The government of Equatorial Guinea recently raised alarm that seven people of various nationalities have been kidnapped by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. According to international Maritime Bureau (IMB), the Gulf of Guinea now accounts for about 82 percent of crew kidnapping in the world. It has become the world worst in pirate attack in recent times since the interests of the world powers have increasingly being converging on the Gulf of Guinea. All oil-producing countries in sub-region of Africa are located in that Gulf. It is a sub-region of Africa that is rich in natural resources and also large deposits of hydrocarbon. It is made up of 23 countries across West Africa and Central Africa. They include Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, Cote d’ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sao Tome and Principle, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The Gulf of Guinea is also of strategic importance to the United States and Europe in their search for enduring global security. Every U.S. foreign policy interest in Africa – democracy, respect for human rights, poverty alleviation, terrorism, HIV/AIDS, organized crime, energy security, strengthening regional peace-keeping capacities, and regional political integration – is manifestly at play, in this region. It is attractive to the U.S. because it is located with direct access to U.S.East Coast refineries – this makes transportation between the Gulf of Guinea and the U.S. shorter compared to shipping oil from the middle east to the country. Apart from the fact that West Africa has greater market openness to foreign companies than other oil producing regions, the African oil is reportedly low in sulphur which blends with the environment considerations and designs of U.S. refineries. So it is in the interests of the United States as well as other oil-importing nations, to encourage greater production and investment that would raise petroleum output in Nigeriawith crude oil reserves.
The struggle to reduce other foreign influence in the Gulf of Guinea is at the root of Prosper Africa, the new U.S. initiative that is expected to unlock opportunities to do business in Africa – benefitting companies, investors, and workers both in Africa and the United states. In the struggle to maintain market access in the region, the U.S. competes not only with European powers like France, U.K, Spain, Belgium and Portugal who have continued to influence the economic, political, diplomatic and military life of the region, which they have always considered their sphere of influence, but also with rising Asian powers like China, Japan and India.
There is now international competition among these nations for dominance in the Gulf of Guinea . The primary objective of their interests is unrestricted access to oil and other natural resources in the region. This goal is achieved under the guise of providing various assistance regarding combatting terrorism, mixed migration and improving human rights. In this regard, the United States target social programs like improved education and health care, including treatment for HIV/AIDS, military exercises, and concept such as reinforcement of African capacity for peace keeping operations (RECAMP) as a way of enhancing regional stability.
France is equally mobilizing its political, diplomatic, and soft power influence to mitigate the negative impact of its increasing relegation in the region by the U.S method of force diplomacy, President Emmanuel Macron of France has declared “Africa as the future” and has stated a desire “to partner with not dominate African states”. France is now increasing its official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa to fight poverty, counter terrorism, and migration.
The ultimate goal of this gesture however, is to continue to dominate its former colonies. A diplomatic row between Italy and France over migration to Europe started when Italy’sDeputy Prime minister, Luigi Di Malo accused France of impoverishing African counties by maintaining: ‘if today we still have people leaving Africa, it is due to several European Countries, first of all France, that didn’t finish colonizing Africa’
Di Malo said France was manipulating the economics of 14 countries that use CFA franc, a currency underwritten by the French treasury and pegged to the Euro. He then added: ‘if France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy instead it’s among first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa’.
In fact, France pushed heavily for intervention in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi. The aim was to thwart Gaddafi’s attempt to create a gold-backed African currency to supplant France as the dominant power in the Francophone Africa region.
Following the change of political leadership of North African states in the wake of Arab uprising scenario, Washington is now able to spread the practices of destructive imposition of democratic principles and freedom to the west of the continent, where elements of its military structure are already present.Nigeria’s United Statesbilateral ties is embedded in Nigeria’s strategic importance to U.S. oil demand and also helping Nigeria to build military confidence for the country to assume responsibility for burdens such as peacekeeping, peace-making and promoting peace and security while the U.S, France and other European powers would focus primarily on advancing their economic and other interests in the Gulf of Guinea.
France is determined to continue to guard its interest in its traditional zone of influence through economic power, covert actions and military interventions in addition to using intelligence and surveillance operations and countless semi-permanent military campaigns. When Guinea demanded independence in 1958, France unleashed its fury destroying schools, nurseries, public buildings, cars, books, medicine, research institute instruments, tractors, animals were killed and food in warehouses was burned or poisoned. This was meant to send a message to other colonies that the consequences for rejecting France would be high.
The United States is equally resolute in making security and stability primary issues in the sub-region as it works to safeguard Americans multi-national corporations in Nigeria as a regional hegemony, and break trade barriers for sale of American made goods. There is clearly an upcoming battle for spheres of influence in the West Africa sub-region between Washington and Paris which could mean ousting ‘undesirable regimes’ in the Gulf of Guinea in the nearest future. Heads of African states who have stayed long in power could be affected.
Ukaobasi writes from Umuahia.