U.S. and West Africa: Strategic shift

According to the Oct. 4 issue of the Financial Times, Nigeria and Angola are expressing grave concern about U.S. plans to establish a military base in Sao Tome and Principe, within hailing distance of Abuja and Luanda.

With the souring of relations between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., the apparent impending attack on Iraq and the general instability in that region, U.S. oil giants have begun to look hungrily toward the oil wealth of West Africa.

After Colin Powell captured headlines by attacking Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg, he jetted off to Gabon – another major oil producer, though heretofore a satrap of France. Though Omar Bongo, the fabulously wealthy dictator of this land, shut down newspapers upon Powell’s arrival, the kind of venom that was directed at Mugabe was spared Bongo, a long-time friend of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson. No doubt the oil wealth of Gabon formed the basis for Powell’s talking points.

Though many may not recognize it, the roots of many African Americans are precisely in this region. About 150 years ago, Sao Tome was a major transshipment point of enslaved Africans to the western hemisphere. At this juncture, the U.S. was the major “rogue state” of the planet, persisting in perpetuating the slave trade, particularly to Brazil, despite the protests of progressive humanity.

As a recent issue of the New Yorker suggests, relations between Sao Tome and Nigeria have deteriorated, notably due to oil, thus the intended U.S. military base is viewed with even more trepidation in Abuja.

The U.S. may be fleeing to West Africa to escape the instability of the Middle East but this is a textbook example of going from the frying pan to the fire. Cote d’Ivoire is reeling from a military revolt, fueled by regional and religious tensions, that has seen the intervention of France, backed by the U.S. Liberia, a state created initially by “African-Americans,” has been unsettled by a growing rebellion that is rapidly gaining strength. Sierra Leone has barely left behind a ghastly conflict that featured rebels hacking off limbs and noses and this land – populated still by the descendants of many who once resided in North America – is now being patrolled by UN forces. The seething unrest in the Cassamance region of Senegal will not be alleviated by the tragic death of hundreds due to a ferry accident of late. Both Congos are still being rocked by ongoing disturbances, while Equatorial Guinea – another new “oily” friend of Washington – continues to fester under a highly unpopular government.

The last thing West Africa needs is the dispatching of U.S. troops, but that is apparently what the White House intends. Friends of Africa should express their displeasure to Congressman Donald Payne, the Congressional Black Caucus point-person now that Cynthia McKinney has been forced into (temporary) retirement, and to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner, who recently completed a trip to Gabon.





Gerald Horne is professor of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The author can be reached at gchorne@email.unc.edu