Scramble for energy in Africa

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

France’s rush to war in Mali demonstrates an intensification of the struggle for control of energy reserves between France and the US. France remains a top investor in Africa. In 2011 France and Britain led the way in attacking Libya. France also bombed Côte d’Ivoire that year. The French state maintains hundreds of troops in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad and Gabon and smaller numbers in its other former colonies. France is determined to defend its interests in Africa.

Since 2002 the US has also increased its military presence in the continent, building military bases in several locations. In October 2012, David Rodriguez, deputy US commander in Afghanistan, who helped plan the ‘surge’, was nominated the new head of US Africa Command (Africom), to ‘oversee counter-terrorism missions...and…bolster US military ties across the region’. In 2013, the US will send 3,500 troops to 35 African nations, more than half the countries in Africa, citing a ‘growing threat from extremist groups’ and heading specifically to Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Niger, Kenya and Somalia.

The Sahel region is not only strategically placed between the massive oil and gas fields of North and West Africa, but is also rich in gold and uranium. Mali and neighbouring Niger have massive uranium reserves. Europe is a major importer of uranium and has no domestic supplies. Nuclear energy provided 77% of France’s electricity in 2008. The EU is developing a new generation nuclear reactors and nuclear power is a vital component of the EU’s energy mix, with 10.5% of its uranium coming from Niger in 2009. Uranium is critical for EU and French imperialism.

Oil and natural gas exploration offshore of West Africa is booming. Deepwater oil and gas operations now extend from Mauritania to Angola. From 2011-2015, West Africa is expected to see a significant increase in the number of offshore fields coming on stream. Oil and gas production in the region will increase to 2,201.6 MMboe (Million barrels of oil equivalent) in 2020. Multinational oil corporations are investing heavily. The Gulf of Guinea supplies 13% of EU oil imports and 6% of natural gas. China will increase its imports of West African crude oil by 18% in 2013.

64 oil and gas discoveries over the last five years have established East Africa as one of the key areas for multinational investment. Huge discoveries in Mozambique and Tanzania, in particular, make East Africa the ‘next epicentre’ for global natural gas. There is a scramble to get East Africa’s oil and gas to the Asian and mainly Chinese market. In 2010 Africa already supplied 26% of US crude oil and petroleum product imports. The US is determined to maintain imperialist hegemony and keep the EU, China and other rising powers at bay. Who will come out on top, France or the US?

Charles Chinweizu