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Africa Path: Nigeria: US Marines, AFRICOM & the Niger Delta

June 29, 2007 04:10 PM
Recently the National Geographic magazine published a feature piece on the Niger Delta “Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta“. For those familiar with the issues of the Niger Delta there was really nothing that has not been reported by human rights environmental activists and Human Rights Watch over the past 15 years. What is new and cause for concern is the article “Nigeria and the United States: Convergent Interests” published by the Center for International Policy. A few months back I was contacted via my blog by a US contractor called Carol Chapital asking if I was willing to assist on a project in Nigeria. 

We are preparing a study which is required to be reviewed by subject matter experts. Your name was provided as an expert. If your name is inappropriate with the academic subject experts, I apologize for the inconvenience.

It was all a bit “cloak and dagger” as they wanted my mailing address which I wasn’t prepared to provide without knowing who they were and what the whole thing was about. Finally because I was intrigued and wanted to know more the conversation followed through to the point when I received a proposal by the actual contractors “Delex Systems Inc“. It took a 5 minute scan of their website to figure out that they were an American military and intelligence outfit undertaking contracts for the US government – check out the “leadership” – all ex US military of some sort. 

This is the letter I received.

Dear Ms Ekine
Delex Systems Inc is writing a cultural study of behalf of the US Marine Corp on ethnic groups in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Part of our task is that we have our studies reviewed by recognized experts. Your work on ethnic groups in the Niger Delta [Research on women and state/multinational violence in the Niger Delta]is high regarded in the academic world [unknown to me but quite flattering] and we were interested in soliciting a bid from you for an academic review. The cultural study is on the Ijo [Ijaw]

The letter goes on to state number of pages and hours anticipated and asks me for an hourly rate to cover about 40 hours. Needless to say I sent a one line response that I was not interested in the work. I have been told that the US military are already operating in the Niger Delta on an advisory capacity but I haven’t actually got any proof so if anyone has please let me know. The reason I am drawing attention to this at this point in time is because this contract appears to tie in with the piece published by the Center for International Policy.

In order to manage this policy, the U.S. Department of Defense just announced the establishment of an African military command—AFRICOM—to spearhead an “oil and terrorism” policy, which will oversee the deployment of U.S. forces in the area and supervise distribution of money, materiel and military training to regional militaries and proxies. Pentagon analysts and generals claim that vast “uncontrolled spaces” in Saharan and Sahelian Africa, which are said to include large portions of northern Nigeria, are rife with terrorists seeking to damage the United States, even though the evidence for such claims is woefully thin. Nevertheless, a $500 million “Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative” (TSCTI), which will tie African militaries to American policies, is in the works. Given the internal security problems often found in resource rich countries, it is much more likely that the newly-acquired skills and equipment will be directed against domestic opponents than global terrorists. 

The contradictions of this policy are evident in Nigeria, which currently provides 10-12 percent of U.S. oil imports and serves as the cornerstone of the strategy even as it demonstrates its deeply-flawed reasoning. Since the end of 2005, the on- and offshore oilfields of the Niger Delta––the major source of the country’s oil and gas––have essentially become ungovernable as a site of on-going and violent contestation between local ethnic groups, oil corporations and the Nigerian government. This violence results in repeated reductions and shutdowns of oil, sometimes exceeding 500,000 barrels per day. Moreover, reports the World Bank, some 80 percent of Nigeria’s oil monies flow to one percent of the population, while 75 percent of the country’s people live on roughly one dollar per day. In other words, the United States is relying on increased oil production from the African Oil Triangle to reduce its dependence on Middle East petroleum, but could replace one set of insecurities with another.

Clearly the Nigerian Government is planning on working with the US military in the Niger Delta – whether this will continue in a low profile advisory capacity or escalate into something more is not clear. But the US Marines / US Government are not going to carry out their own research into the region unless they are going to use the information to pursue a specific set of agendas presumably with the knowledge of the present Nigerian regime. Back in 2003, The Heritage Foundation published a piece calling for the US to “consider expanding its U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to include Africa ” 

With its vast natural and mineral resources, Africa remains strategically important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century. According to the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.1 (Sub-Saharan Africa currently provides the U.S. with 16 percent of its oil needs.)

In addition, Africa has the world’s fastest rate of population growth. The continent’s population has doubled since 1970 to nearly 900 million and is expected to rise to 1.2 billion by 2020.2 This will be greater than the populations of North America and Europe combined.

The US government obviously took note as AFRICOM – US military command in Africa is set to be launched although initially it will be based in Germany for some reason. US forces are already based in Djibouti and more recently Command Ethiopia. The cover for creating AFRICOM, which includes Nigeria, is hardly new – risk from al Qaeda linked terrorists on the continent but the truth goes way beyond al Qaeda to protection of US commercial and military interests on the continent. Another interesting dynamic is China and it’s commercial interests in Africa. This begs the question of how the two forces – US military interests and Chinese commercial interests will operate side by side. For example in Nigeria, China has just signed a $billion oil deal while the US is involved on some level militarily and both countries are operating or will be operating in the Niger Delta. One school of thought is that the military presence in Africa is more likely to be a “countervailing civilian presence” whose aim is to “to lie low and work through African institutions to train troops and strengthen security,” than actual armed personnel. They would continue to be based in the Horn of Africa and Egypt for easy deployment if and when necessary. However the Convergent Interests piece (see link below) commenting on Nigeria states

Nigeria, currently providing 10-12 percent of U.S. imports, serves as the cornerstone of this Gulf of Guinea strategy. But since the end of 2005, the on- and off-shore oilfields of the Niger Delta––the major source of Nigerian oil and gas––have essentially become ungovernable. Political instability and violent conflict have deepened to the point that some of the oil and oil-service companies working there, including Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon-Mobil, and Julius Berger, feel that their “social license to operate” is rapidly eroding. In 2003 and 2004, armed insurgencies and attacks on oil installations cut national oil output by forty percent. More recently, the emergence of a shadowy group of insurgents in the western Delta in late 2005—the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)— marked a major escalation of insurgent activity. In the first three months of 2006, $1 billion in oil revenues were lost and national output was cut by one third. The escalating political crisis in the Delta threatens American energy security, the security of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and, indeed, the entire West African region as a source of reliable energy. 

Approaching 140 million citizens, Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa, it is also a major supplier of petroleum to American and European markets. During the next two decades, it is expected to become even more critical, along with other oil-producing countries in the West African “Oil Triangle.”

To put the scale of wealth into perspective and to emphasise the stakes for Nigeria, the US and more recently China, the World Bank reported that 80% of oil wealth is owned by 1% of the population; 70% of private wealth is abroad whilst 3/4 of the country live on about $1 a day – at least 15 million of those live in the Niger Delta (there are estimated 12 million Ijaws – an ethnic group that covers a very broad range of languages and city states)- though as the latest census did not include ethnic origin that number is somewhat arbitrary in 2007). President Obasanjo has made it clear that his policy towards the Niger Delta is to eliminate the militants and subjugate the non-violent movement for self-determination and resource control that started with the late Ken Saro Wiwa. It is therefore not surprising that the US has become directly involved with this Nigeria as part of their overall AFRICOM policy and in Nigeria’s case to protect their petroleum interests. Obasanjo will soon leave but the PDP will no doubt win the elections and realistically the same group of elite forces will continue to run the country so it is highly unlikely that there will be any changes in Nigeria’s relationship with the US.


Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta

Nigeria and the United States: Convergent Interests

For the article with all working links go to…

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