Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Empire of Oil: Capitalist Dispossession and the Scramble for Africa
by Michael Watts

...a central plank of U.S. foreign policy since President Roosevelt met King Saud of Saudi Arabia and cobbled together their “special relationship” aboard the USS Quincy in February 1945—is in a total shambles. The pillars of that policy—Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf oil states, and Venezuela—are hardly supplicant sheep within the U.S. imperial fold.

So-called supply risks in Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria coupled with the speculative impulses of the oil traders have driven up the price of oil to around $70 a barrel,

Although Africa is not as well endowed in hydrocarbons (both oil and gas) as the Gulf states, the continent “is all set to balance power,” and as a consequence it is “the subject of fierce competition by energy companies.”

A new scramble is in the making. The battleground consists of the rich African oilfields (see map).

Energy security is the name of the game.

The strategic interests of the United States certainly include not only access to cheap and reliable low-sulphur oil imports, but also keeping the Chinese (for example in Sudan) and South Koreans (for example in Nigeria)—aggressive new actors in the African oil business—and Islamic terror at bay. Africa is, according to the intelligence community, the “new frontier” in the fight against revolutionary Islam. Energy security, it turns out, is a terrifying hybrid of the old and the new: primitive accumulation and American militarism coupled to the war on terror.

The real crisis of Africa is that after twenty-five years of brutal neoliberal reform, and savage World Bank structural adjustment and IMF stabilization, African development has failed catastrophically.

It was Africa after all that was the testing ground for the Hayekian counter-revolution that swept through development economics in the 1970s

This was the first systematic attempt to take the Chicago Boys experience in post-Allende Chile and impose it on an entire continent. The ideas of Elliot Berg and his fellow travelers marked the triumph of a long march by the likes of Peter Bauer, H. G. Johnson, and Deepak Lal (ably supported by the monetarist think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Mont Pelerin Society, and the astonishing rise to power from the early presence of Leo Strauss and Fredrich Hayek of the “Chicago School”)

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