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Sinister Convergence in New Sahel Terror War Front

by Wynde Priddy

US military presence and oil development seem to go hand in hand in the developing world, and the latest entry is Chad, a landlocked country in Africa's Sahel region. The AP reported March 16 that Washington, opening a new front in the War on Terrorism, has begun training and equipping armies along insecure Sahara desert border regions. The BBC reported March 23 that soldiers of the Army's 10th Special Forces Group are already training troops in Mali and Mauritania, with operations planned for Chad and Niger. The new US military presence comes just as ExxonMobil has targeted Chad for a major new thrust of oil development.

The new interest in Africa marks a shift from the United States' long-standing reluctance to involve itself militarily on the continent. The US currently acquires 17% of its imported oil from sub-Saharan Africa, and most predict that within a decade that figure will rise to nearly 25%, as a part of the current administration's plan to diversify America's oil supply. At the same time the administration is reporting plans to rotate U.S. troops regularly into bases and airfields all over the continent.

The developing partnership between Chad's government and Washington became apparent in March, when Chad made an urgent call for U.S. help in the aftermath of deadly clash with fighters from an Islamic extremist group. The implicated Salafist Group for Call and Combat has publicly pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. The U.S. claims that one of its leaders, Saifi Ammari of Algeria, is recruiting among Muslims in Mauritania, Niger and Libya, and sponsoring small armed groups throughout the region.

Meanwhile, a consortium led by ExxonMobil is overtaking Chad's southern rural landscape with 265 oil wells in three different oilfield areas, and the development quickly spreading. A $3.7 billion dollar pipeline, the largest single private investment in Africa, was completed in 2003, linking Chad to the Atlantic and western oil markets. The World Bank helped finance the 600-mile pipeline, which begins in Chad's Doba Basin oil fields and passes underground through Cameroon and its ecologically fragile rainforest areas. It reaches the Atlantic Ocean at the coastal city of Kribi, Cameroon.

According to Economic Justice Now, an activist organization dealing with globalization issues, the pipeline, even with its state-of-the art equipment, poses a danger of groundwater contamination and pollution of important regional river systems.

Investors in the pipeline project, including the World Bank, stipulated that the oil revenues be transparent, and that the government must use the money to better the lives of Chad's 9 million inhabitants. A citizens' committee is being set up to review spending, and the World Bank is also overseeing how Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa, will manage its new wealth.

The group of companies offered the government of Chad a $25 million dollar "signing bonus," and the New York Times reported that the first payment was spent on arms and the refurbishing of ministers' offices. The oversight committee has turned down many requests for unnecessary expenditures.

This year Chad will receive it's first share of the oil royalties, about $100 million-- which will expand the government's treasury by 40% virtually overnight. The majority of Chad's people don't have access to electricity and water, and per capita income barely exceeds $1,000 a year. The World Bank claims that the project will alleviate harsh living conditions, with oil revenue to be spent on development programs. The local affected communities, however, have little confidence that they will see any of the money. Critics say that it is unrealistic to expect equitable spending from a government still recovering from years of civil war between factions from the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north. Rights observers fear that the money could be used to crush opponents of President Idriss Deby, a Muslim from the partially Arab north.

Indeed, repression has started early, with anti-pipeline protests being banned. Two private newspapers have been closed by the government, and one irreverent radio station, Radio Liberte, is operating under threat of suspension. One parliamentarian and vocal opponent of both the pipeline and government corruption, Ngarledjy Yorongar, was jailed by President Deby with a three-year sentence--only to be pardoned a week later at the demand of World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

There have also been grave human rights problems, such as indiscriminate killings and repression of the civilian population in the project area. Complicating the problem is the severe refugee crisis along the eastern border with Sudan's volatile Darfur region.

Chad's government could also demand a larger share of the wealth. Currently it receives 12.5% in royalties, which is slight compared to that received by Africa's oil giants, Angola and Nigeria. Many rural people are unhappy about the payments they received. Villagers and oil company representatives deliberated for weeks about how much the land was worth, driving up the price of each mango tree to $1,000.

ExxonMobil states that by mid-2002 they had paid over $8.6 million in cash and in-kind compensation, like farm equipment or sewing machines, to individual land users who were affected, but the dismal state of communities is reflected in the lack of schools, hospitals or other promised improvements. ExxonMobil refuses responsibility saying that it is ultimately up to the government to spend the money wisely.


The New York Times, The Making of an African Petrostate, February 18, 2004

The Associated Press, U.S. Forces Begin Focusing on West and North Africa, March 16, 2004

Economic Justice Now, 1998 []

BBC, March 23, 2004 []

"When Uncle Sam Comes Calling in Africa" by Suraya Dadoo Media Review April 30, 2003

ExxonMobil Compensation program web site

Drillbits & Tailings [] [] []

Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, April 9, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.