Countries like Yemen, Chad and South Sudan have been devastated by famine and starvation in recent years, with millions of people suffering despite a global surplus of food. But the problem is not a lack of resources - they are starving due to the effects of unending Western imperialism.
by Eric Draitser
Part 3 - West Africa: Terror, famine and the “New Great Game”
Today, the area around Lake Chad – including parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad – has become ground zero for a humanitarian disaster that threatens the lives of millions. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are at least 7.1 million people facing hunger, with 120,000 directly threatened by famine. Additionally, there are 515,000 severely malnourished children, 80,000 of whom are at risk of death from malnutrition.
What little coverage this unfolding humanitarian disaster has gotten has been dominated by talk of Boko Haram, the Nigeria-based terrorist organization that gained infamy for its mass kidnapping of the Chibok girls in 2014, a high-profile action that catapulted the terror group into the global spotlight. While it is understandable that the corporate media would focus on the good vs. evil storyline where the big, bad terrorists attack defenseless girls, the real context of the story is almost completely ignored.
As is par for the course when it comes to Africa and the former colonial powers of the West, the underlying factors are money, resources and profit. Lake Chad and West Africa are no different.
Indeed, while black Muslims sporting masks and AK-47s might be good for ratings, it is the black gold beneath Lake Chad that really sits at the center of the story.
Recent oil discoveries in and around the Lake Chad Basin have greatly altered how leaders of West African nations view their economic future. Put another way, West African leaders are scrambling to line their state coffers (and their pockets) with petrodollars.
A 2010 assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) noted that the Lake Chad Basin has “estimated mean volumes of 2.32 billion barrels of oil, 14.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 391 million barrels of natural gas liquids.” The potential size of these resources has likely attracted the attention of political and business leaders, both within the region and internationally.
These discoveries have touched off something of a mini-scramble for resources among Lake Chad littoral countries, a competition that could potentially threaten regional stability as countries like Cameroon make progress in exploiting energy reserves while Nigeria continues to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency, preventing it from keeping pace.
But as with all things Africa, it is the former colonial powers that continue to wield influence and strength. And with the discovery of massive riches in West Africa, those same powers have rushed into the region to extract their pound of flesh.
In Francophone West Africa, France remains the dominant economic player, as it remains the primary trading partner for its former colonies in Niger, Cameroon and Chad. The French military has permanently stationed military forces throughout the region, ostensibly to fight terrorism and instability in the wake of the 2012 coup in Mali and the subsequent terrorist insurgency there. The ongoing Operation Barkhane has at least 3,000 French troops spread across the Sahel region, including in Niger and Chad.
With French troops on the ground and French corporations eyeing oil and gas, as well as other lucrative mining products, it’s plain to see that Paris is primarily interested in good old-fashioned colonial-style economic parasitism and competition with foreign rivals, rather than any humanitarian concerns, which are chief concerns for the French people.
As French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg stated while announcing the creation of the new venture, “Francophone African countries, notably, would like to work with us, rather than do business with foreign multinationals.” That sounds an awful lot like colonial hegemony – notice the implication that France is not “foreign” in West Africa – veiled behind the façade of free market choice.
Consider also that France is heavily dependent on nuclear power, with nearly 80 percent of its electricity derived from nuclear energy. This would certainly explain why France has put such an emphasis on West Africa. As Think Africa Press noted in 2014, “France currently sources over 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy and is dependent on Niger for much of its immediate and future uranium supply.”
Like France, the U.S. is now heavily involved on the ground in West Africa – around the Lake Chad Basin, specifically. Washington dominates the skies over the region with its far-flung network of drone bases. In Chad, the U.S. has permanently stationed military personnel, ostensibly to search for the Chibok girls. However, the Obama White House’s own press statement betrayed a much more imperialistic objective: “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over Northern Nigeria and the surrounding area.”
Add to this the fact that the U.S. now operates two critical drone bases in the region, with one base in Cameroon’s city of Garoua and another in the Nigerien city of Agadez, and it becomes clear that the US, in fact, has drones and other surveillance covering the entire Lake Chad Basin.
This begs the question: how could we possibly be seeing a famine and humanitarian disaster unfolding quite literally at the feet of U.S. and French military personnel if those forces are there purely for humanitarian reason? Surely nothing could be more appropriate for a humanitarian mission than to save men, women, and children from the ghastly fate of starvation and malnutrition.
But the sad truth is that the empire has little interest in saving the lives of millions of Nigerians, Cameroonians, and Nigeriens. Its focus is in extracting resources and preventing its Chinese rival from horning in on the action as it has elsewhere on the continent.
And in the midst of Washington’s “New Great Game” with Beijing, millions of Africans are paying with their lives.