June 1, 2005
The Guardian

The New Scramble For Africa

by David Leigh and David Pallister

A new "scramble for Africa" is taking place among the world's big powers, who are tapping into the continent for its oil and diamonds.

Tony Blair is pushing hard for African debt relief agreements in the run-up to the G8 summit in Scotland in July. But while sub-Saharan Africa is the object of the west's charitable concern, billions of pounds' worth of natural resources are being removed from it.

A Guardian investigation beginning today reveals that instead of enriching often debt-ridden countries, some big corporations are accused by campaigners of facilitating corruption and provoking instability - so much so that organisations such as Friends of the Earth talk of an "oil curse".

Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, which has been prominent in urging reform, said: "Western companies and banks have colluded in stripping Africa's resources. We need to track revenues from oil, mining and logging into national budgets to make sure that the money isn't siphoned off by corrupt officials."

Looting of state assets by corrupt leaders should become a crime under international law, he said.

"The G8 should take the lead in this."

The original Scramble for Africa took place in the late 19th century, when Britain, France and Germany competed to carve Africa into colonies.

Today corporations from the US, France, Britain and China are competing to profit from the rulers of often chaotic and corrupt regimes. . . .

[The Berlin Conference of 1885, when Europe's colonial powers met to divide up the continent, is known as the Scramble for Africa.]


[Why should we not form a secret society with but one object, the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for making the Anglo Saxon race but one Empire?

. . . Africa is still lying ready for us. It is our duty to take it--"Cecil Rhodes," PBS]

Enver Masud, "If Hutus And Tutsis Were Muslim Media Would Say So," The Wisdom Fund, December 10, 1996

Eric Margolis, "Where is Clinton's 'African Renaissance'," Toronto Sun, January 31, 1999

Amy Chua, "Free-Market Democracy: Our Most Dangerous Export," Guardian, February 28, 2004

Enver Masud, "Sudan, Oil, and the Darfur Crisis," The Wisdom Fund, August 7, 2004

Elizabeth Davies, "Curse of gold has fuelled slaughter and rape in Congo," Independent, June 2, 2005

[While 70% of Nigerians exist on a dollar a day, Shell continues to make megaprofits from oil drilling in the country, taking an estimated $30bn out of the ground since the 1950s.

At present 12% of US oil comes from Africa and by 2015, when the UN's Millennium Goals to halve world poverty will be laughably incomplete, that proportion will have reached 25%.--Torcuil Crichton, "When it comes to Africa, Bush has more on his mind than aid," Sunday Herald, June 12, 2005]

George Monbiot, "A truckload of nonsense: The G8 plan to save Africa comes with conditions that make it little more than an extortion racket," Guardian, June 14, 2005

[This not a bailout of Africa's poor or Latin American peasants. This is a bailout of the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.--Patrick J. Buchanan, "Reviving the Foreign Aid Racket,", June 15, 2005]

John Pilger, "Tony Blair's 'vision for Africa' is about as patronising and exploitative as a stage full of white pop stars (with black tokens now added)," New Statesman, June 27, 2005

[The US and Britain are putting the multinational corporations that created poverty in charge of its relief--George Monbiot, "Africa 's new best friends," Guardian, July 5, 2005]

Todd Pitman, "U.S. strategic interests rise in West Africa's oil-rich Gulf of Guinea," Associated Press, August 7, 2005

[. . . the fragility of contemporary Africa is a direct consequence of two centuries of slaving, followed by another of colonial despotism. Nor was "decolonisation" all it seemed: both Britain and France attempted to corrupt the whole project of political sovereignty.--Richard Drayton, "The wealth of the west was built on Africa's exploitation," Guardian, August 20, 2005]

[Last month, a Nigerian court ordered Shell to pay $1.5 billion dollars in environmental damages. But the oil giant refused to pay the fine and is now appealing the ruling. Rebels have also made similar demands of oil conglomerate ExxonMobil.--James Marriot, "The Next Gulf: London, Washington & the Oil Conflict in Nigeria,", March 10, 2006]

[Equatorial Guinea has the fortune to be Africa's third-largest oil producer. The money from black gold helps to explain how the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has bought large homes in France and Morocco, as well as two in Potomac, and how his son and presumed heir bought a Lamborghini and two Bentleys during a shopping spree in South Africa. But oil has done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition.--Editorial: "Condoleezza Rice's inglorious moment," Washington Post, April 18, 2006]

Joan Roelofs, "The NED, NGOs and the Imperial Uses of Philanthropy: Why They Hate Our Kind Hearts, Too,", May 13, 2006

David White, "Wen woos seven African nations in quest for oil," Financial Times, June 19, 2006

[But what has most made Sudan a violent place has been the discovery of oil. The Khartoum government has already lost control of the south, where most of its reserves lie. The plains of Darfur have been only partly surveyed, but look promising. . . .

To the east lies Somalia, where the descent into war is portrayed as historical enmity between Somalis and their Ethiopian neighbours. Yet Ethiopia's Christian regime runs a big risk in its border incursions, given that a large portion of its own people are Muslim and of Somali descent. The real reason is likely to be that the Ogaden region, which borders Somalia, sits on a not yet exploited gas field.--Daniel Whitaker, "Race for riches is Africa's torment," Observer, November 12, 2006]

VIDEO: Nigeria is the largest producer of oil in Africa, and actually it produces more oil than Iraq and Kuwait combined.--"As Hundreds Die in an Oil Pipeline Explosion in Lagos, A Look At the Fight Over Nigeria's Natural Resources,", December 26, 2006

[Hourigan has used a secure phone in the US embassy to brief the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Judge Louise Arbour, about his team's discovery. They have obtained incendiary information linking the Tutsi rebel leader and now Rwandan President Paul Kagame to the incident precipitating the Rwandan genocide - the shooting down in April 1994 of a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira.

Hours after the crash, extremists from the Hutu ethnic group begin slaughtering ethnic Tutsis and moderate members of their own clan, unleashing one of the most notorious massacres of the late 20th century. . . .

Foreign powers are also linked to the downing of the presidential jet. Rwanda's leaders have long counted on allegiances with external forces. The governing Hutu regime is in the Franco-Belgian camp. Kagame, whose military career includes a stint in the US, looks to his Anglo-US supporters.--Nick McKenzie, "Uncovering Rwanda's secrets," The Age, February 10, 2007]

Tom O'Neill, "Nigerian Oil, Curse of the Black Gold," National Geographic, February 2007

Philip Pullella, "Pope says rich nations "plundered" Third World," Reuters, April 4, 2007

[It was the kind of "social responsibility" agreement that is encouraged by the World Bank--John Vidal, "Vast forests with trees each worth 4,000 sold for a few bags of sugar," Guardian, April 11, 2007]

VIDEO: The book compares the global competition for the continent's oil resources to the nineteenth century scramble for colonization.--John Ghazvinian, "Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil,", May 17, 2007

["Creating an African Command," write the two analysts in a Heritage Foundation study entitled U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution, "would go a long way toward turning the Bush Administration's well aimed strategic priorities for Africa into a reality."

While the Bush Administration says the purpose of AFRICOM will be humanitarian aid and "security cooperation," not "war fighting," says Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. The Heritage analysts were a tad blunter about the application of military power: "Pre-emptive strikes are justified on grounds of self-defense. America must not be afraid to employ its forces decisively when vital national interests are threatened."

Carafano and Gardner are also quite clear what those "vital interests" are: "The United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf."--Conn Hallinan, "How the Far Right Targets Africa: Guns, Foundations and Free Trade,", July 14, 2007]

Howard W. French and Lydia Polgreen, "China, Filling a Void, Drills for Riches in Chad," New York Times, August 13, 2007

Chris McGreal, "The devastating cost of Africa's wars: 150bn and millions of lives," Guardian, October 11, 2007

Michael Peel, "The big African oil grab," New Statesman, April 10, 2008

[The islands of Sao Tome and Principe make up a single sovereign country, population 160,000. Until a few years ago the islands' only claim to fame were Marilyn Monroe postage stamps, fraudulent sex hotlines and a key export crop, cacao. . . . That was until oil was discovered under the sea floor off the country's coast.--"How to Rob an African Nation," Der Spiegel, April 18, 2008]

[The Gulf of Guinea is the water that's right off the coast of Nigeria, where there is, by some estimates, more than ten times the untapped oil that's in Saudi Arabia, and the AFRICOM base is proposed for Nigeria.--Sandy Cioffi, "Oil Politics in the Niger Delta,", May 9, 2008]

[Zimbabwe has the world's second-biggest platinum deposits, after South Africa.--Brett Foley and Antony Sguazzin, "Anglo American Reviewing Options for Zimbabwe Platinum Mine,", June 25, 2008]

[Niger's northern desert caps one of the world's largest deposits of uranium, and demand for it has surged as global warming has increased interest in nuclear power. Growing economies like China and India are scouring the globe for the crumbly ore known as yellowcake. A French mining company is building the world's largest uranium mine in northern Niger, and a Chinese state company is building another mine nearby.--Lydia Polgreen, "Battle in a Poor Land for Riches Beneath the Soil," New York Times, December 15, 2008]

[ . . . the Bush administration was trying to do was to justify the militarization of Africa. In other words, the early seeds, the growth of AFRICOM. It wanted a reason, an excuse, to, if you like, secure Africa, primarily for its oil resources, the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent. . . . the war on terror provided just such a reason.--"British Anthropologist Jeremy Keenan on 'The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa',", August 6, 2009]

"EXCLUSIVE: Secret Recording of Erik Prince Reveals Previously Undisclosed Blackwater Ops,", May 4, 2010

John Vidal, "Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it," BBC News, May 30, 2010

David Smith, "WikiLeaks cables: Shell's grip on Nigerian state revealed," Guardian, December 8, 2010

[The conditions making for external intervention in Africa are growing, not diminishing. The continent is today the site of a growing contention between dominant global powers and new challengers. The Chinese role on the continent has grown dramatically. Whether in Sudan and Zimbawe, or in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, that role is primarily economic, focused on two main activities: building infrastructure and extracting raw materials. For its part, the Indian state is content to support Indian mega-corporations; it has yet to develop a coherent state strategy. But the Indian focus too is mainly economic.

The contrast with Western powers, particularly the US and France, could not be sharper. The cutting edge of Western intervention is military. France's search for opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia, then Cote d'Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the subject of much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom, the institutional arm of US military intervention on the African continent.

This is the backdrop against which African strongmen and their respective oppositions today make their choices. Unlike in the Cold War, Africa's strongmen are weary of choosing sides in the new contention for Africa. Exemplified by President Museveni of Uganda, they seek to gain from multiple partnerships, welcoming the Chinese and the Indians on the economic plane, while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence with the US as it wages its War on Terror on the African continent.

In contrast, African oppositions tend to look mainly to the West for support, both financial and military.--Mahmood Mamdani, "What does Gaddafi's fall mean for Africa?,", August 30, 2011]

Nick Turse, "After Two Decades of U.S. Military Support, Terror Attacks Are Worse Than Ever in Niger,", April 2, 2023

back button