Africa’s riches trigger new strategic scramble

Soldiers parade during the closing ceremony of a joint military exercise between African, US and European troops, known as Flintlock, last year in Saint Louis, United States. (AFP)

2017/10/22 Issue: 128 Page: 11

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- Africa has been battered by war and instability for decades, a situa­tion that seriously impeded its economic and political development.

However, it remains strategic — witness the formation of the US Africa Command, or Africom — because it contains approximate­ly 30% of the planet’s mineral re­sources, including oil and gas as well as uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold and copper.

The semi-arid Sahel, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east, is a key region in this quest for vital resources, the same imperative that led to the scramble for Africa in the 19th century by Europe’s imperial powers.

“Whoever controls Mali, con­trols West Africa, if not the whole of Africa,” observed Doulaye Ko­nate of the Association of African Historians. “That’s why this re­gion has become so coveted.”

Investment in African oil and gas alone is expected to reach $2 trillion over the next two decades.

US intervention in Africa was not just an extension of Ameri­ca’s war against global terrorism, it was to consolidate US interests in the continent.

Arab North Africa, particularly Algeria, Egypt and Libya, plus Nigeria, contain 91.5% of Africa’s proven oil reserves, estimated at 117.2 billion barrels, nearly 10% of the world total. There are large deposits in Tanzania, Uganda and Western Ghana, with potentially large reservoirs in South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Developing such resources de­pends on stability and that seems to be a distant prospect, with indications that the terrorism threat is growing.

Africa, a proxy battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, looks like it is becoming the venue for intense economic ri­valry between Washington and Moscow.

The prospects of an economic boom are endangered by the deep-rooted culture of corrup­tion and human rights abuses by Africa’s ruling elites that foster terrorism and are likely to inten­sify once oil revenues start to flow.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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