June 20, 2006 | Backgrounder on Africa
Most Americans view Africa as a region plagued by instability, poverty, and poor governance. Although accurate for portions of the continent, this picture is far from complete and fails to recognize the region's growing importance to U.S. national security and economic interests. American interests in Africa range from traditional development and humanitarian problems to the more recent challenges posed by globalization and the opportunities for terrorists and other violent actors to exploit unstable countries. There is also a rising expectation by many in America and other countries that the U.S. will intervene in internal and regional African conflicts more frequently and actively, whether diplomatically or in support of military missions.
Moreover, as articulated in both the 2006 State of the Union address and the National Security Strategy, the importance of expanding and ensuring America's access to energy resources has transformed Africa from a strategic backwater into a priority region for U.S. economic, political, and military interests. However, pursuit of oil should not trump the economic and political reform necessary to sustain long-term economic growth and development. Oil revenues in developing countries tend to foster corruption, contribute to instability, and undermine incentives for reform. This tendency makes it all the more important for the United States to press oil-producing nations in Africa to adopt policy changes that would ensure that wealth from natural resources will not be squandered or contribute to political repression and instability. The U.S. should continue this strategy by promoting:
Implementing the strategy of diversifying the sources of America's energy imports will require securing access to and encouraging increased production of oil resources in Africa. In the long term, this requires the U.S. to encourage oil-producing states in sub-Saharan Africa to increase economic freedom, bolster the rule of law, enhance transparency, and diversify their economies away from overreliance on oil and gas exports. Failure to do so will invite instability and humanitarian crises that will harm the people of Africa and undermine reliability and access to vital resources.
America , Energy, and Africa
Energy, particularly energy from oil and natural gas, is a vital strategic commodity to America's economy and security. It is essential for modern commerce at all stages. It enables a small portion of the population to grow and harvest the crops that feed the nation, allowing the vast majority of the work force to focus on other endeavors. It is the primary fuel used to transport goods to local, national, and international markets. It also is vital to maintaining America's military and homeland security. Maintaining access to fossil fuels for the foreseeable future is essential if Americans are to maintain their standard of living.
As noted by President George W. Bush, America is "addicted" to fossil fuels, particularly oil. Despite being the world's third-largest producer of oil in 2004-after Saudi Arabia and Russia-the U.S. remains the world's largest oil importer because its consumption far outstrips its production. This reliance on foreign imports makes the U.S. vulnerable to international shifts in production. Although prices should decline from 25 year highs as new resources are discovered and brought on line and marginal fields become profitable at higher prices, increasing Chinese and Indian demand for oil and gas means that long-term prices will likely remain higher than the previous two decades, which will affect U.S. economic growth.
An additional concern is how higher oil prices will affect broader U.S. security interests. In his January 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush stated his concern that America's dependence on foreign oil posed a security challenge, in part because oil is "often imported from unstable parts of the world." Moreover, much of the world's oil reserves are located in regions or countries that support policies detrimental to U.S. strategic interests. According to BP Global (formerly British Petroleum), the top 10 countries with proved oil reserves as of 2004 are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Nigeria. Nearly all of these lack political freedom, and many have political priorities that are at odds with U.S. priorities, such as the war on terrorism and the expansion of political and economic freedom. As noted by columnist Max Boot, high oil prices also provide expanded resources for disagreeable regimes, providing a "dictatorship dividend."
[This dividend] subsidizes Sudan's ethnic cleansing (it stands to earn $4.7 billion more this year than in 2003), Iran's development of nuclear weapons ($45 billion) and Saudi Arabia's proselytization for Wahhabi fundamentalism ($149 billion). Even in such close American allies as Kuwait ($35 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($36 billion), odds are that some of the extra lucre will find its way into the pockets of terrorists.
While the threat noted by Boot should not be overstated-the two largest sources of U.S. oil imports in 2005 were Canada and Mexico-reliance on foreign energy poses a challenge, and the ramifications of increased resources for questionable regimes should concern U.S. policymakers.
To address these concerns, the President has proposed a combination of developing alternative sources of energy and using technology to enhance efficiency to make "our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past." More specifically, the White House announced its intention to replace more than 75 percent of U.S. oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. However, even if the President's domestic energy initiatives bear fruit, America's dependence on foreign oil will persist for at least the next two decades-a fact acknowledged in the 2006 National Security Strategy, which notes:
Most of the energy that drives the global economy comes from fossil fuels, especially petroleum. The United States is the world's third largest oil producer, but we rely on international sources to supply more than 50 percent of our needs. Only a small number of countries make major contributions to the world's oil supply.
…. The key to ensuring our energy security is diversity in the regions from which energy resources come. [emphasis in original]
To some extent, this strategy simply reflects current trends. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 18.6 percent of U.S. oil imports in 2005, compared to 17.4 percent from the Middle East. (See Table 1.) This trend continued through the first two months of 2006, with U.S. oil imports from Africa increasing to 20.1 percent and oil imports from the Middle East falling to 15.5 percent.
As important as Africa is as a current source of energy for the U.S., it will continue to grow in importance in the coming years. According to BP Global, Africa accounted for 11.4 percent of global oil production in 2004 and held 9.4 percent of proved reserves. As shown in Table 2, Africa's proved reserves have nearly doubled in the past decade, from 65 billion barrels to 112 billion barrels. Currently, the key oil countries in Africa are Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria, and Sudan. Although these countries are recognized sources of oil, much of Africa's petroleum resources remain underdeveloped or unexplored, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. A number of African countries are believed to hold significant reserves and are expected to increase production in coming years. Within the next decade, Africa's production is expected to double, and U.S. imports of oil from West Africa alone are forecast to increase to 25 percent of total U.S. oil imports.
Adjusting U.S. Policy to Reflect Africa's Evolution
Resource-rich developing nations (particularly oil-rich developing nations) have a troubling tendency to be less democratic, less economically free, and more prone to instability. Thomas Friedman has noted several reasons why oil wealth undermines democracy. These include:
What the United States Should Do
The United States and other Western countries are actively promoting policies to increase transparency, reduce corruption, improve government services, and promote sound economic policies in an attempt to counter these trends. The Bush Administration has announced that it "will work with resource-rich countries to increase their openness, transparency, and rule of law" with the intention of promoting "effective democratic governance and attract[ing] the investment essential to developing their resources and expanding the range of energy suppliers." The U.S. should continue this strategy by promoting economic freedom and political accountability, transparency and accountability in the energy sector, and enhanced security.
Increasing Economic Freedom and Political Accountability. As noted in a Chatham House briefing paper, oil generates few jobs and often contributes to instability in countries with relatively low levels of production (less than 50 barrels per head per year), which is the case for most African producers. The key to success in these cases has been to diversify the economy and encourage investment, which is best achieved through increased economic freedom and political accountability. This includes strengthening the rule of law, enforcing property rights and contracts, maximizing labor market flexibility, lowering tax rates, removing price controls, and improving infrastructure critical to trade and investment such as roads, ports, power, and telecommunications. Specifically, the U.S. should:
Increasing Transparency and Accountability. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo estimates, that "[c]orrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion (£95 billion) from their people in the decades since independence." A 2004 African Union report claimed that Africa loses nearly $150 billion annually to corrupt practices-or about a quarter of its annual gross domestic product. Because most resource-rich developing countries maintain control of the resources on the basis that they are common goods that should be used for the broader benefit of the country, they are particularly susceptible to corruption and misuse of revenues. To counter this, the U.S. should encourage greater transparency and accountability by:
Enhancing security. Instability arising from struggles over natural resource revenues can have far-reaching effects. Indeed, The New York Times reports, "Because of these incidents, Nigeria's oil production has fallen by 20 percent, or more than 550,000 barrels of oil a day, since the beginning of the year." Rampant corruption has prevented communities in the oil-rich Niger delta region from benefiting from oil revenues, fueled militants in the region, and contributed to instability. Resolving problems such as these will require reforms that enhance economic growth and increase transparency and accountability. In the long-term, this will restore confidence among the broader population that the country's people are not being unfairly denied benefits arising from the development of natural resources. However, short-term vulnerabilities to violence require that U.S. and African governments:
The U.S. strategy promoting economic freedom and political accountability, transparency and accountability in the energy sector, and enhanced security can only succeed if the U.S. continues to interact with and engage resource-rich states and firmly applies this strategy. Excusing misgovernment, corruption, and abuse by governments on the basis of promoting short-term stability and access to resources will be counterproductive in the long term.
An additional concern is China's economic emergence. Unlike the U.S. and other Western governments, China is unconcerned with representative government, economic freedom, or long-term African development. Indeed, China often undermines these goals. Perhaps the most obvious example is China's willingness to protect some of Africa's most egregious regimes (e.g., the governments of Sudan and Zimbabwe) from international sanction. China also dilutes Western efforts-such as withholding aid or placing limitations on investments-to improve human rights or governance by offering aid, investment, or other assistance when Western assistance is withheld. The U.S. should coordinate with other donors to counter China's influence by linking economic incentives, diplomatic support, and other desirables to progress in economic liberalization, political freedom, and enhanced transparency and accountability.
Implementing the strategy of diversifying the sources of America's energy imports will require securing access to and encouraging increased production of oil resources in Africa. However, such efforts should avoid placing too much emphasis on enhancing stability to ensure short-term access. In the longer term, securing stable access to these resources requires the U.S. to encourage oil-producing states in sub-Saharan Africa to increase economic freedom and political accountability, bolster the rule of law, enhance transparency, and diversify their economies away from overreliance on oil and gas exports. Failure to do so will invite future instability and humanitarian crises that will harm the people of Africa and undermine the reliability of and access to vital resources.
Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International
Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 BP Global, "Statistical Review of World Energy 2005," June 14, 2005, at http://www.bp.com/genericsection.do?categoryId=92&contentId=7005893 (June 12, 2006).
 "Steady as She Goes: Why the World Is Not About to Run Out of Oil," The Economist, April 20, 2006, at http://economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=6823506 (June 12, 2006).
 George W. Bush, "The State of the Union," January 31, 2006, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/index.html (June 12, 2006).
 Max Boot, "Filling Tanks, Funding Dictators," Los Angeles Times, op-ed, May 3, 2006, at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-boot3may03,0,3377186.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions (June 12, 2006).
 The White House, The
National Security Strategy of the United States of America,
March 22, 2006, p. 28, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/
nsc/nss/2006/nss2006.pdf (June 12, 2006).
 U.S. Energy Information
Administration, "U.S. Imports by Country Origin," updated May 23,
2006, at http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_move_impcus_
a2_nus_ep00_im0_mbbl_m.htm (June 12, 2006).
 BP Global, Putting
Energy in the Spotlight: BP Statistical Review of World Energy
2005, June 2005, pp. 4-19, at http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_
/downloads/pdf/statistical_review_of_world_energy_full_report_2005.pdf (June 12, 2006).
 Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. Al-Rodhan, "The Geopolitics of Energy: Geostrategic Risks and Economic Uncertainties," The Center for Strategic and International Studies, revised March 20, 2006, pp. 29-30, at /static/reportimages/DAF384F9D6BF9E4F598AE1FC67424D86.pdf (June 12, 2006).
 The National Intelligence Council predicted that "West Africa will play an increasing role in global energy markets, providing 25 percent of North American oil imports in 2015." This estimate understates Africa's future role, as it does not include North Africa or other regions of the continent that possess or are believed to possess significant reserves. National Intelligence Council, "Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future with Nongovernment Experts," National Foreign Intelligence Board, December 2000, at http://www.dni.gov/nic/NIC_globaltrend2015.html#link8c (June 12, 2006).
 Thomas L. Friedman, "The First Law of Petropolitics," Foreign Policy, May/June 2006, pp. 31-32.
 "The Paradox of Plenty," The Economist, December 20, 2005, at http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=5323394&no_na_tran=1 (June 12, 2006).
 The White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, p. 29.
 Keith Myers,
"Petroleum, Poverty and Security," Chatham House Briefing
Paper, June 2005, at http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/pd
f/research/africa/BPpetroleum.pdf (June 12, 2006).
 The U.S. and other donor nations have spent over $550 billion on development assistance (2003 dollars) since 1960 to help poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa attain economic growth and prosperity-with little success. See Brett D. Schaefer, "How Economic Freedom Is Central to Development in Sub-Saharan Africa," Heritage Foundation Lecture No. 922, February 3, 2006, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/TradeandForeignAid/hl922.cfm.
 For additional information, see Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., and Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Jr., Ph.D., "The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1633, March 5, 2003, pp.7-8, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/MiddleEast/bg1633.cfm.
 "While escalating oil prices represent a unique opportunity for many oil-producing countries, including those in Africa, these upward moving prices are definitely a serious challenge for net oil importers on the continent, as their recent economic progress and development may be rolled back." African Development Bank Group, "Can Struggling African Economies Survive Escalating Oil Prices?" May 2006, at http://www.afdb.org/portal/page?_pageid=473,1036251&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL (June 12, 2006).
 Basildon Peta, "Africa's Leaders Stole $140 Billion," The Independent, June 14, 2002.
 As reported by George B. N. Ayittey, Ph.D., "Nigeria's Struggle with Corruption," testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, May 18, 2006, at /static/reportimages/64D676DFF2D5D697CC7B4E375C557BAD.pdf (June 12, 2006).
 World Bank,
"Where Do Things Stand in the World Bank's Dealings with the
Government of Chad?" at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/
piPK:141110~theSitePK:349862,00.html (June 12, 2006).
 For additional information, see Cohen and O'Driscoll, "The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq," pp. 7-8.
 Jad Mouawad,
"Eight Oil Workers Abducted from Rig off Nigeria," The New York
Times, June 2, 2006, at
/africa/02cnd-nigeria.html (June 13, 2006; registration required).
 U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights," statement by the Governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, at /static/reportimages/0F982309440D3C30689048F66611B156.pdf (June 13, 2006).
 For more information, see Peter Brookes and Ji Hye Shin, "China's Influence in Africa: Implications for the United States," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1916, February 22, 2006, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/bg1916.cfm.
 China has been strongly engaged in supporting and investing in oil-rich African countries including Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan despite questions over repression and corruption. It has also engaged countries like Ethiopia, which has been criticized because of election irregularities and its border dispute with Eritrea.