September 15, 2007

Nigeria: Maneuvering for Control in the Gulf of Guinea

Source: Stratfor

Stratfor's Free Intelligence Reports
September 14, 2007 18 17 GMT


Nigeria is moving to block AFRICOM, the U.S. combat command for Africa, from establishing itself in the Gulf of Guinea region. A few countries will go along with Nigeria, but oil and natural gas newcomers Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe probably will resist the move.


The Nigerian government began meetings with West African governments and the leadership of the African Union to oppose AFRICOM -- the Pentagon's Africa command -- from establishing itself in the Gulf of Guinea region, Nigerian media reported Sept. 14. While Abuja aims to preserve its unrivaled influence in the region, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe probably will resist Abuja's blocking move to safeguard their newfound independence from Nigerian influence.

AFRICOM will work closely with local governments and militaries to build up indigenous security and counterterrorism capacities, rather than engaging in high-profile troop deployments. Aiming to become operational by October, AFRICOM will have three priority African regions to work in. These include improving maritime security cooperation in the oil- and natural gas-rich Gulf of Guinea region, a region that includes Nigeria, the United States' fifth-largest supplier of oil. AFRICOM also will be tasked with promoting counterterrorism cooperation with governments and militaries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions.

Nigeria in particular has struggled to secure its oil and natural gas sector -- found largely in its Niger Delta region -- from militant attacks by groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. In a bid to boost Nigeria's ability to contain militant violence against oil assets in the Niger Delta, Washington has fostered maritime security cooperation through offering training and the provision of maritime patrol craft with Abuja.

In spite of Abuja's vulnerabilities in the Niger Delta, no other West African country rivals Nigeria's economic and military superiority. The potential presence of AFRICOM in the region could disrupt that hegemony by enhancing the capabilities and interests of new oil and natural gas powers previously overshadowed by Nigeria. Abuja does not want to see the emergence of a rival to its traditional dominant position in West Africa, a similar position taken by South Africa in its opposition to AFRICOM's presence in southern Africa.

Nigerian hegemony has traditionally been exercised over countries to its west, including Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. Nigeria is a critical source of energy supplies, has provided peacekeepers for stability operations in conflict zones such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, and also maintains extensive business interests in the region. Until the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the Liberian presidency, that country fell into Nigeria's zone of influence. Johnson-Sirleaf, a U.S.-trained economist who formerly worked for the World Bank, has moved to remake Liberia as one of the United States' -- and AFRICOM's -- most vocal supporters in Africa.

By contrast, Nigeria's neighbors in the Gulf of Guinea -- the Malabo archipelago of Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe -- were virtually ignored all around, including by Abuja. This changed in recent years after these two nations were found to possess extensive oil and natural gas reserves.

Both nations remain largely undeveloped, and therefore have little need for Nigeria's oil and natural gas or limited security guarantees. (Nigeria lacks an effective blue-water naval or long-range air force capability.) Exploiting their oil and natural gas reserves -- a process in a relatively nascent stage -- will provide Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe the resources they have lacked to pursue their own objectives. As a result, Abuja will have to take into consideration two neighboring upstarts it previously could discount.

As Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe move to develop their oil and natural gas reserves, building up their indigenous ability to secure those interests will become a greater focus of attention. The desire to avoid becoming subservient to Nigeria's fresh attentions in the Gulf of Guinea region will ensure these two countries in particular safeguard their freedom and independence by resisting Abuja's opposition to AFRICOM

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