Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Corporation as a socially irresponsible "person" 

The behaviour of Shell in Nigeria and with the financial community worldwide got me thinking deeply about the legal nature of firms. If they are legally considered "persons", what kind of persons are they. Fortunately, that's exactly the theme of a forthcoming book written by Joel Bakan: the Corporation. It's also a video documentary as well as a website that is worth visiting.

According to Bakan, a corporation is a psychopathic person. He makes four assumptions that have far-reaching implications for the issues regularly analysed here at African Oil Politics:

• Corporations are required by law to elevate their own interests above those of others, making them prone to prey upon and exploit others without regard for legal rules or moral limits.
• Corporate social responsibility, though sometimes yielding positive results, most often serves to mask the corporation's true character, not to change it.
• The corporation's unbridled self interest victimizes individuals, the environment, and even shareholders, and can cause corporations to self-destruct, as recent Wall Street scandals reveal.
• Despite its flawed character, governments have freed the corporation from legal constraints through deregulation, and granted it ever greater power over society through privatization.

If corporations are the most powerful institutions in the world, oil companies like Shell are the main source of unchecked power you can find in Africa: they don’t really create jobs, the wealth they generate doesn’t trickle down to the general population and they are unwilling to deal with the social consequences of their actions. Only a concerted effort can make them accountable for the negative outcomes of their operations on the environment, human rights and development.

Behind the mask, the real face of corporations is that of a socially irresponsible person.

Beta list 

Stories you will read soon on this site:

1- Libya's evolution & US policy
2- Gabon & Equatorial Guinea
3- Overview of West African gas projects
4- Great Lakes region (war & petroleum in Ituri)
5- Sahel region (Mauritania, Niger)
6- Nigeria, revenue distribution debate
7- US engagement in oily war-torn places
8- Eireview process
9- Blogging and the paradox of plenty
10- Ivory coast oil projects

Friday, January 30, 2004

Fridayblog: blogging about blogging in Davos 

This fridayblog will be shorter than the first one. Not only because no new entry has been posted on Blogafrica since January 21, but also because Ethan didn’t post anything since January 24. I don’t know this is just a technical problem. Guys at Geekcorps and allAfrica must have been too busy.

I’ve been quite busy myself, researching stories, following leads, posting. I was so busy I didn’t find time to comment Ethan’s latest post before he (probably) left Davos. Having noticed that people asked him lots of questions about blogging, he questioned that interest and offered some explanations.

It’s not clear to me why Davos folks are so interested in the blog phenomenon. But clearly something about blogging captures people's attention. I'm wondering if it's a reflection of a Davos attitude towards media. Media are pretty clearly treated like second-class citizens here. Working journalists have brown badges, which prevent them from getting into most sessions and some areas. My guess is that most of the folks here are so important, they're well beyond courting media and expect. So perhaps Davos folks are interested in blogging because they’re willing to overturn the media establishment.

It seems quite clear to me that people who are used to controlling information are the most puzzled by a communication platform they can’t control – unlike corporate media – and that can drive traffic through smart links and take advantage of Google automated ranking system - unlike traditional alternative media.

I wrote something on the issue, but didn’t send it. When I went back later and checked the comments, I found an interesting message from Ethan in which he offers an honest account of what rules the so-called Davos bloggers had to follow:

The truth is, those of us blogging from within Davos did our best to hold ourselves to journalistic standards. The journalistic rule for Davos, as I understand it, is "background, not for attribution". In other words, you can say, "A prominent economist says..." but not "Nancy Birdsall of the CDG says,". And, for the most part, Davos bloggers played by the rules. It will be interesting to see if that's true next year as well... (...) I'm very constrained by the fact that I'd like to be invited to Davos next year as well. If I start spilling these secrets left and right, it's unlikely that I'll be admitted again. So the question becomes, "How do you take advantage of being inside the door without getting thrown out the door?"

In a way, Davos Bloggers are like embedded journalists in Iraq, except the most dangerous thing that can happen to them isn’t getting killed, but being refused access to next year’s rally. Beside, unlike embedded journalists in Iraq, they can’t even name the generals who have something interesting to say. Ethan’s comment was a welcome reality-check piece; as refreshing as Iggy’s post. The discussion remains open...

Shell in Nigeria: CSR, oil reserves & legal action 

After PR blunders in the early 1990’s, Shell underwent a makeover and became a case study in corporate social responsibility (CSR). In order to learn how this policy translates today into effective change in the field, I started tracking Shell’s new CRS initiatives in Nigeria. Chris Finlayson being the new managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria (SciN), the speech he made at the Commonwealth Business Forum, in December 2003, became my starting point.

The speech - a model for any CSR spokesperson - lists the values of Shell’s CSR programme in the Niger Delta: sustainable development, fight against poverty, contribution to socio-economic growth through investment as well as payment of royalties and taxes to the Nigerian government, transparency, good governance, human rights, protection of the environment, community development programmes, and so on. It’s an excellent catalogue of good intentions for a company that shares part of the responsibility in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. I was about to start fact-checking these assertions when Shell’s latest PR blunder occurred: Shell “reclassified” its reserves, in particular in Nigeria.

On January 9th, Shell shocked the financial markets and oil industry by downgrading nearly four billion barrels of its “proven” reserves to “probable”. At a stroke, this wiped one-fifth off a measure most observers use to value oil companies. The firm's shares dived. Almost as infuriating to investors was the fact that the chairman was not there to deliver the bad news personally. Long regarded as aloof, brusque and disdainful in his dealings with the financial community—in sharp contrast to the genteel, diplomatic style of most of his predecessors—this no-show struck many as the final straw. Sir Philip's excuse, in an e-mail sent later to employees, was that this was essentially a technical adjustment, and that his presence would not have been useful since, being in a pre-results quiet period, he could not add any commentary. His e-mail did, however, concede that some people might think that this was a mistake.

Even some of Sir Philip's friends were shocked that this key figure was revealed to the market in such a summary fashion. They doubt that he can survive for the remaining 18 months of his term, fearing that no amount of apologising now—his advisers are working flat-out on a campaign combining explanation with fulsome apology at the results conference—can save him. His task is especially difficult, not only because this is by far the biggest downgrading of “proven” reserves ever by an oil firm, but also because the man in charge of exploration and production, known as the “upstream” end of the oil industry, when the reserves were overbooked as proven was, er, Sir Philip.

The latest news is that Shell is facing a $1 billion legal action in the United Stated. How does this corporate governance case relate to my corporate social responsibility investigation? I started to wonder how it’s possible to trust Shell on his CSR policy when it has been able to mislead the financial markets for such a long time. Then British NGO Christian Aid released its CSR report, Behind The Mask: The Real Face Of Corporate Social Responsibility.

The thesis of the report is that not only do companies like Shell use CSR as a mere PR tool, but that this tool is “a shield behind which to campaign against environmental and human rights regulation” . This apparently echos the findings made by Deborah Doane over three years ago. However, after reading the report, I do believe it deserves a separate post that will come pretty soon.

US presidential campaign & the “energy security” debate 

Both the European Union and the United States currently imports over 50% of their demand for oil, and, if nothing is done, this figure will rise to 70% in 20-30 years time. The current quest for energy dominance lead by US and EU energy firms is the result and the driver of a trend that impacts foreign policy choices – pro or against the war in Iraq, pro or against this or that African dictator whose country happens (surprise!) to produce oil in large quantity.

In order to somehow fight this trend, the EU did something last week that didn’t capture much headlines: Romano Prodi launched the "European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology" Platform, which means Old Europe is showing the way to Brand New America - the Empire. Now that the motives put forth by the US administration to attack Iraq are being seriously reconsidered, Americans have to open a debate initiated before the war by people like Jeremy Rifkin who was already questioning the energy security motives behind the conflict. In a way, the debate is being re-initiated very interestingly by the people who launched the Apollo Alliance.

An unusual alliance of labor, environmental, civil rights, business, and political leaders... laid out a vision for a "New Apollo Project" to create 3.3 million new jobs and achieve energy independence in ten years. Named after President Kennedy's moon program, which inspired a major national commitment to the aerospace industry, the Apollo Alliance aims to unify the country behind a ten-year program of strategic investment for clean energy technology and new infrastructure.

This suggests that energy security – the way it impacts jobs at home and human rights abroad - might become a key issue in the US presidential campaign. The best way to make the options crystal clear to everyone is to put the issue the way Scott Elkins, from the Sierra Club, did:

“Do you want to invest in a future that is built on the energy sources of the 1950s, oil, gas and coal, or do you want to invest in a future of clean, renewable, local energy sources that create jobs while protecting the environment?”

Asked like this, the question makes easier to see the choice made by the EU. We also better understand the choice made by the current US government: from Enron to Iraq, from Halliburton to Africa, from the DoE to the DoD, the answer is the same. The quest for traditional energy sources leads to choices in foreign policy that basically lead to military solutions. Issues such as corporate social responsibility, human rights, transparency, corporate accountability take the back seat in the illusive drive towards “energy independence”. (Everybody should know that the demand for oil is bigger than the supply. Oil depletion is real: it's not a question of if, but when.)

What is the choice made by the democratic presidential candidates? Since nobody clearly asked them the question yet, I decided to check their reaction towards the recent Apollo Alliance. Kerry, Dean, Clark and Kucinich back the Alliance (I don’t know what Edwards thinks; and please, don’t ask me about Lieberman).

Kerry made things very clear:

America’s energy security depends on domestic, renewable energy sources. The Apollo Alliance is setting a course to that independence. In contrast, the Bush administration is continuing to take America down a path of dependence on foreign oil and failing to invest in new energy technologies. As president, I will reverse the Bush assault on our environment and end the control the energy lobby has over our government.

These words echo what he said about Big Business’ role in the current administration:

I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the big drug companies that get in the way, the big oil, and the special interests who now call the White House their home: We're coming. You're going.

I don’t quote Kerry to say how cool he is but to show how far the energy security issue goes: it’s about what kind of democracy (at home and abroad) Americans really want.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Engine of oil wars: states, rebels and corporations  

The issue of the lawfulness of the American war in Iraq has overshadowed the other themes tackled in the latest Human Rights Watch World Report 2004. The links between African civil wars and natural resources is one of the themes analysed in the report, but not mentioned in the media.

One chapter focuses on an interesting discussion by Arvind Ganesan and Alex Vines of the main theory behind the economics of civil conflict: drawing on the work of Paul Collier and his colleagues, this research field looks for the cause of civil wars in the rebels’ greed and grievance. Ganesan and Vines criticize this approach for shedding light on only one part of the problem, saying little about resource-rich states themselves.

Although examination of the nexus between resources, revenues, and civil war is critically important, the picture as presented in the just-described “greed vs. grievance” theory is distorted by an overemphasis on the impact of resources on rebel group behavior and insufficient attention to how government mismanagement of resources and revenues fuels conflict and human rights abuses... if the international community is serious about curbing conflict and related rights abuses in resource-rich countries, it should insist on greater transparency in government revenues and expenditures and more rigorous enforcement of punitive measures against governments that seek to profit from conflict. (...) When unaccountable, resource-rich governments go to war with rebels who often seek control over the same resources, pervasive rights abuse is all but inevitable. Such abuse, in turn, can further destabilize conditions, fueling continued conflict. Factoring the greed of governments and systemic rights abuse into the “greed vs. grievance” equation does not minimize the need to hold rebel groups accountable, but it does highlight the need to ensure that governments too are transparent and accountable. (...) Political will and pressure, including targeted U.N. sanctions where appropriate, can motivate opaque, corrupt governments to be more open and transparent.

This, of course, offers a radical departure from the US approach to African security: where US officials view terrorism as the main threat to their interests, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs think that resources-rich states (like African oil states) are the real threats to the stability of the continent and the welfare of its populations.

By failing to pressure Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and other African oil-states, western governments (the US administration in particular) and companies add fuel to current and future wars in Africa. That responsibility is really problematic given the fact that western countries are less likely to contribute troops to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa.

And though Africa's former colonizers have sent troops in recent years to areas ravaged by conflict (...) the major powers have repeatedly made it clear that they will not make the necessary commitment to prevent the massive human rights violations in Africa that result from conflict.

This is a new confirmation of the conclusions we drew from James Dunningan’s article: African wars may be among the deadliest conflicts on earth, they are not likely to be of concern to Americans or other western citizens.

Western nations are increasingly shying away from peacekeeping operations, particularly in Africa, according to UN officials and diplomats. (...) [T]roops provided by industrial nations has been falling while those from developing countries have been on the rise. (...)The UN Mission in DRC, one of the major peacekeeping operations in Africa, has about 10,400 troops from 54 nations. But only 10 are industrial nations, and their numbers are small: Belgium (four soldiers), Canada (seven), Denmark (two), France (eight), Ireland (two), Norway (five), Portugal (six), Sweden (97), Switzerland (two), Spain (three) and the United Kingdom (five). In contrast, the largest contingents are from developing nations: Uruguay (1,813), South Africa (1,404), Bangladesh (1,327) and Pakistan (1,084).

This implies that developing nations’ troops are the ones who have to clean up the mess created by corrupt African regimes and their friends from the global western elite: politicians, corporate managers, lawyers, and so on. Natural resources are the main link between those who make deals in Davos and those who die in mass graves in Africa.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Piracy : a perfect rationale for militarising the Gulf of Guinea 

Stressing the bigger role the US navy and marines would play in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, US General James Jones declared last year: "The carrier battle groups of the future may not spend six months in the Mediterranean sea, but I'll bet they'll spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa". For those who where wondering what the mission of US navy in the Gulf of Guinea would be, I've found the perfect rationale: piracy. It’s one ofthe conclusions any African oil analyst would draw from the 2004 report of the London-based International Maritime Bureau:

Pirate attacks worldwide increased in frequency and violence last year, with a total of 445 incidents reported compared with 370 in 2002, the ICC International Maritime Bureau reported today. (...) Indonesian waters continue to be the most piracy-prone, with 121 reported incidents in 2003, followed by Bangladesh with 58 attacks and Nigeria with 39. Attacks off Nigeria almost tripled compared with last year to 39, making Nigerian waters the most dangerous in Africa for attacks on shipping.

If you're not convinced, I advise you to check these maps. They clearly show how piracy has become widespread on the coast, from Senegal to Nigeria. When reading the findings of the report, one should have in mind an article published earlier this month by the Washington-based Israeli energy security specialist Gal Luft:

Saudi Arabia is not the only major oil producer vulnerable to terror. Many non-Middle Eastern oil producers, primarily in Africa, the former Soviet Union and south Asia, face the threat of Islamist terrorists. Nigeria, half of which is under Islamic Sharia law, is home to the largest part of Africa's oil reserves, and is the fifth largest oil supplier to the U.S.: It was labeled by the Washington Post last year "The Next Hotbed of Islamic Radicalism."Osama bin Laden is known to have sent emissaries to Nigeria in an effort to unite Islamic groups under the umbrella of al Qaeda. U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Howard Jeter warned recently that Nigeria faces real threat of al Qaeda attack because of its close ties with Washington. And indeed, in February 2003, al Jazeera television aired a message allegedly from bin Laden listing Nigeria as one of six countries which needed to be "liberated" from America's "enslavement."

Those who regurlaly visit this blog should by now have quite a clear view of US assessment of threats to its interests in Africa: Al Qaeda seems everywhere in Africa; in the North, in the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa and now in the Gulf of Guinea. How do they intend to fight this ubiquitous enemy? I'll reveal the US anti-terror strategy in Africa in a forthcoming post.

US corporate media and the Halliburton case 

In my previous "oilopoly" post, I promised to tell you more about the laws of this corporate board game when you would come back. Today, I will discuss what happens when an oilpoly story breaks out.

First, corporate media usually tries to ignore the story because a genuine oilopoly story has potentially damaging political outcomes. That’s been the case with the Halliburton bribe case in Nigeria. The story has been around for one month now, but no major US daily dared writing the full story. That’s a classical example of media blackout.

The conservative French daily newspaper Le Figaro wrote last month that “the Paris court contemplates an eventual indictment of the present United States’ vice president, Richard Cheney, in his capacity as former CEO of Halliburton.” The American media, however, has been all but silent on the subject. The first reference to appear in a major US daily occupied all of nine brief paragraphs in the Washington Post January 21. The newspaper buried on page A23 a report that the second highest official in the US government was under investigation for authorizing bribes. The Post article made no mention of any possible indictment of Cheney, only noting that the bribes were allegedly paid while he was Halliburton’s chief executive, from 1995 to 2000.

Wire service reports on the investigation into Cheney have been available for weeks from Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press, and excerpts have appeared in such daily newspapers as Newsday, the Dallas Morning News and even the ultra-right Washington Times, controlled by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. But not a word has appeared in the New York Times, nor has the subject been addressed in the nightly news broadcasts of the major television networks. (...) [T]here is virtually no media interest in the ongoing probe into $180 million in bribes in which the vice president of the United States may be directly implicated.

This is just one example of the systematic political vetting of the “news” by the American mass media. Any development that tends to expose or compound the crisis of the Bush administration, and the political establishment as a whole, is routinely blacked out or relegated to a footnote. This media blackout, however, is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, as further investigations into bribery in Nigeria unfold.

The media will fail to investigate this story, acting as if it’s not interesting. They basically take a minimal “wait & see” stance and won’t do background check on key people involved in the case, nor will they try to investigate the African part of the story. Finally, if and when the case makes it to court, corporate media will try to pick up a detail and make it bigger than the case itself. It’s exactly what happened in France with the Elf: a lot of media buzz was focused on the shoes of former minister Jean-Louis Dumas!

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The arc of insensibility, part 2: lessons from StrategyPage 

James Dunningan pulished an eye-opening article: There are Ten Wars You Should Worry About.

With several dozen wars going on around the world at the moment, it's difficult to pin down the ten most in need of our attention. So we provide two top ten lists. One lists the wars that are most likely to be of concern to Americans.

The first list - Wars That Matter Most (or should) to Americans - does not include one single war in Africa, despite the fact that the region is considered highly unstable and so on.

1- the War on Terror
2- Israeli-Palestinian conflict
3- North Korea
4- Iraq
5- Chechen War
6- South Asian Islamic Radicals
7- Greater Albania
8- Columbia
9- Taiwan Straits
10- Iran

Then, you have the second list: Most Violent Wars - These are the wars that generate the most casualties and mayhem.

Here, you find two african wars: Sudan and Congo.

Sudan. You don't see much of this on TV because it's pretty dangerous even for journalists. Raids, battles, sieges, slaving, a regular medieval misery of mayhem. While peace has been made in the south, another rebellion has broken out in the western part of the country.

Congo. While this war is also winding down, the large number of armed men wandering around the countryside, killing and pillaging as they go, keeps the death toll high.

Dunningan doesn't say a word about the civil wars going on in Nigeria's Delta region or in Uganda, but that's beside the point - which is quite simple: wars in Africa may be among those that "generate the most casualties and mayhem", they are less "likely to be of concern to Americans".

Monday, January 26, 2004

Arc of insenbility 

The war on terror and the quest for oil introduce a new vision of US strategic interests in Africa. But one paradigm has remained the same in 10 years of US African policy: concepts borrowed from thermodynamics are used as justifications for US policy on the continent.

Ten years ago, Kaplan’s article (the coming anarchy) spread the vision of a chaotic continent, mired in endless violence, overpopulation, environmental stress and diseases. Today, the notion of “arc of instability” – which used to be applied to the Balkans, the Middle East and the South Pacific regions – now encompass whole regions of Africa; from west to east, north to south of Sahara. This is quite remarkable, given the fact that the same idea (be it anarchy or instability) is used to justify two entirely different sets of policy.

Written shortly after the fiasco of Mogadishu (October 1993) and published shortly before the collapse of Central Africa into chaos, Kaplan’s article (February 1994) somehow justified US non-intervention policy in the Rwandan genocide (April-May 1994). According to Romeo Dallaire and Philip Gourevitch, Clinton - still haunted by the murder of 18 American soldiers in Somalia - decided to do absolutely nothing in Rwanda.

The UN Security Council resolution that cut the UN force by 90% was largely due to pressure from the U.S. Government, and the then US ambassador to the UN - a woman by the name of Madeline Albright - even demanded that all UN troops by removed from Rwanda. The Clinton Administration, you see, was still reeling from the experience of military involvement in Somalia (think Black Hawk Down) and drafted a Presidential Directive that put extremely stringent standards for U.S. involvement in UN peacekeeping operations (aka a way to ensure we wouldn't have to really be involved in UN peacekeeping unless we had control of everything and it was in our political and economic interest). The Directive also contained language that stated the U.S. should urge other nations not to become involved in missions the U.S. was not prepared to become involved in itself.

On the other hand, the notion of “arc of instability” is used today as the main justification for US military deployment in Africa – be it the Horn of Africa, The Sahel Region or West Africa. The new "wisdom" is crafted in blunt sentences:

Africa is replete with ungoverned spaces for attracting the merchants of terrorism, radical fundamentalism, weapons of mass destruction, and all kinds of criminality, and I think we’re going to see more of that...The estimate is in the next 10 years, we will get 25 percent of our oil from there.

The issue of anarchy (or lack of stability) of the continent is thus beside the point. The message is very simple: the national interest of the United States is the only thing that matters: Yesterday, the lack of interest on (and for) the continent justified non-intervention; today the quest for oil and the war on Islamic fundamentalism make it compulsory for the United States to protect its African soft-belly. Africa’s stability or instability is relative; only the interests of the only superpower are absolute.

Trying to oppose Clinton and Bush on this issue is nonsense.


Powell wrote today in the Russian daily Izvestia that:

Russia's democratic system seems not yet to have found the essential balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government... Political power is not yet fully tethered to law.

Imagine the weight these words would carry if he was to say the same thing to the leaders of african oil states who are less democratic than Putin...

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Beta list 

Every week-end, I’ll post a short list of 10 stories that I decided to skip in the meantime, but that you will read about soon here and that you can start tracking on your favourite feed or news engine. The list goes like this:

1-3: stories that’ll will surely be published;
4-7: stories that will be published unless something bigger happens – in which case these stories will make it into the next list;
8-10: stories that are interesting, but require more research or juice to get published

Now that you know the system, you can try to influence the editorial content of this blog and be proactive – like sending me some juicy stuff or killing a story before it is published; in this case, you need to argue your point with data, links or more interesting stories. It’s the only way you can bribe the editor.

Enough said. Here's the selection of this week-end:

1- Arc of instability, terror and oil: Western Sahara, Mauritania, Niger
2- US energy security dilemma : resource wars vs. clean energy
3- Shell’s new Corporate Social Responsibility in Nigeria
4- Overview of West African gas projects
5- US-Lybia relations
6- Oil & gas revenue distribution debate in Nigeria
7- Great Lakes regional oil politics, from Ituri to Uganda
8- World Bank investments policy in the extractive industries
& theEireview
9- Sudan: US engagement in oily war-torn countrie(s)
10- Blogging & the paradox of oil plenty

It’s now time for you to comment: you can use all our resources to do your own research.

Friday, January 23, 2004

My first fridayblog: back to geekdom 

Hey, we’re on friday. Time for my first fridayblog.

Question: what is a fridayblog? It’s just like friday wear, except you can do it with a tie or naked. I decided to start it today because this week brought a lot of interesting online adventures, but:

a) I didn’t find time to write about them;
b) they are not the main focus of this blog, but they might be part of the “forward-looking views” and "related issues" side of the blog. Time will tell.

Three years ago, I resigned from my position as an internet strategist at a European entertainment company; in part because I wanted to get more involved with African affairs and international relations. Though I remain a geek and strategist, when I spotted “energy security” as a topic that would impact the future of Africa, I didn’t imagine how fast things would move: 9/11, Tora-Bora, Iraq, wars in Africa, and so on.

Last month, I was crazy enough to start this blog: African Oil Politics.

The blog was first spotted by people connected to Blogafrica that had gone online one month before (how strange!). Akwe, also the editor at allAfrica liked the blog and wondered if I would register African Oil Politics in their catalog. Of course, I thought. That was last month. Later on, I discovered that she was (among many other things) behind the PeaceAfrica blog, the first registered blog on the Blogafrica catalog. I started my exploration of the other blogs I didn’t know about, and very soon got hooked to Ethan’s Weblog. Ethan Zuckerman is the über-guru of Geekcorps, one the originators of Blogafrica.

Early this week, Kwindla expressed his interest for this blog. I didn’t know then that he was the CTO of allAfrica as well as the über-geek behind xml::comma and xymbol. I think it’s at that moment that I realised that I was now part of a community of like-minded Africa-focused bloggers. Suddenly, I had this feeling of being finally at home, three years after leaving the internet in order to get closer to African affairs; I followed the life of other Africa-obsessed netizens and modestly started to send comments on Blogafrica when something – like the Blogafrica workshop in Accra - caught my attention.

Two days ago, I read a post sent by Ethan(the man on the right, the one who’s got his blog in Cambridge and his heart in Accra): he was replying to my request about the profile of the people who came to the workshop. Following the link to a post he made on his own blog, I understood that he was now in Davos, networking and blogging like crazy. One of his posts mentioned Joi Ito’s blog that is focused on his whereabouts in Davos. It’s as funny and wity as Ethan’s Weblog. And you know what? After a discussion with Ethan and Gillian from Witness, Joi was convinced to “visit Africa”.

Things are getting full circle with the announcement of a partnership between Microsoft and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) whose goal is to bridge the digital divide. Here we go again! Since the People at Geekcorps, Blogafrica or Witness were there first, it should be justice that they get a piece of the budget so that we can all turn our shared vision (and their PR campaign) into a reality. I have a dream...

My contribution to the WMD inspection team in Libya 

a dirty bomb detector

Thursday, January 22, 2004

US-Libya: useful WMD drama pays off 

It’s been now one month since Libya made public colonel Gaddafi’s decision to renounce efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Time will tell how advanced this program was. We’ve been quite sceptical so far and the fast pace of events only confirm our doubts. In order to remind everybody how quickly things have changed, it’s worth remembering the controversy surrounding the election of Libya's ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji as chair of UN Human Rights Commission in January 2003.

Both the United States and Israel (a country that is not a member of the commission) condemned the election: "It is a new low in the cynical manipulation of UN bodies by parties who preach human rights to others but refrain from practicing them at home," declared the Israeli ambassador to UN offices in Geneva. Today, all this is history. Here’s a list of events that can be considered giant steps on the road to Libya’s total reintegration into the global power game.

Two days ago, US president George Bush praised colonel Gaddafi in his State of the Union address. Given the political gain this represents for Bush and Blair, it wasn’t really a surprise; he was quick to describe Gaddafi’s decision as a result of both the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the showdown with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. As cynical as this may seem, the State of the Union address is an important move towards lifting economic sanctions and kick-starting a new partnership with a country portrayed for years as a rogue state.

Now, by pretending to eliminate WMD he does not possess, the colonel has given a huge political bonus to Bush and Blair, a way for them to evade censure for shamelessly lying their nations into the Iraq war. They will reward Khadaffy by halting efforts to overthrow him, slowly lifting sanctions, and allowing U.S. and British oil firms to resume exploiting Libya's high-grade oil. That's politics.

The same day, we learned that two separate US congressional delegations were set for a visit to Libya. One delegation, lead by Congressman Lantos (ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee) is official and will report his findings to Congress and to the Bush administration. Mr Lantos is considered the toughest critics of Libya on human rights and other grounds. The second delegation, lead by Republican Congressman Curt Weldon (the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) is unofficial. Both will visit Libya this week-end and announced meetings with Gaddafi.

On their way to meet colonel Gaddafi, they will probably have a chat with Libyan prime minister Shukri Ghanem, who is currently attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. It is the first time in 20 years that Libya and the forum resume relations. Ghanem will probably use this stage to promote Libya’s new economic liberalism and market reforms. It’s the perfect setting for networking with investors who can now openly do business with this important oil and gas producing regime. Between Iraq – the first official theme – and Libya, investors will select the country that offers the best mix of opportunity and security - the second official theme of the forum. I guess Libya is an excellent alternative to war-torn Iraq.

The impression of a risk-free investment will be made more vivid as people will hear the unbelievable truth:

Son of the Libyan leader disclosed a Libyan, British and American agreement to training Libyan military personnel, but denied that this agreement means the establishment of military bases on the Libyan territories. Seif al-Islam al-Qathafi said that this agreement was reached during the talks on the mass destruction weapons that took place in past months. In December, 2003, Seif al-Islam announced a visit to be held by the US President George W. Bush and the British prime minister Tony Blair to Libya during 2004. (...) Seif al-Islam stressed that security and military agreements will be finalized with the US. He added that American military men will be visiting Libya shortly to be acquainted with its needs of various military equipment.

Expected to succeed his father as the next Libyan leader, Seif al-Islam also declared that Libya no longer considers Israel as a threat to Libya's national security, nor is in confrontation with it. He added that the US promised Libya a huge aid package including army-to-army relations and economic cooperation, as well as lifting the sanctions and helping build a national industrial base.

Such a series of extremely positive announcements didn’t come out the blue. They are part of a plan to test Libya in a matter of months rather than years. A plan in which African politics and oil politics are intertwined. But, that’ll be revealed in a forthcoming post.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

African LNG boom: There will be growing pains 

In Algeria, the world's second-largest LNG supplier, an explosion Monday at a liquefied natural gas plant killed nearly 30 people.

According to the daily newspaper Liberté, the accident could have been more leathal if the plant that exploded had been fully functional. The journalist who broke the story, Samia Lokmane, reveals that Hassan Karra, an engineer in charge of safety, had written a report two days before the catastrophe, warning his boss about safety hazard and asking him to stop production. But his boss refused to listen. It wasn't apparently the first time he tried to prevent such an accident. The article also reaveals that a sum of $500 million that was to be spent on maintenance and renovation of the 30 years-old plant has been appropriated by members of the management.

Skikda is an industrial park that employs 12,000 workers in seven groups of specific-purpose facilities: the LNG, plastic, oil refining, industrial gas unit, Naftal, detergent and the east oil and gas transport. It exports about 15 million tons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), crude oil and refined oil products per year. Gas exports have been estimated to 10 billion m3 per year.

The powerful blast and consequent fires devastated the vast petrochemical site in the port city of Skikda, 310 miles east of Algiers, the nation's capital, Monday evening. Officials at the scene said they believed an accident at a gas boiler caused the explosion, which injured 72 people, that was felt for miles and destroyed three liquefied natural gas, or LNG, units. (...) The early indications are that the blast in Algeria was related to poor maintenance. Workers complained that they had warned that an accident would happen and that the boiler was faulty, but no one listened.

As we have seen, the explosion can be explained by management corruption and poor maintenance. Both things are not rare in Africa, to say the least. But the continent being on the dawn of an LNG production boom that is fuelled by US natural gas demand, the explosion in Skikda invites us to ask this question: exactly how safe is LNG?

According to the industry association, the American Petroleum Institute, LNG is a “clean-burning natural gas” that is a “preferred fuel due to its environmental benefits”. This view is echoed by companies like Marathon Oil, saying that “natural gas is a clean, reliable and efficient source of energy. It is rapidly becoming the fuel of choice throughout the world, particularly for power generation... LNG is safe and efficient to transport from areas where natural gas is abundant to locations where it is scarce.” The message is this: there's no danger.

I then decided to look for the opposite view. And I found one opponent of this view, in California: Tim Riley. The website of this lawyer became the unofficial voice of the anti-LNG activists and consumers. Their action is tipping the balance: the debate is being re-ignited by the catastrophe in Algeria. The website is full of information and pictures that are worth checking before taking side. It's worth visiting.

This got me thinking, though. As I told you once, some stories take their real meaning over time. That’s the case with my December 27 post where I spoke about LNG (liquefied natural gas) being hyped as Africa’s “second prize” after oil. I was quoting George L. Kirkland (President, ChevronTexaco Overseas Petroleum). Here’s what he said about the benefit of LNG for Africa and for America:

I'd like to suggest that Africa is on the verge of winning a second prize – in the form of a new and rapidly growing natural gas business. It too is a bonus. The growing world demand for natural gas has enormous potential to bring added benefits to Africa's economy and its people.(...) In the United States, where gas well-heads are being depleted at 29 percent annually, demand for imported gas is expected to surpass that of Japan – today's leading importer – in less than 10 years. (...) There are risks and concerns in all these endeavors, of course. But as I indicated earlier, the potential benefits are great. First, consider the environmental impact. Much of Africa's gas development will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using gas that otherwise would be burned off, in effect doubling the benefit. GTL diesel fuels, for example, will reduce greenhouse gases wherever they are used, and conserve 300 million cubic feet a day of presently flared gas.

Maybe he's right. Maybe LNG is not dangerous, but after what we can learn on Tim Riley’s website and the explosion in Algeria, natural gas can’t be said harmless - not in Africa. Will this create a debate in West Africa where LNG projects are popping up in countries like Nigeria, Angola or Equatorial Guinea? As Kirkland says in conclusion: “There will be growing pains. But the potential economic, environmental and social gains will make the struggle worth it.” Let’s hope that’s not wishful thinking, at least for the victims of the Skikda explosion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Oil & terror: the US-Africa policy mix 

I wanted to write a follow-up to the Pan Sahel Initiative story; a follow-up that would analyse the links between the US-led-scramble-for-African-oil and the US anti-terror campaign on the continent. I wanted to capture the long-term meaning of the Initiative on the security architecture of the continent and see how it relates to what happens in the Horn of Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea, with the quest for US forward bases on the continent, and so on. Then I decided to check what Africa Action, the oldest organization in the U.S. working on African affairs, had to say about the issue in their annual policy report.

Once there, I had two excellent surprises: first, they have a new website that I advise you to visit and bookmark. It’s going to be a highly valuable online resource, with a nice layout and an excellent interface design (you can trust me, I’m an internet consultant). I really have to praise their move, because frankly high quality content is better served with high quality interface design. Too many people, particularly from African civil society organizations, forget it: communication is king!

My second surprise was the content of their latest report, the annual Africa Policy Outlook 2004: I didn't read all the report; I basically browsed the pages until I found their forcast about US African oil policy and the war on terror. It's simply amazing how close I came to writing exactly the same word:

Under the Bush Administration, the real priorities in U.S. Africa policy are oil and strategic military relations, and this will continue to be the case in 2004. The Bush Administration will continue to deal with Africa on its own terms, and its policies will be driven by its interests in these areas in the context of the “war on terrorism”.

In recent years, the U.S. has become increasingly interested in African oil resources as an alternative to the Middle East, and the U.S. now defines African oil as a strategic national interest. The U.S. preoccupation with “energy security” makes certain African countries – like Nigeria, Angola and Gabon – important sources of oil. At present, sub-Saharan Africa supplies almost one-fifth of U.S. oil imports. The National Intelligence Council projects that U.S. oil supplies from West Africa will increase to 25% by 2015. This would surpass U.S. oil imports from the entire Persian Gulf. Studies indicate that the greatest increase in oil production globally in the next decade is likely to come from West Africa, and the U.S. is following this trend closely. In 2004, U.S. policies will continue to further its plans to secure access to this oil supply.

Increased U.S. interest in projecting military force into the Persian Gulf has led to a massive increase in the U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. The Bush Administration is concerned with the counter-terrorism efforts of African countries, to the extent that they provide security for U.S. interests. In June 2003, Bush announced a new $100 million initiative to help East African countries increase their counter-terrorism efforts. In 2004, U.S. pre-occupation with security in Africa is sure to continue. While it remains uncertain whether or not the U.S. will establish a military base on the island of Sao Tome & Principe, as was rumored last year, it is certain that U.S. relations with Africa will become increasingly militarized, with a focus on energy security and terrorism concerns.

The trend that has become apparent since 2001, with these two agendas – oil security and counter-terrorism – forming the backbone of U.S. Africa policy under the Bush Administration, will be further reinforced in 2004.

Whether you decide to read some of the pdf documents stored on African Oil Politics or decide to follow the links we have selected for you, I’m sure you will find ample evidence of this trend in 2004 and beyond. It’s an heavy trend that will last a decade or more.

Monday, January 19, 2004


Last week, while in Brussels (Belgium), I was too busy to take care of my posts, but I found time to keep up with the news. During one of my brief online sessions I read an interesting story on the Stars & Stripes webstite: EUCOM slated to step up role in Africa. What I liked about the story is that Maj. Gen. Jeff Kohler draws a clear parallel between the Pan Sahel Initiative (that looked like a vague prospect in the last months) and a similar initiative started two years ago in Georgia:

U.S. special operations troops are doing the work now, but they are in high demand due to the war on terrorism, and EUCOM is looking at bringing in Marines to do the training, too, Kohler said. The format is similar to how U.S. forces trained troops in the former republic of Georgia, where EUCOM first relied on Green Berets and has now shifted to using Marines. In addition to this program, EUCOM is also looking at ways to continue training African troops who can then be deployed as peacekeepers on the continent, thus freeing up the United States from having to send its troops, he said.

I checked the details, the numbers, the cost of the mission, and saved the findings for future exploitation. The day after, a story from AP, was widely circulated: Us Sends Anti-terror Team To W. Africa, it said. I checked the story, and considered it as a lighter version of the Stars & Stripes story. But it wasn't only lighter, it also contained a mistake that AP has corrected 4 days later:

In a Jan. 12 story about a U.S. program to help four West African nations police their borders against terror and other incursions, The Associated Press erroneously reported the amount being spent on the program. The West African Pan-Sahel Initiative was funded at $7.75 million, not $100 million. The U.S. State Department said another program, the East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative, is funded at $100 million.

I actually enjoyed the mistake, because it hilights the real weight of West Africa in the global war on terror: don't believe the hype!

Sunday, January 18, 2004


At last, I find time to write the second part of my new year's eve post. Analysing the situation in Middle-East countries like Afghanistan, Irak & Israel/Palestine, I identified three criteria that determine their (lack of) political stability: the birth certificate of the state, the ethnic mix and the natural resource ownership. Whereas these problems predate the US military as well as political intervention, it's no mystery that the Bush administration's policy made matters worse. As the United States is about to increase its engagement in Africa for obvious energy security reasons, I propose we see how african oil producing countries perform as far as the three criteria we identified are concerned.

If we limit our analysis to Nigeria and Angola, we see that both states are younger that the youngest middle-eastern we have considered in our panel (Israel). Nigeria became independant from the UK in 1960, and Angola was freed from the portuguese rule in 1975. But the civil war, which lasted 25 years, ended only two years ago! This implies that the legitimacy of these two states should not be taken for granted: just look at Irak and Afghanistan... If we consider the second critera, we see very quickly that the ethnic mix in West Africa is (at least) as complex as what we've seen in the Middle-East. It could actually be worse since you have more ethnic groups and languages. As for resource ownership, Nigeria and Angola had their share of resource-based civil wars. Drilling oil offshore won't make the political situation onshore less unstable than the one we witness daily in the Middle East.

What lessons can we draw for year 2004? As far as economic growth is concerned, that doesn't look too bright as I wrote last time, based on the oil prices data we looked at in 2003. I personally see no reason why things should get better this year. The analysts at private research firm Condor Advisers apparently think the same:

Rapid US economic growth in the second half of 2003 has created expectations for rapid global economic growth in 2004. Economic growth risks in the US and Asia are high. Condor Advisers believes that economic growth is more likely to weaken in 2004 than strengthen. Leading global economic growth risk higher in 2004 is high global geopolitical risk. This risk emanates from the unilateralist foreign policy of the US. Electoral politics in the US in 2004 are expected to strengthen unilateralism, eroding US foreign relations with many countries. In addition, insurgencies in the Middle East and Afghanistan are expected to intensify. Finally, the threat of terrorism is expected to increase as the US presidential elections approach. In addition to rising global geopolitical risk, rising US interest rates and the accumulation of large fiscal and external account deficits threaten US economic growth. Continued exchange rate appreciation against the dollar will contain economic growth in the EU and Japan. Global geopolitical instability and dollar depreciation argue for continued gold price appreciation in 2004 and limit the scope for weaker oil prices. Economic growth in Latin America is expected to remain near its five-year average of 1.4 percent in 2004. Economic growth in developing Europe should strengthen modestly, underpinned by slightly stronger economic growth in the EU. Economic growth in developing Asia is expected to slow, driven by increasing protectionism against China’s exports and high regional geopolitical risk. Condor Advisers believes that global investment risk is high in 2004.

As for Africa (not mentionned, as usual), I will only add this: while ethnic low intensity warfare in the Niger Delta has killed 18 people lately, Nigerian workers have planned a general strike on January 21 that will probably hit oil production, and the civil war in Cadinda (Angola) is ongoing. Since African oil is supposed to secure US energy security (endangered by the geopolitical instability in the Middle East), how will the market react when it understands that geopolitical risk is part of the West African fuel mix?

I guess these forcasts will play down the upbeat tone of some journalists. Now that you have these two opposite views about what expect for year 2004, it's time for me to relax and say: "Happy new year 2004".

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Thinking about the Halliburton-Technip case, I realised that while Cheney & co were playing the Oilopoly game, Ken Saro-Wiwa was being hanged by their friend - the puppet dictator Sani Abacha. I then remembered Saro-Wiwa's last published words, a letter from prison:

Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind - each one contributing his bit, in his or her own way.

Friday, January 16, 2004


The Halliburton case in Iraq, that is now taking a criminal turn, has somehow overshadowed the new African oil scandal revealed last month by French newspaper Le Figaro: involving Halliburton and French company Technip, the case is catching more attention in the US after Doug Ireland’s story in The Nation. We will use this case to illustrate some aspects of a game you have to understand in order to master African oil politics.

Oilopoly is a very simple game. First, you need a big project in an African country: in this case, it was a $6 billion gas liquification factory in Nigeria. Then you need well connected players, like an African dictator (Sani Abacha), western oil companies (the French Technip, the Italian Snamprogetti, the American KBR and the Japanese JGC), and a powerful middleman who can act as lawyer, lobbyist, bagman (Jeffrey Tesler). The goal of the game is to maximize profits for all the parties involved. In order to do so, players have to cooperate and avoid real capitalist competition. Limit competition imply forming a cartel and reducing procedures and communication with the outside world (media, civil society). And, most important thing, you need banks on beautiful sunny islands.

Once you know that, you can enjoy the little pieces of information that are starting to attract our online attention:

In the early 1990’s Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, financed by the state run oil company and Shell Oil among others, began the construction of one of the largest gas liquefaction processing facilities in the world. The construction contract was awarded to a consortium of four companies: the French Technip, the Italian Snamprogetti, the American KBR and the Japanese JGC. Le Figaro reported that KBR (the Halliburton subsidiary) was the dominant partner in the consortium.
In 1994 the consortium established a subsidiary corporation, LNG Servicos, based in Portuguese island of Madeira where corporations are exempt from taxes. LNG Servicos was ostensibly created to provide administrative support to the consortium. However, the subsidiary entered into some suspicious contracts with a Gibraltar firm, Tri Star, which eventually cost the consortium $180 million. The investigation of these services rests at the of the French magistrate’s investigation.

The game is fairly harmless for the players until a judge like Van Ruymbeke starts to wonder: what’s this money for, where did it come from, where did it go? Investigation is no fun for the players, especially if one of them has become vice-president of the only superpower, is running for re-election and has to fight endless wars against evildoers and terrorists. The game that was so simple becomes fairly complex. Because things the players were doing take new names like bribes and foreign denominations like “retrocommissions”.

According to accounts in the French press, Judge van Ruymbeke believes that some or all of $180 million in so-called secret "retrocommissions" paid by Halliburton and Technip were, in fact, bribes given to Nigerian officials and others to grease the wheels for the refinery's construction. These reports say van Ruymbeke has fingered as the bagman in the operation a 55-year-old London lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, who has worked for Halliburton for some thirty years. It was Tesler who was paid the $180 million as a "commercial consultant" through a Gibraltar-based front company he set up called TriStar. TriStar, in turn, got the money from a consortium set up for the Nigeria deal by Halliburton and Technip and registered in Madeira, the Portuguese offshore island where taxes don't apply. According to Agence France-Presse, a former top Technip official, Georges Krammer, has testified that the Madeira-based consortium was a "slush fund" controlled by Halliburton--through its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root--and Technip. Krammer, who is cooperating with the investigation, also swore that Tesler was imposed as the intermediary by Halliburton over the objections of Technip.

That’s only an introduction to Oilopoly. You’ll learn new tricks when you come back.

To be continued.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Today, a friend of mine suggested an acronym to turn African Oil Politics into a shorter, media-friendly, easy-to-remember brand. The acronym he came up with ends in POL like Interpol: “sounds like criminal (re)search on aggressors of Africa”, he joked. Reading the news earlier today, I couldn’t help thinking about his email. Two headlines captured my attention: the first one is about the release of the latest Human Rights Watch report and the second one is about the visit of a UNESCO representative in an African oil state. Both headlines are about Angola. Both headlines help me realise how often African oil politics looks like a criminal investigation and how often the cop fails to act.

Let’s start with the HRW report, Some Transparency, No Accountability: The Use of Oil Revenue in Angola and Its Impact on Human Rights. It documents the amount of state oil revenue (more than four billion dollars) that disappeared from Angolan government pockets between 1997-2002, showing that that money roughly equals the entire sum spent on all social programs in the same period. This shows graphically the social consequences of state corruption and lack of accountability in Angola, as well as the methods used by the people in power to avoid being held accountable.

Meanwhile, although the 27-year civil war ended in 2002, an estimated 900,000 Angolans are still internally displaced. Millions more have virtually no access to hospitals or schools. According to United Nations estimates, almost half of Angola’s 7.4 million children suffer from malnutrition.
The Angolan government has refused to provide information about the use of public funds to its population, thereby undermining the right to information. It has failed to establish hundreds of badly needed courts and allowed the judiciary to become dysfunctional, undermining Angolan’s ability to hold government officials and others accountable. And it has not fully committed to free and fair elections.

So far, nobody has been brought to justice. Let’s now turn to the second headline: Appointment of Pierre Falcone Will Not Affect Relations With UNESCO. Since the irony of that story might be lost to people who are not familiar with African oil politics, allow me to give you some clues. Pierre Falcone is one of the key characters in the international drama known as “Angolagate”, and defined by Global Witness as:

a story of how the ruling elite in Angola and abroad have conspired for their own political and financial vested interests to loot the Angolan state. What started as a desperate measure to maintain the war effort against UNITA became a system for the wholesale misappropriation of Angola's wealth. Against this backdrop, there is a deafening silence from the international community - a complete reluctance, except ironically through the judiciary in France, to clean up the mess.

Since Global Witness has long researched and written about Angolan oil corruption, they probably know very well about the irony of “the judiciary in France”. But in order to fully appreciate that irony, another introduction to “Angolagate” will help you see the light.

Known as "Angolagate" in France, the scandal involves arms-for-oil deals between French businessman Pierre Falcone, the head of a firm called Brenco International; his colleague Jean-Christophe Mitterand, the son of the former French president; and a Russian-born Israeli named Arkadi Gaydamak.

The situation is this: Gaydamak was allowed to flee to Israel where he enjoys complete immunity; Mitterand was freed and Falcone was able to avoid prosecution in September 2003 in a very strange way:

A key suspect in a French corruption case was confirmed yesterday as Luanda's ambassador to Unesco, securing him an Angolan diplomatic passport and immunity from prosecution. The appointment allows the suspect, Pierre Falcone, who is at the centre of an arms trafficking scandal, to travel freely despite a judicial ban on leaving France.

Needless to say, UNESCO’s headquarter is in Paris. And it’s from that place that Koichiro Matsuura, the current UNESCO Director, asked the head of UNESCO’s mission in Angola “to explain why Pierre Falcone, a key suspect in a French arms-trafficking scandal, was nominated Angola's ambassador to the agency on Tuesday”. Today, more than three months later, the same UNESCO Director, Koichiro Matsuura, was in Luanda (Angola). And you know what? He doesn’t make an issue of Pierre Falcone's nomination anymore. He probably got enough explanation from Angola, but he refuses to tell us what he learned, because that’s confidential. Diplomacy is the name of the game.

The visiting director of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, assured today, in Luanda, that the Pierre Falcone case will not affect relations between Angola and this UN organization. Koichiro Matsura was speaking to journalists after an audience with the Angolan Head of State, José Eduardo dos Santos. Regarding the polemical case he informed that "The president explained to me why and how he acted, and I also mentioned how UNESCO dealt with this situation". "I would not like to give more details about the conversation (with the president), which was private", he said, adding that "Angola needs this cooperation with UNESCO". In his opinion the Pierre Falcone case "Is a matter that has to be put aside", and it will not affect the future relation between Angola and UNESCO.

We’re really glad to learn that the Pierre Falcone case will not affect relations between Angola and UNESCO. In fact, nobody wants to jeopardize future relations with Angola. Nobody but Human Rights Watch or Global Witness, that is. Corruption is not such a terrible thing after all. And that was made perfectly clear by the UPI Chief Energy Correspondent, Hil Anderson:

Rooting out corruption in Africa is an honorable goal but the bottom line of what can be achieved remains to be seen, so for the near term oil traders will likely be getting a regular dose of bad news out of a region that is growing in its energy importance.

People like Arvind Ganesan (who wrote the HRW report), Alex Vines (who is a researcher for HRW and RIIA) will be glad to hear Mr Anderson explain how much oil traders care about human rights, business ethics or corporate social responsibility. Like the Angolan regime or people at UNESCO, all these people probably like “some” transparency, but “no” accountability.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

PETROPOLITICS: January 6, 7, and 8, 2004

If you are in the Washington DC region, and are really interested into oil politics, this is a good way to start year 2004: National Summit on PetroPolitics

The agenda is amazing, featuring speakers from energy-focused civil society organizations such as SEEN (Daphne Wysham, Steve Kretzmann, Jim Vallette), Oxfam America (Keith Slack), Human Rights Watch (Arvind Ganesaan), Foreign Policy in Focus (Emira Woods), and so on. The agenda just reads like a Who's Who of this movement. Michael Klare and Greg Palast will be there as well. As we used to say when I was a teenager, be there or be square!

I would love to hear from people who will attend this event (I spend the week in Brussels, Europe).

Friday, January 02, 2004


This post being my first one of year 2004, I decided to postpone the second part of the previous post – the one about lessons learned last year. I will take a forward-looking view here and write about which directions AfricanOilPolitics will go this year.

As those who regularly visit this website already know, we scan the web for you, in search of interesting pieces of news and data concerning the current African oil boom. We try to achieve this goal strategically – in a way that helps anticipate future events. In so doing, we use a framework that’s not visible yet because the format we use on this site is still pretty basic.

In order to make our approach more transparent, we are working on the next architecture of the website, so that it reflects that very framework we use. Simply described, it is our own news-filtering machine: it helps us grasp the meaning of the bits of information that we come across online. Often, some news takes its real meaning weeks or months after the initial announcement. This explains why we mix fresh news with old ones. It’s the only way to make sense of the fast moving phenomenon that we call African oil politics.

The issues we select can be categorized in five different fields: international business, international relations, global security, corporate social responsibility and international finance (that may include some issues in political economy).

· International business

African oil is first and foremost a business issue. Deals are being made, projects financed, infrastructure built, new reserves are explored offshore, oil and gas found, oilfields are drilled, production transported on tankers or through pipelines, marketed to Asia, Europe or America; companies are cooperating and competing in order to grow, attract more investors, sell more shares on the stock market when they are publicly traded. These developments being the main drivers of Africa’s integration to the global market, they deserve a careful scrutiny.

· International relations

Because oil is a strategic resource, it is usually controlled and managed in developing countries by the State. This implies that deals are also political intercourse; for an African leader, deciding to deal with a company from this or that country can be a question of life and death for his regime. To increase their bargaining power, Oil companies develop close relations with government officials, both in their country of origin and in target countries. These bonds generate enormous lobbying power and influence for all parties involved. These relations involve overt and covert diplomatic deals whose agenda are driven by national security, international politics and global economy. Given the influence of these issues on people’s economic situation and political rights, we can’t ignore them.

· Global security

As ideological conflicts give way to economic wars, developed countries tend to view the flow of natural strategic resources (like oil and gas) as national security issues that may involve the use of force. After cold war and post 9/11, armies are being redeployed around the world to protect energy supply from political instability in producing countries and terrorist threats in weak states. Africa becoming an increasingly important energy player, but remaining a very unstable region in political terms, military issues are integral part of African oil politics. This raises the question of low intensity warfare and 4th generation conflicts.

· Corporate social responsibility

The 1990’s acknowledged the rise of corporate social responsibility as a legitimate concern for civil society organizations as well as for researchers and industry analysts. Using their own expertise and media leverage, these activists made companies and States aware of issues such as corruption, money laundering or environmental liability. After a period when these civil society players acted separately came a time when they built global networks and coordinated their actions, gaining more influence and momentum at the local as well as global level. They play a very important role in the evolution of African oil politics - turning political economy issues such as the “resource curse” or transparency into human rights concerns.

· International finance & political economy

Challenged by the civil society movement, financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank started to react and consider the possibility of their own reform. Debates among economists who investigate the links between natural resources and economic growth (or civil war) reinforced the activists’ discourse. Some economists made quite radical proposals in fields such as revenue distribution schemes (oil funds, direct distribution to the population) or the creation of an International Bankruptcy Court. These developments are very exciting and will be covered here.

We hope that you will take as much interest following these issues as we do reporting them.

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