By Paula Gilbert, Syanda Ngcobo and Kirsten Mawdsley
The discovery of oil reserves in many West African countries in recent years has provided opportunities for African development.
The revenue from this oil should be playing an important role in relieving extensive poverty in the region, but corruption, rebel incursions, sabotage and perpetual civil wars are prevent-ing this.
Along with these internal problems, Western nations like the United States of America are attempt-ing to exploit African oil reserves for their own benefit.Africa is the fastest-growing oil pro-ducer in the world. Since 1984, oil production in African countries has doubled.
Currently 11% of the world’s oil is produced in Africa and experts estimate that by 2010, a fifth of the world’s oil will be provided by Africa. Nigeria alone provides 10% of the US’s annual oil supply and the Bush administration is pushing for this to increase to a quarter of all American imports in the next decade.
The Nigerian government receives $14 billion (R86 billion) a year in oil revenue but the average Nigerian is still living off less than a dollar (R6) a day, due to widespread corruption in the country. History has shown us that the Western world has largely stood by and watched countless civil wars and genocide in African countries, while the continent failed to solve its own problems. However, in recent years large oil reserves have been discovered in western and central Africa, and Western countries have become increasingly interested in African affairs.
It is ridiculous to deny that there is a correlation between discov-eries of oil reserves in certain coun-tries, and increases in the amount of foreign aid paid to these countries. Nigeria has received over $250 mil-lion (R1,54 billion) in economic aid and Sudan has received $172 million (R1,06 billion). These two countries have the largest oil reserves in Africa. By contrast, Somalia, which does not control any oil reserves, has received only $60 million (R370 million) in eco-nomic aid. American oil companies have given Chad $3,5 billion (R21,6 billion) to build a pipeline connecting Chad to Cameroon, which has made it easier for Chad to export oil to the US.
The USA is interested in African oil because Africa’s sweet crude oil is easier to refine into gasoline and other products, and transportation costs are lower because the West African coast is closer to the USA than other oil-producing regions. Western nations are not only aiding Africa in economic terms but are also attempting to bring political stabil-ity to oil-rich countries. This stability would make increased oil produc-tion possible in areas where rebel forces are sabotaging and destroying oil reserves.
This has been seen in Sudan where, when fighting first broke out, the African Union was left to solve the problems in the area. Only once Western countries realised what the economic implications of having oil in the region were did the US and Britain start backing efforts to replace AU peacekeepers with UN peacekeep-ers. If the UN peacekeepers have a presence in Sudan, America has more sway over the internal affairs of the country than it does with only AU peacekeepers present.
If Africa continues to let the USA and other Western countries like Britain profit from our oil we will be left with nothing. There is then a choice between the supposed economic advantages of exploitation, which can bring with it corruption and over-reli-ance on a single export, and the even worse option of not making a profit from oil at all.
If we do not use foreign oil money and humanitarian aid in constructive ways now, then when the oil is gone we may have missed an opportunity to at least benefit from our exploitation in some way.