Wednesday, August 24, 2005

U.S. Involvement in Africa, a few little known facts: Article from African Studies Review

Citation for the article:

Barnes, Sandra T. "Global Flows: Terror, Oil, and Strategic Philanthropy." African Studies Review. 48.1 (2005): 1-22.

Article is available through Project Muse for those who may have access electronically.

This article provides an extensive overview of United States involvement in Africa. It discusses military and corporate involvement in the oil industries. It also provides a discussion of how the media has mostly been silent about these issues. For readers interested in foreign affairs, U.S. diplomacy and policy, African affairs, and international studies, this article is an informative read. The article presents how the United States has been involved in Africa due to terrorism and the desire to secure the oil reserves from the area, and it details how the media has mostly ignored this issue.

The article begins pointing out that the United States faces two dangers: the threat of terrorism and the risk of losing its oil supply. In addition, corporations can gain great profit from African oil resources, but they face problems of instability, corruption, weak or lacking infrastructure, and political order. The author then proceeds to demonstrate these elements.

On the issue of oil, the article mentions that "the United States consumes one-quarter of the world's oil supply--twenty million of the eighty million barrels produced every day. Much of it-- 13 to 18 percent--comes from West and Central Africa" (2). In addition, "currently, due to warfare in the Middle East, Nigeria produces more oil than Iraq, and Angola produces half that amount" (2). The article then details how the U.S. spends millions of dollars for that oil and in its development. A significant number of United States jobs are tied to the oil industry in Africa as well, and the United States exports a susbtantial amount of oil and gas equipment to the continent. The problem with oil supplies, as many know from the situation in Iraq, is the volatility of this supply. It can be easily disrupted, and supplies are often located in places that are not exactly very friendly to the United States. To this end, the U.S. is investing in military resources for the region as well as in corporate development.

In terms of the military, the United States is doing various things in the region, most of them unknown to the general public. There are full military bases. Then, there are access points, technically called "secure co-operation locations" where the U.S. can do things like refuel planes, store weapons, house soldiers for short periods of time, and do intelligence work. A thrid way is to establish special programs in Africa like training local police in antiterrorism. In addition, the U.S. engages in various operations to strengthen the African military forces. This includes increasing peacekeeping forces, training their military, joint military exercises, seminars and education for their officers, and direct supplying of weapons. It is necessary to keep in mind that very often the results of all this involvement can be the increase of regional conflicts rather than the diminishing intended by the efforts. It is, from my understanding, a very tricky balance, and the author mentions that herein lies the paradox of the issue.

In terms of multinational corporations, their main tactic is what is known as strategic philanthropy. The author notes that this is not like the philanthropy of organizations like the Gates Foundation giving computers to a local library. This is a new type of corporate development where corporations become actively involved in developing the communities that will support the corporation. According to the article, this strategic philanthropy is "devoted to sustainable development projects such as improving infrastructure, education, and agriculture, or providing seed money for growing local businesses" (12). Many of these projects are good and very innovative, but they can carry a price. Very often, the corporations set themselves in a relationship that makes the locals dependent on them, and more importantly, corporate accountability can be lost. Also, very often, corporate taxes and other revenue to the nation gets lost in corruption to heads of state and their henchmen, meaning the money never gets distributed to the country, creating resentment against the corporation. Yet, this corporate strategy has become a significant component of how businesses operate in that part of the world. Very often, companies will compete with each other to see which one can provide better packages to nations. It is part of doing business by now.

As for the media, it has practically ignored these issues. The author goes on to describe the press coverage of Africa, pointing out that it has been mostly negative if at all, to the point that the general public that does not seek further sources of information past the mainstream media are conditioned to expect only the bad news, if any at all. Readers that seek information on these issues need to turn to print sources and the internet to find it in places like Africa Action, Washington Notes on Africa, and Jane's Defence Weekly. Barnes Another factor influencing the silence of the mainstream media to African news and issues is the deep history of racism in American society (16).

I highly recommend the article for readers interested in being a little more informed than what is usually found in the mainstream media.

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