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Bush’s Africa Trip Really an Oil Safari

By Hopewell Radebe, Chief Political Correspondent, Business Day (Johannesburg), 20 June 2003

THE official line on the US presidential visit to Africa is that it is aimed at strengthening diplomatic relations and showing solidarity with the continent’s renaissance spirit as embodied by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

However, analysts suspect that there is more to President George Bush’s African safari than meets the eye.

They argue that Bush is reaching out to Africa in a desperate search for alternative oil suppliers for his country.

No official date has yet been set for the visit, which is anticipated to take place within the next month. Bush is expected to visit Senegal and Nigeria as well as SA.

The US embassy in Pretoria insists that the visit, if it happens, will be a follow up to the Bush administration’s increased emphasis on its Africa policy, which has opened up US markets for the benefit of developing countries and committed R120bn to fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over five years.

But Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a think tank based in Baltimore in the US, warned that American interest in Africa was not only charitable.

Their report titled Bottom of the Barrel, released on Tuesday, revealed the fact that Africa was swiftly becoming a key supplier of oil to the US, which already imports 17% of its oil from sub- Saharan Africa.

Within the next decade nearly a quarter of the supply will come from the region.

The report was written by Ian Gary, CRS’s strategic issues advisor for Africa, and Terry Lynn Karl, Stanford University professor of political science.

It conservatively estimates that sub- Saharan African governments will receive more than 200bn in oil revenues over the coming decade.

Sub-Saharan Africa is in the midst of an oil boom and foreign energy companies are pouring billions of dollars into the region for the exploration and production of petroleum.

Oil production will double and more than $50bn, the largest investment in African history, will be spent on its oil fields by the end of the decade.

The new African oil boom will concentrate on the oil-rich Atlantic waters of the Gulf of Guinea, from Nigeria to Angola, the report says.

Unfortunately, this moment of great opportunity could also prove to be a source of great peril for the continent, especially for countries whose history is beset by wide-scale poverty, maladministration and corruption.

Petrodollars have not helped developing countries to reduce poverty in the past.

Angola used them to fight its civil war for three decades and they supported one military dictator after another in Nigeria. CRS is calling on the US government to emphasise respect of human rights, the promotion of good governance and democracy, and the transparent, fair, and accountable management of oil revenues in their bilateral relationships with African petro-states.

They are lobbying the US government to support international efforts aimed at increased transparency of oil revenue payments by companies to developing countries.

CRS is also calling on African governments to remove legal and extralegal obstacles to transparent disclosure and monitoring of the oil sector.

The are urging oil companies to support the international Publish What You Pay campaign by publicly disclosing, in a regular and timely manner, all net taxes, fees, royalties.

Even compensation payments and community development funding should be made public, the CRS says.

US embassy spokeswoman Judy Moon says the US hopes that these lobby groups will give an opportunity for the principles of good governance, accountability and democracy promoted in the Nepad programme to take root.

It seems Nepad is calling for the same things, she says.

The US supports Nepad, she says, because it realigns and stabilises trade policies. In such a secure economic environment, all companies stand to benefit and will no longer need to cater for bribes as part of their operational costs, Moon says.

She confirmed that the US government was looking for an alternative oil supply in Africa and was already procuring some oil. However, she insists that Bush’s visit, if it took place, would not be linked to the search for oil and this was definitely not the case with regard to SA.

Moon says the US already subscribes to Transparency International objectives, which forbid companies from paying bribes. Companies have been prosecuted in the past for unscrupulous trade practices.