Thursday, September 14, 2006

Reuters: Danger To African Resources

In a report that eerily echoes ours of a day earlier (see below, "Reuters: Nigerian Output More Greatly Diminished Than Previously Thought; Questions About Chevron"), Reuters U.S. officials and other experts have grown increasingly worried about the future of oil from Nigeria, the Africa petroleum powerhouse of the past decade..

Here is the Reuters report:

West beams security focus on Gulf of Guinea oil
14 Sep 2006 01:05:43 GMT
Source: Reuters

(This story is one of a series issued on Sept. 14 as part of a features package)

By Zoe Eisenstein

LUANDA, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Western experts worried about the security of oil supplies from Africa's Gulf of Guinea have considered several doomsday scenarios, including suicide attacks by determined Islamist militants on offshore oil platforms.

But many analysts say domestic unrest is by far the bigger threat to a region whose oil is growing in strategic importance to the West because of increasing volatility in the Middle East.

Gulf of Guinea producers Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea and promising newcomer Sao Tome & Principe already supply 16 percent of U.S. energy needs and the figure is projected to rise to 25 percent by 2015.

Their governments are generally weak, and giant Nigeria is grappling with internal unrest over the distribution of oil wealth -- something analysts fear could be exploited by Islamist militants targeting U.S. and other Western interests globally.

"The least threatening is (an) attack on the open ocean to tanker traffic across the Atlantic or some other use of the trans-Atlantic tanker (through hijacking) to attack oil terminals," said Peter Pham, director of Virginia-based Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

"This would require a great investment that we do not see any terrorist group making yet. But this does not mean that some minimal effort should not be made to beef up security and to plan for eventualities," Pham told Reuters.

"Given the weak maritime capacities of the states of the west littoral of Africa, there is not inconsiderable risk to oil installations at sea," he added.

But Pham said the greatest threat was closer to the coast like in Nigeria's delta region where local militants mount cheap but devastating hit-and-run attacks on oil installations.

He said that while the immediate threat derived from local grievances, "it would not take much for transnational terrorists to exploit these".


Analysts and diplomats describe the mix of great wealth and extreme poverty and alienation that characterises oil-producing states as a time bomb.

"(It) is the kind of noxious cocktail that motivated the September 11 hijackers," said Nicholas Shaxson, an Africa expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

"There is no coherent threat of this kind in the region right now, but that's not to say that there won't be one day."

Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa programme at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, identified weak government and poverty as the main threats.

"They manifest themselves in terms of piracy, criminality, bunkering syndicates involved in oil theft schemes," he said, referring to organised crude oil theft by criminal syndicates.

Nigeria has responded to growing unrest in its oil-producing delta since 2003 by deploying some 3,000 military personnel from the army, navy and air force to guard key facilities.

This roughly doubled the number of troops in the delta, an inaccessible maze of mangrove-lined creeks and swamps almost the size of England.

As the situation has deteriorated over the past three years, Nigeria has sought help from London and Washington through an ad hoc Gulf of Guinea Security Conference.

Nigeria's "shopping list" of military hardware to strengthen the existing security structure, has however been rejected by Washington and London, diplomats involved in the talks said.

The Nigerian armed forces still have a poor reputation after decades of military dictatorship, which ended in 1999.


The United States, aware of the strategic importance of the region, and as part of its own declared war on terror since the Sept. 11 attacks, has been weighing other options.

Defence officials in Washington said last month the Pentagon was considering creating a separate U.S. military command for Africa. A Pentagon official said this would not mean putting U.S. troops in Africa but "would streamline the focus and give appropriate undivided attention to the continent".

The small Gulf of Guinea archipelago of Sao Tome & Principe -- where U.S. and other companies are searching for oil amid high expectations of a new African bonanza -- has said it wants more assistance from the United States to protect its security as a future oil producer.

The United States has helped with feasibility studies for a deepwater port and a new airport and many analysts expect Washington to locate a major military base there in the future.

Intelligence experts say the U.S. military views Sao Tome as a future Diego Garcia for western Africa. Diego Garcia is a key U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean which played a critical role in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, no formal negotiations have been reported so far.

U.S. officials stress that fostering democracy and economic well-being in Gulf of Guinea states has to come before increased American military presence to secure oil supplies.

"You can provide security but without democracy this won't be a stable region," said Cindy Courville, who has been nominated as the first U.S. envoy to the African Union.

(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Dakar, Thomas Ashby in Lagos and Christopher Thompson)

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