Africa to fuel US economy

A little over a year after US President George Bush said Africa didn't register on his priority list of foreign policy targets, it seems his views have changed somewhat in light of his whirlwind visit to a number of African states.
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Billed by the US as extending the hand of friendship to the AIDs/war/famine stricken continent, President Bush's five-nation safari is sceptically being seen as an effort to ensure US access to Africa's rapidly expanding oil resources.

With American stocks in the Middle East at an all time low the search is well and truly on for an alternative source of fuel and currently West Africa is enjoying an unprecedented oil exploration and production boom.

Despite recent internal problems Nigeria remains as one of the world's top half dozen producers, Angola is set to ramp up its production by almost 50%, which will put it well over the one million barrels per day bracket and the Atlantic waters of the Gulf of Guinea states, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, and São Tomé, are thick with exploration vessels and FPSO's.

More than $US50 billion has already been earmarked for new development schemes, making it the single largest investment in the continent's history.

The US already imports about 15% of its annual oil requirements from the Gulf of Guinea and this is expected to exceed 25% by 2015, significantly reducing America's dependence on the Middle East. US imports from Angola alone rose to $US3.2 billion in 2002, up from $US2.3 billion in 1998.

The Americans are also preparing to reopen their embassy in Equatorial Guinea, where oil revenues have boosted economic output by an estimated 60% over the past two years, mainly due to recent US investment.

West Africa offers western countries the benefits of short shipping routes through safe waters, quality untapped oil fields and few market restraints with the added bonus of only one OPEC member, Nigeria.

There are a number of potential producers with countries such as Mauritania and landlocked Chad about to become Africa's newest petro-states. Currently a one-thousand kilometre, $US4 billion pipeline is being built with help from the World Bank to link oil fields in southern Chad with a marine terminal off Cameroon.

The fear is that the search for oil in the area and the influx of massive amounts of money could further destabilize an area not renowned for its human rights and socio-political record.

Oil wealth has so far done little for the impoverished Nigerian's, where despite $300 billion dollars in oil revenues over the past 25 years, poverty has increased in the country's oil-producing regions.

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