The Group of 8.
Photo: Axel Schmidt/Action Press
Before July’s G8 summit in Scotland, the seven leading imperialist countries along with Russia announced with great fanfare a debt relief program that will “benefit” 23 African countries whose foreign debt is over $50 billion. The big-business press lauded this development as “historic,” claiming the program “fulfilled a decades-old dream of anti-poverty activists.” (Los Angeles Times, June 12)
However, an event with far greater implications for the people of Africa happened at the same time: the U.S. military sent a ship to the Gulf of Guinea to “train West African nations to combat threats including terrorism, drug trafficking and petroleum theft.” (AP, June 29) This did not make a splash in the capitalist press, but U.S. imperialism’s strategists understand its importance—oil.
The discovery of new oil resources in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, has intensified U.S. interests in the region. African oil has taken on greater significance in the U.S. drive to control the global economy.
A continuation of racist policies
Taking resources from Africa and exploiting its people is nothing new for the United States or other imperialist powers. The brutal legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, later followed by numerous U.S. interventions, has haunted the continent’s people for over four centuries.
From the Congress of Berlin in 1884 to the present, imperialist rulers have always viewed the vast human and natural resources of Africa as “theirs.” Racist ideologies like the “white man’s burden” and “manifest destiny” have been used by capitalists to justify genocide, the rape of natural resources, and enslaving tens of millions of Africans. As noted Pan-Africanist George Padmore stated in 1936, “The Black man certainly has to pay dear for carrying the white man’s burden.”
A modern-day manifestation of these ideologies was articulated by U.S. policymakers at a 2002 conference in Washington, D.C., entitled, “African Oil: A Priority for U. S. National Security and African Development.” At the conference, Walter Kansteiner, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, declared: “It is undeniable that this [oil] has become of national strategic interest to us.”
The U.S. government’s fundamental goal in Africa is the same as the colonial plunderers who came before it—extract massive profits to enrich big banks and corporations. The welfare of Africa’s people doesn’t factor into the equation.
Underdevelopment and oil
As with gold, diamonds and other valuable minerals, the discovery of oil in an imperialist-dominated world has not improved living standards for the vast majority of working and poor Africans.
Huge sums of money are required to invest in the machinery and technology to extract oil from the ground or within a nation’s shoreline. Most African countries don’t have enough money on demand; nor do they have the necessary technology because of the imperialists’ deliberate policies to keep Africa poor and needy. For now, they need a cheap source of raw materials and labor. Additionally, the imperialists, led by the United States, want African countries to rely on them for development and technological gain.
This relationship has opened the door for U.S.-owned petroleum companies, like ChevronTexaco, to go into oil-rich African countries and begin mechanized oil extraction primarily for their own gain.
The development of the oil industry in Nigeria is an example of how capitalism continues to underdevelop Africa. Nigeria is the largest producer of oil on the continent. It currently provides 10 percent of U.S. oil imports—1.5 million barrels a day. Since 1965, Nigeria’s net oil revenues total nearly $350 billion.
However, Nigeria’s people are generally very poor. In 1970, the per capita gross domestic product was $1,113. In 2004, the per capita GDP fell to $1,000. Over the same 34 years while Nigeria’s per capita GDP fell, oil revenues increased tenfold. The benefits accrued almost solely to bourgeois owners in Nigeria. Nigeria is a class society. The Nigerian capitalist class is partners with the U.S. and European capitalists in the exploitation of the country.
In spite of the creation of this wealth, Nigeria has sunk further into debt. In 1970, Nigeria’s debt was one billion dollars. Today, Nigeria owes imperialist banks more than $30 billion.
The accumulation of oil wealth by one percent of the population and the massive increase in Nigeria’s foreign debt are the consequences of Nigeria’s place in the world capitalist economy. The World Bank and the IMF, working through the Nigerian capitalist elite and the government, have provided loans “by stipulation,” which are necessary to fund drilling, extraction and oil processing. These stipulations prioritized oil exporting over domestic development. Since 1992, 82 percent of all oil extraction projects funded by the World Bank have been export-oriented.
Oil is becoming increasingly important not only in Nigeria but to all of Africa in the global economic market. Daily oil production by the Gulf of Guinea states (Nigeria, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea) is over 4.5 million barrels. The total is more than Iran, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela produces individually. The top two U.S. oil companies, ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil, plan to invest $70 billion in oil production over the next five to ten years in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the July 25 Chinese People’s Daily.
In order to protect U.S. corporations’ profits and capital investments, the Pentagon is moving into the Gulf. U.S. Special Forces recently have been sent to Chad, Mali and Nigeria as part of a program called the Pan-Sahel Initiative, for the purpose of counter-terrorism training. The Pentagon is considering the island of São Tomé and Príncipe, in the heart of the Gulf, as a candidate for a permanent military base, according to the July 25 issue of Cuba’s Granma.
But the uninterrupted exploitation of the peoples and resources of Africa does not guarantee future stability for the imperialists.
People fight back
In 2002 and 2003, hundreds of Nigerian women organized against Shell and ChevronTexaco. They occupied terminals, airstrips, docks and stores in protest of massive exploitation and terrible living standards. After a protracted struggle, the women achieved many of their demands: jobs, schools, scholarships, hospitals, water, electricity and protection of the environment. The actions disrupted the production of about 450,000 barrels of crude oil each day.
A general strike in 2003 shut down businesses in the capital, Lagos, and several other cities for eight days. The police killed 11 people in response. In June and October 2004, the oil workers’ unions conducted strikes over gasoline price increases. (AP, Oct. 11, 2004)
The long history of economic exploitation and domination by foreign capital has impoverished much of the African continent. The capitalists have extracted billions in profits and managed to leave the exploited nations hundreds of billions in debt.
In 1867, Karl Marx described the birth of capitalism as “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” He wrote this to describe the genocidal method by which the economies of the European colonizing countries developed at the expense of the people oppressed by colonialism. Oil production and the attendant debt suffered by oil-producing countries is the modern continuation of this policy. This is especially true in Africa.