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Le Monde diplomatique: Nigeria: GoodWorks, bad behaviour


The United States has an unexpected ally in the commercial war that it is fighting in Africa against China and the old colonial powers. Andrew Young, a former mayor of Atlanta and associate of Martin Luther King, founded GoodWorks International to promote economic links between the US and Africa, Nigeria in particular. He hasn’t hesitated to exploit his African roots and forge links with dubious companies.

By Jean-Christophe Servant

On 19 December 2006, four months before the end of Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term as president of Nigeria, 850 movers and shakers gathered in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York to bid him farewell. It was a chance for the former army general, a convert to “democrazy”, to be among dear friends, including the sponsors of the evening of celebration and tribute: the three leading investors in Nigeria’s oil industry, Chevron, Exxon and Shell Nigeria.

Between courses, Hope Masters, daughter of the late Leon H Sullivan, the civil rights activist, hailed Obasanjo as a potential recipient of the Nobel peace prize. The Leon H Sullivan Foundation has organised crucial summits between private African-American and African business leaders. Although the former US secretary of state, Colin Powell, couldn’t make the dinner, he sent a message of friendship to Obasanjo.

Such recognition was deserved. As president, Obasanjo successfully attracted foreign investment to Nigeria, although it was accompanied by an increase in the number of private banks and by privatisations and lay-offs. Before Obasanjo’s election in 1999, Chevron-Texaco had provided a jet for his campaign trip to the United States. To the obvious pleasure of his guests, Obasanjo thanked them and reminded them that “oil is put there by God for the development of the areas where it is found”.

The evening was an apotheosis for its organiser, Andrew Young, an iconic civil rights figure and co-founder of the Atlanta-based consultancy and lobbying company GoodWorks International. According to Laolu Akande, US correspondent of the Nigerian newspaper The Guardian, GoodWorks “made its fortune from its relations with Obasanjo”: 40% of its turnover is with Nigeria – “millions of dollars”, according to The New York Times (1).

GoodWorks’s operations are international, which helps conceal its earnings of at least $300,000 a year per client from image-polishing activities in Nigeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, Benin and, more recently, Rwanda and Tanzania. It also works for leading US companies like Chevron, General Electric, Motorola, Monsanto and Coca-Cola, trying to penetrate African markets or consolidate their position there. It takes 1.5% of the value of any contracts secured by its clients.

Young has built up this impressive network of links with African heads of state and US businessmen over a long career. He is a board member of several of the US top 500 companies and is described by Forbes magazine as an “apostle of capitalism”. He entered the public arena alongside Martin Luther King during the struggle for civil rights, then joined the Democratic party and was elected to Congress before becoming the first African-American ambassador to the UN under President Carter. But the turning point in his career was two terms (1982-89) as mayor of Atlanta before it hosted the Olympic games of 1996. He reinvented the city as a flagship of enterprise and, in his own words, as “a model for Africa”.

Doing well by doing good

During the 1980s Young attacked “cold-hearted black millionaires who are probably going to hell and ought to vote Republican” (2). Subsequently he was a member of various policy committees and became one of the “black magicians” influencing the Bush administration: “The more I read about Paul Wolfowitz, the more I realised what we had in common. We had a common mentor in George Schulz (3). We had come from a completely different direction but found ourselves with a common agenda, to spread peace” (4)
Young’s business relations with Africa have been criticised. The sharpest suspicions have focused on his involvement with Nigeria and go beyond his friendly relationship with Obasanjo since the late 1970s. Despite its credo “we do well by doing good” (5), GoodWorks seems to represent the double face of black US economic involvement in “mother Africa” since the late 1990s, dealings supported by free trade agreements between the US and the “good students” of Africa.

La lettre du Continent, a newsletter of political, business and financial affairs in francophone Africa, described GoodWorks as the first of the African-American intermediaries who are “setting themselves up as the new levers of US power in Africa”. According to its editor, Antoine Glaser: “They may lead the way in public commitment to ethical principles like transparency in business dealings with Africa, but they are also directly involved with much-criticised individuals like the Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos (6). This can only get worse as China, which regularly exploits its status as a power untainted by colonialism, emerges as an economic rival [to the US] in Africa.”

People like Young exploit their reputation in the media and across sub-Saharan Africa as veterans of the civil rights struggle, as well as their African roots. They advance the US quest to reap the dividends of financial aid. “The term Françafrique is obsolete,” said Glaser. “We need to find a new word to describe the grip that these African-American consultants have secured over the continent’s business as subcontractors for leading US companies and for the State Department.” It is significant that GoodWorks has chosen to open its offices exclusively in countries benefiting from US customs preferences.

Even before revelations of relations between GoodWorks and Nigeria provoked US newspapers, the international justice movement and US campaigners for social rights had attacked the company. In 1999 Young accepted Nike’s invitation to lead a mission to its factories in southeast Asia. His report concluded there was “no evidence or pattern of abuse or mistreatment of workers”. A few weeks later an independent report denounced “unsafe, inhuman and abysmal conditions” in the same factories.

In February 2006 Wal-Mart (7) persuaded Young to lead its pressure group Working Families for Wal-Mart. His task was to restore the retailing giant’s image, particularly among the black community and the “hungry” whom Christ told us “to feed… good, fresh food”. But Young was forced to resign when his remarks about small storekeepers from ethnic minorities provoked accusations of racism. “I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough,” he said. “First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs, very few black people own these stores.” An embarrassed Wal-Mart representative said: “We are appalled by these comments. We are also dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights.”

Gendarmes of the system

In 2007, as the presidential election was fought in Nigeria, African-American websites attacked GoodWorks. Prexy Nesbitt of Chicago, another civil rights veteran and an architect of the US 1970s campaign against South African apartheid, said: “There’s a class of African Americans who feel no sense of responsibility, no shame, no ties to the [African] continent, who are incapable I think we see that with Condoleezza Rice. We see of playing any kind of role.  it even more clearly in some of the other appointments which have been recently made, like the new assistant secretary of state for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. So we see African Americans often emerging as functionaries of the system, the gendarmes, if you will, of the system for the re-colonisation of Africa by both the corporate and military establishments in the United States” (8).

GoodWorks exploited its relationship with Obasanjo, whom Young associated with “everything good in Africa since the 1960s”, to access decision-making circles in Africa. The journalist Ken Silverstein, an expert on business relations between the US and Africa, said of GoodWorks’ ethical pretensions: “Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin [recently said] that GoodWorks has proven that public-purpose capitalism is possible. If the public she refers to is composed of corrupt African leaders, their American cronies, and huge international energy conglomerates, she’s right. But if she was trying to say that GoodWorks is living up to its name when it comes to fighting African poverty, she couldn’t have been more wrong.”

GoodWorks’ directors include two African-Americans who have been US ambassadors to Nigeria: Howard Jeter and Walter Carrington. The head of its office in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Sharon Ikeazor, was formerly a lawyer in Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian office. Carlton A Masters, GoodWorks’s current head and co-founder, is a naturalised US citizen originally from Jamaica. In June 2005 he married Leon H Sullivan’s daughter at a ceremony in Abuja. One of the guests was Obasanjo, members of whose entourage joined Masters to form a company, Sunscope Investments, in Florida.

In 2006 the Abuja-based Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) appointed Masters as its special envoy on African diasporan relations. Nigerians living in the US wondered why their government, which already has competent diplomats in the US, would want to pay $500,000 a year to a lobbying company like GoodWorks. Steve Nwabuzor, president of the Nigerian Leadership Foundation, asked: “Does it mean there are no suitable Africans within Ecowas who can fill this position (9)?” Masters defended himself: “I fully intend to use this appointment to not only bring global attention to Africa’s needs, but also to strengthen relations between the US and the 15 African nations that comprise Ecowas.”

GoodWorks blames such criticism from both sides of the Atlantic on the Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar, an unsuccessful candidate in this April’s election. It accuses him of spreading lies throughout the Nigerian diaspora to further his personal ambitions. For months a campaign against corruption has provided a pretext for an exchange of press releases and revelations between supporters of Obasanjo’s protégé in the election, Umaru Yar’Adua, and those defending Abubakar, who has been accused of embezzlement.

The GoodWorks board refused to answer questions and seems embarrassed by the direct accusations directed against its business involvement in Africa. According to Femi Falana, a Nigerian lawyer and president of the West African Bar Association: “Andrew Young has never been interested in these issues. He is just here making money (10).” Young is also associated with the Nigerian company Suntrust Oil, which since 2002 has owned one of Nigeria’s most promising leases. As well as being a GoodWorks executive, Jeter is a board member of the Texas-based company ERHC Energy, which has been criticised for the way in which it obtained exploration licences in the joint development zone established by Nigeria and the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.

There is no legal reason why US lobbyists shouldn’t represent companies that seek to establish themselves within a country, as well as the country itself. They are entitled to do personal business with countries which have contracts with GoodWorks. But such relations, often opaque and irregular, can favour the pillaging of the resources that the people of Africa need so badly.

Connecting the dots

A recent scandal in Jamaica has shown how GoodWorks operates. Clive Mullings is an MP who speaks for the opposition Labour party on mining, energy and telecoms. He claims that bribes passed from two companies, Trafigura Beheer BV and GoodWorks, to Nigerian and Jamaican politicians, and that there was an international fraud related to bilateral agreements between the Nigerian and Jamaican state oil companies in the 1990s (11). GoodWorks’s involvement began in 2000, a year after Obasanjo came to power. At that time, Jamaica’s Conservative government asked Masters to help the Petroleum Company of Jamaica (PCJ) acquire oil from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Mullings said: “This is very strange given the fact that since 1978 the PCJ had no need for such assistance.”

Trafigura, an oil trading and maritime chartering company involved in similar dealings in South Africa, was brought in to buy the oil cheaply and to transport it. To secure its involvement, Trafigura was paid a percentage on each barrel carried; GoodWorks received 15% of the PCJ net earnings (12).

A scandal broke last year when it was disclosed that more than $0.5m had been wired from Amsterdam to the account of the Jamaican minister for information, Colin Campbell. In August 2006, Trafigura representatives, including its president, had met Jamaica’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller. The government said the money was a donation, but Trafigura called it a commercial transaction at a time when the contract was due for renegotiation. The Dutch authorities are investigating. Campbell resigned. Miller’s predecessor as prime minister, Percival James Patterson, who had initiated the agreement, became a member of GoodWorks’ management.

In July 2006 the Sullivan Foundation again held its summit in Abuja. Young has invited President Bush to the 2008 summit in Tanzania, whose government has hired GoodWorks for $375,000. The company will organise meetings in the US to counter negative reports on Tanzania in the US press. GoodWorks also acts for the Canadian mining company Barrick Golds, which has major interests in Tanzania (13).

Elections in Nigeria in April were accompanied by violence and irregularities, and led to the election of Umaru Yar’Adua, puppet of Obasanjo and a new client of GoodWorks. As Laolu Akande pointed out, the gala dinner was a chance for Obasanjo and GoodWorks “to start work on Yar’Adua’s candidature and image. The good spin consisted of explaining to America that although Yar’Adua had been governor of a province, Katsina, that had introduced sharia law, he had respected human rights and prevented the worst: the rise of radical Islamism.”

In Jamaica Clive Mullings continues his investigation of GoodWorks’ activities to “connect the dots and expose this international fraud.”

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