the world, and more than half of its crude oil is imported and by 2020, official sources estimate that China will import about 65 percent of its crude oil China’s presence in Africa, According to Shelly Zhao briefing paper April 2011, to secure oil resources has been increasing.
The study of international relations has historically focused on the activities of large, powerful states, dismissing the smaller entities of the international system as unimportant or merely objects of policy for the larger entities. This truism extends especially to those entities that exist in a partially recognized limbo, neither a full part of the international system nor an ungoverned space. Yet in the post-Cold War world, following the dissolution of large multi-national states such as the USSR, these entities have begun to proliferate, such is the case of Moscow in Ukraine and Syrian’s brutal civil crises.
This proliferation provides a significant challenge to an international system in which the primary participants are states, and to the institutions created to oversee their interaction for world peace. As such the study of these entities and their interaction with the world outside their borders is a study important for a systemic understanding of contemporary international relations. This article highlights the geopolitics as it relates to the politics of oil while at the same time, this article aims at addressing the role of diplomats’ and the impact of diplomacy in this new era of foreign policy of Africa.
This new race for Africa’s resources is already engendering conflicts across the region. By analyzing the likely impact on the economies of oil-producing states, it considers whether we should dismay or rejoice over the ‘New Scramble for Africa’. It concludes that the existence of a New Scramble or a US–Chinese race for Africa should be treated with some caution, while the economic impact of oil investments is likely to be bleak.
Both the American and the Chinese Governments were important in paving the way for American and Chinese oil interests in expanding in Africa. The US Government used diplomatic instruments such economic incentives and military aid. China has proven more supportive and has provided loans, debt relief, scholarships, training, and provision of military hardware without political or economic pre-conditions, in exchange for a foothold in the oil business.
In turn, incumbent African leaders have identified Chinese unconditional financial resources, cheap products, and know-how as an important tool to fend off pressure for political and economic reforms from international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Western governments. China is the new superstar on the African continent when it comes to new diplomatic ties, trade expansion and investments in large-scale development projects.
This was emphasized at the recent China-Africa summit in Beijing (5th Forum on China and Africa Cooperation held in Beijing in July 2012). While most hailed the new Chinese drive, some fear a new scramble for Africa’s vast natural resources. Widely believed to become the world’s largest economy, China is successfully seeking its place under the African sun. Starting out with pariah nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, excellent relations are now held with almost all of Africa’s 54 states.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where copper and diamonds have inspired wars and mayhem, there is currently intense competition and militia rivalries over the mining and sale, a critical raw material used in mobile phones and electronic devices. The battle over uranium, used in feeding nuclear reactors, continues to be at the root of conflicts in Niger. The connection between conflict and foreign exploitation of mineral resources can be drawn with respect to other countries, including Nigeria, Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Libya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. More recently, the West has choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) than on health care, education, infrastructure, and other vital services combined.
For African governments, China’s new interest mostly has been a blessing. Diplomatically, their dependence on Western countries is eased, allowing new diplomatic competition as in the Cold War era, and giving pariah leaders an alternative backing. Chinese aid funds are also popular, because Beijing asks no questions on good governance and is fond of prestigious grand projects.
Economically, however, the Chinese advance has come with mixed blessings for Africa. With China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has boomed into an economic superpower of cheap mass produced exports, giving no room for African competition. But Beijing is not only interested in gaining African export markets. The economic superpower is not endowed with many natural resources, making Beijing dependent on mass imports of crude materials.
Most importantly, there is evidence of greater involvement of the United States and China in Africa, in terms of both commercial interests and political engagement. “China’s bilateralism in relation to Africa” could undermine regional and continental institutions as “it replays the colonialist divide and conquer tactics.” Wars need money. From Liberia to Sierra Leone, Angola to Cambodia, natural resources such as timber, diamonds and minerals have helped fund armies and militias who murder, rape and commit other human rights abuses against civilians. Currently, there is an amazing infrastructure race taking place within East Africa, helping to reduce investment risk within the region. We see East Asian powers providing infrastructure in order to gain a competitive advantage in these regions.
China is taking a very broad approach and accessing the region whole heartily. We are also seeing Japan’s involvement, and the US through Anadarko’s involvement in Mozambique. Infrastructure is being built for mining and mineral interests, and hydrocarbons are taking a secondary spot. This will provide energy companies with an opportunity to wait for infrastructure to develop. This fact increases a company’s incentive to be a little less aggressive in terms of entering and building infrastructure specifically for energy.
Battling to overcome its own created problems such as bad governance, Africa throughout the Cold War until the mid-2000s, played only an insignificant role on the world’s stage in the context of international relations and diplomacy. This is not to say that Africa was irrelevant but the developments of the Cold War somewhat overshadowed the continent on the global stage. During the Cold War period, most of Africa remained within the spheres of influence of the former colonial powers, which made use of the relative freedom they were given by the Great Powers to materialize their interests in Africa, but with the end of the Cold War, things somehow turned the other way in the interest of the continent.
Africa’s recent advancement on the world’s stage has sparked out neurons calls for the continent to occupy a seat on the Security Council with an equal veto, but the question that arises is which of the three African countries to occupy the dedicated seat ? Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco are all vying and not ready to allow either one of the three to represent Africa if the occasion arises. The continent in recent time has been repositioning in the international system as far as international relations and politics are concerned, but greed for power and wealth, and bad governances, are some of the major problems that are affecting the continent.
In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy; most recently, the West and East have choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts. The legacy of Western domination has left Africa devastated with crippling rates of poverty, hunger, and disease. The continent today has a gross national per-capita yearly below that of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in most African countries, and an average life expectancy of only fifty years.
According to UN’s report, eighty-five percent of Africans have no access to standard pipe borne water, good healthcare delivery system, electricity, social security benefits, sanitation facilities and good meals a day. The report further indicates that 25.8 million people of the two-thirds of the total world population suffering from HIV/AIDS live in Africa. Africa remains a continent abundant in human and natural resources, but are managed to enrich only a handful of African leaders, corrupt bureaucrats, certain individuals and foreign capitalists who continue to exploit the continent.
However, this ‘new scramble’ differs in at least two regards from its colonial predecessor. First, the pool of actors has widened and Europeans are no longer the dominant outside actors in Africa. China, for instance, has emerged as one of the most active players in Second, while African governmental elites currently are key players with considerable bargaining leverage.
More cautionary thinkers who read international politics point to the prevailing poverty and corruption, civil disobedience, bad governance and the weak political parties and institutions in Africa, while other analysts predict the continent will have a promising future. Most likely the truth lies somewhere in between with a 50-50 reality. Evaluating the continent’s key actors performances on the global stage, many observers see Africa steadily moving towards Beijing, while others regard tales of a successful Sino-African future with suspicion and point to the robustness of US–African ties.
Nowadays more than ever, as Jean-François Bayart wrote rather provocatively a decade ago, the ‘discourse on Africa’s marginality is baloney. The economic, demographic, and political developments on the African continent suggest that Africa is moving away from the periphery of the international system, not without consequences for the traditional international actors in the region.
But farsighted political figures, also agreed that Africa has entered a new phase of history, which is characterized by increased African actors on the world stage, with greater influences. For instance, a good marker of this change is the greater interest that the continent has received from Asian and other emerging countries and the resulting competition between well-established and new actors on the African continent. Another critical juncture that contributed to the repositioning of Africa in world politics was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The governance crisis in the Arab world and elsewhere on the continent is fuelled.
Far back when the colonial masters found great pleasure in imposing the menace of colonialism on the then troubled- Africans and the their respective homelands, and at the time, it was all ha..ha..ha, but in this time and age, the Africans have in return decided to issue the sons and daughters of the former colonial masters a check written on it “return to senders”. Meaning, yesterday, they infested the continent with colonialism; today, Africa is sending them a generation of refugees they are now terming as problematic and unhealthy for their respective economies and comfort of the citizens. This race, according to political observers, has been joined by others from Syria and other parts of the world they once milked disturbingly.