On Feb. 7 George Bush announced the formation of AFRICOM, a new Pentagon command which will, under the pretext of the so-called "Global War On Terror", plan and execute its oil and resource wars on the African continent. What does this mean to African Americans? And to Africans? BAR consults Prexy Nesbitt, an architect of the anti-apartheid struggles of the 70s and 80s
"It's about the oil. And the diamonds. And the coltan. But mostly about the oil."
The Pentagon does not admit that a ring of permanent US military bases is operating or under construction throughout Africa. But nobody doubts the American military buildup on the African continent is well underway. From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials. They've conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets.
Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead "forward staging depots", and "seaborne truck stops" for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are "protected anchorages" and offshore "lily pads" from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa's oil and mineral wealth for decades to come.
BAR caught up with Chicago's Prexy Nesbitt, one of the architects of the US anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and ‘80s. We asked Dr. Nesbitt about the importance to Africans and African Americans of George Bush's Feb. 7 announcement of AFRICOM, the new Pentagon command for the African continent.
"It means a tremendous amount to Africans, because African people, from working people to university elites all follow very closely everything that the US government does wherever it does it in the world. ...More and more African Americans in the US are following carefully what's the US is doing in Africa, but not enough... What we're seeing (is) ...a US military penetration of the African continent and that this penetration is...motivated by the US quest...for new sources of oil and other minerals."
In other words, it's about the oil. And the diamonds, and the uranium, and the coltan. But mostly about the oil. West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world's oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption. Most oil from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East winds up in Europe, Japan, China or India. Increasingly it's African oil that keeps the US running.
"West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world's oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption."
A foretaste of American plans for African people and resources in the new century can be seen in Eastern Nigeria. US and multinational oil companies like Shell, BP, and Chevron, which once named a tanker after its board member Condoleezza Rice, have ruthlessly plundered the Niger delta for a generation. Where once there were poor but self-sufficient people with rich farmland and fisheries, there is now an unfolding ecological collapse of horrifying dimensions in which the land, air and water are increasingly unable to sustain human life, but the region's people have no place else to go.
Twenty percent of Nigerian children die before the age of 5, according to the World Bank. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil have been extracted from the Niger Delta, according to Amnesty International in 2005. But its inhabitants
"...remain among the most deprived oil communities in the world - 70 per cent live on less than US$1 a day. In spite of its windfall gains, as global oil prices have more than doubled in the last two years, the Nigerian government has failed to provide services, infrastructure or jobs in the region."
In a typical gesture of disregard for local black lives and livelihoods, the natural gas which sits atop many oil deposits but is more expensive to capture and process than petroleum is simply burned off or flared at African wellheads. Throughout the 1990s it is estimated that 29 million cubic feet per day of Nigerian natural gas was disposed of in this manner. Many of the flares, according to local Niger delta residents, have burned continuously for more than twenty years, creating a toxic climate of acid fogs and rains, depositing layers of soot and chemicals that stunt or kill ocean and riverine fish and livestock, and poison the few surviving crops. For this reason, flaring at oil wells has long been outlawed in the US. But many African communities near the mouth of one of the planet's largest rivers are now entirely dependent on water trucked in from outside.
According to Dr. Nesbitt:
"Years ago people from the then American Committee on Africa brought back slide footage which showed...people living in oil mud slime fields, drinking water that's made up of oil slime. It was just [an] extraordinarily frightening situation... As far as we know not much has changed [in about 15 years] except that [now] there is a movement for justice taking place. But the United States military command has indicated, has partnered up really, with the Obasanjo government...to try to control that justice movement. Some very explicit comments have been made by US military people; they will be prepared militarily to move into that arena...securing that oil source for the United States"
Local Africans are demanding respect and a share in what is after all, their oil. They are now routinely, viciously suppressed in eastern Nigeria, in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere, by African troops trained and equipped with American tax dollars. When resistance continues, as it certainly will, America is preparing to up the ante with more American equipment, with military and civilian advisers, with bombs, bullets and if need be, with American bodies. That's what AFRICOM is about, and what it will be doing in the new century.
Empire in Africa: A Business Opportunity For Black Americans?
Doug Lyons, an African American columnist at the Orlando Sun-Sentinel is one of those ugly black Americans who see, in the ratcheting up of merciless exploitation of humanity's motherland, great career and business opportunities for a few black henchmen and women.
"AFRICOM shouldn't be shunned as another appendage of our nation's military industrial complex, even though it is. It also offers a unique opportunity for black America.
"There's potential for those individuals who have interest in African and African-American heritages to become more knowledgeable about Africa, and its links to the United States.
"That knowledge should lead to better cultural understanding and greater business opportunities for blacks on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to expanded opportunities for African-Americans in world trade and the diplomatic corps.
"...imagine the possibilities. The vehicle is about to be put in place, and for a select few, the chance will come to make even more black history. "
"AFRICOM will indeed open new vistas for a handful of qualified black Americans in the corporate, military and intelligence establishments."
The imaginative need look no further than GoodWorks International, the business consulting firm founded by former Atlanta mayor, UN ambassador and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Andrew Young. GoodWorks is making black history indeed, along with buckets of cash from clients like Barrick Gold, a Bush-connected operation whose Congolese mines help fuel a bloody civil war with 5 million dead and counting so far. Young's firm enjoys intimate and lucrative connections with the shadowy Maurice Templesman, a prominent figure in the trade of African blood diamonds for decades. It's the registered lobbyist for the Nigerian government in Washington, and implicated in at least one money laundering scheme for Nigeria's president Obasanjo, in addition to fronting for various multinational oil and mineral companies on the African continent.
"There's an increasing number of...a class of African Americans who...feel no sense of responsibility, no shame, no ties to the continent, who are incapable of playing any kind of role. I think we see that with Condoleezza Rice. We see it even more clearly in some of the other appointments which have been recently made, like for example the new assistant secretary of state for Africa. She seems...an individual to be very concerned about given her past, and her military background, with regard to what type of role she will play in the system. So we see African Americans often emerging as functionaries of the system, the gendarmes, if you will, of the system for the recolonization of Africa both by corporate and military establishment in the United States."
Nesbitt seems to agree with Doug Lyons, in a twisted sort of way. AFRICOM will indeed open new vistas for a handful of qualified black Americans in the corporate, military and intelligence establishments. Andy and Condi were first, but they may not be the last. There are plenty more African gold mines, oil tankers and mass graves waiting to be named after black Americans.
We asked Dr. Nesbitt what the Congressional Black Caucus and ordinary Americans here ought to be doing to stall imminent US military intervention on the African continent.
"We need a stronger voice from the Congressional Black Caucus. It needs to become much more enraged about these developments and help to politicize and educate the masses of the black American community across the country so that we don't let this constant history of the United States [allow them to feel] that they need not worry about any ramifications...from the population that is most concerned... those of us in the African diaspora in the US. I think we are at a very important passage point with regard to the relationships of the African American community in general with the continent of Africa.
"Africa is a part of the world that has immense resources and immense riches. But...the history has been nothing but the capitalist system sucking Africa dry of those riches. I think that the particular challenge facing Americans - Americans who care about other human beings, who care about the planet - is what steps will they take to help African people stop this continual rape and plunder of the African continent."
George Bush, Big Oil, Andy Young and the Pentagon are already implementing their plan for Africa. It looks like Nigeria, the classic case of a rich country full of poor people. It looks a lot like the impoverished, poisoned, festering wasteland of the Niger delta, where they've had a free hand for decades. And when Africans resist, as they surely will, the backup plan is to declare Africans who want to control their own resources "terrorists", and through AFRICOM, deploy US military might to lock down Africans and African resources. It's time for black America and the Congressional Black Caucus to take Dr. Nesbitt's advice, and come up with a couple of our own plans to end more than five hundred years of Western pillage of Africa, and to keep AFRICOM and the US military off the African continent.
BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon can be contacted at Bruce.Dixon (at) BlackAgendaReport.com.