Has Obama Just Kicked Off Another Oil War -- This Time in Africa?
Here's what is likely behind Obama's decision to send special forces to Uganda.
On Friday, October 14, President Barack Obama announced he would be sending 100 Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces to Uganda to "remove from the battlefield" (meaning capture or kill) the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony. "I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa," wrote Obama in a letter to U.S. House Majority Leader, John Boehner, R-OH.
The LRA, whose horrific deeds have been have been well-documented by scores of human rights reports and the documentary film, Invisible Children, can best be described as a Christian cult militia engaged in violent armed rebellion against the Ugandan government, located primarily in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan. An arrest warrant was issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court against the LRA leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kony, the LRA ringleader, possibly has over 80 wives (i.e. sex slaves), according to a 2009 story by the Guardian, and has fathered over 40 children.
It gets worse.
According to a May 2009 article in Newsweek, "[H]e and the hundreds of forcibly conscripted children who serve as his killing squads are feared throughout the region for their horrific levels of brutality and the butchery of tens of thousands of defenseless civilians. Their swath of destruction has displaced well over 2 million people. Kony has forced new male recruits to rape their mothers and kill their parents. Former LRA members say the rebels sometimes cook and eat their victims."
The mainstream media, at least those who have covered this new U.S. military adventure, have taken the Obama administration at face value on its stated claim that JSOC troops are necessary in Uganda and neighboring countries, for the purpose of murdering the elusive and brutal war criminal-at-large, Joseph Kony.
But is this the true motive for sending JSOC troops into the region? A probe into the last several years of geopolitical posturing in Africa by the United States reveals another tale. It is the tale of a 21st century "scramble for Africa" for the procurement of oil, using imperial tools, such as drones, mercenaries and military bases, in a desperate effort to gain control of this valuable commodity.
An African Scramble for Oil
In October 2008, AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, became the U.S. military's sixth regional Unified Combatant Command center, joining those already housed in South America (SOUTHCOM), North America (NORTHCOM), Europe (EUCOM), the Middle East (CENTCOM), and the Pacific (USPACOM). The Unified Combatant Command centers serve as regional strategic hubs for the U.S. military planners to plot and implement the ways in which the U.S. will dominate these various regions for whatever it might deem to be in line with the national interest or national security purposes.
AFRICOM, though, did not come out of the blue and was years in the making before its realization. Not long after 9/11, in early January 2002, a key symposium titled "African Oil: A Priority for U.S. National Security and African Development" took place in Washington, DC; it was hosted by the neoconservative think-tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS).
IASPS is most famous for its authorship of a paper called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," a 1996 paper that, among other things, called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, foreshadowing the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the neoconservative-lead Bush administration foreign policy team.
At the symposium, then Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kantsteiner III, stated, "African oil is a national strategic interest...[and] it's people like you who will...bring the oil home."
Later, in May 2004, Kantsteiner chaired a congressionally funded Africa Policy Advisory Panel report titled, "Rising U.S. States in Africa," in which he stated, "African oil is of national strategic interest to us, and it will increase and become more important as we go forward."
In the midst of these summits, the U.S. set up crucial military bases -- in spring 2003 in Djibouti, a base called Camp Lemmonier, and in 2004 at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.
The U.S. was now firmly implanted in the region to begin an African safari, featuring, most prominently, tours of prospective and already existing oil rigs and pipelines spanning every contour of the continent.
Oil Safari to Uganda
Not long after AFRICOM became a reality, multinational corporations also flocked into Uganda to search for oil.
The search was a flaming success story, with 2.5 billion barrels of oil now having been discovered, but still to this date, not yet procured. The royalties accompanying the oil's usage could reach up to $2 billion a year by 2015, reported the Economist in May 2010.
This oil is located off of Lake Albert in northwest Uganda, a lake shared by both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Multinational corporations are required to sign something known as a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with the Ugandan government in order to drill for Uganda's oil. In essence, a PSA is a contractual agreement between a foreign corporation benefiting from a country's resources and the government of a country whose resources are being benefited from.
In October 2006, according to a WikiLeaks cable, Tullow Oil, a British company, and Heritage Oil, a Canadian company, signed a PSA with the Ugandan government, led by President Yoweri Musveni. This particular PSA, though, was no ordinary one, and indeed, could serve, in part, as an explanation for the logic of Obama's October 14 announcement.
For the first three years the PSA was signed, the details were kept secret from everyone but upper-level Tullow and Heritage executives and Museveni's inner circle. A February 2010 report written by PLATFORM, a British nonprofit organization, titled, "Contracts Curse: Uganda's oil agreements place profit before people," explains the PSA best and for the first time, made public its content.
The PSA, PLATFORM explained, "contain[s] no clauses covering security provision[s]...There is no public agreement setting out the relationship between the oil companies and the military or police forces. Thus it is unclear what promises and guarantees the Ugandan government has made to ensure security and what rights the oil companies have been awarded."
This raised numerous vital questions for PLATFORM, including, "Do oil company security or private military contractors have the right or authority to arrest, injure or kill those they perceive as a threat?" and "Is the Ugandan government incentivised to prioritise security interests over the human rights of local populations?"
That same report also included revelations by PLATFORM that the Ugandan government had constructed a "new military base on ten square miles" near Lake Albert, where the oil was located. The report also disclosed that Museveni had created something called an Oil Wells Protection Unit (OWPU), which amounted to his own security forces, or mercenaries, guarding oil rigs.
Concerned about the OWPU, PLATFORM wrote, "Apparently its mandate is 'to provide physical security for the oil and gas industry' and 'conduct strategic intelligence activities in all areas where oil will be processed and marketed.' However, the OWPU has no Web site and no clearly known structure or chain of command...In this context, the OWPU could easily be misused to repress opposition to oil extraction activities, further political gains by the government and commit human rights abuses without accountability."
Enter Heritage Oil and Ties to Private Mercenary Armies
Possibly the most crucial fact about the undisclosed clauses concerning security provisions in the PSA, was this vital detail: The Canadian oil company Heritage, which is owned by Tony Buckingham, who many credit for being the first innovator behind the modern-day private military corporation (PMC) (think Blackwater USA, now known as Xe Services), was formerly the main stakeholder in the Albertine Basin.
In 2010, Heritage sold its stake in the project to the British company Tullow Oil for $1.5 billion. Though Heritage is no longer exploring for oil in the hopes of drilling for it in Uganda, Buckingham's background and business connections are still crucial to grasp.
Buckingham is a former officer of the British Special Air Service (SAS) -- a parallel to the U.S. JSOC forces sent into Uganda by Obama -- according to a 1997 story. In 1992 Buckingham became the founder and CEO of Heritage Oil. A year later, in 1993, Buckingham founded a PMC called Executive Outcomes (EO). EO officially closed shop in 1998, but during its time of existence, it consistently followed in the footsteps of the locations that Buckingham took Heritage's oil rigs. And Buckingham's close ties to mercenary armies did not terminate with EO's fall. Instead, he formed a special relationship with a key figure, the half-brother of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh.
The special relationship between Saleh and Buckingham also goes a long way toward explaining the Obama decision to invade Uganda.
Salim Saleh, Erik Prince, and Guns-For-Hire in the Horn of Africa
Upon the eclipse of EO in 1998, rather than decay into oblivion, it instead morphed into a multi-tentacled machine of various PMC split-offs, the most crucial of which, at least as far as Uganda is concerned, is Saracen International.
Salim Saleh owns a 25-percent stake in Saracen. "[Saracen International] was formed with the remnants of Executive Outcomes, a private mercenary firm composed largely of former South African special operations troops who worked throughout Africa in the 1990s," explained the New York Times in a January 2011 article.
Saleh, now Museveni's military adviser, is a former high-ranking official for the Uganda People's Defence Force, the military of the Ugandan government. He is also a well-connected mercenary, as seen through his ownership stake in Saracen.
Saracen, in turns out, also maintains an important relationship with Blackwater USA founder and CEO, Erik Prince.
The same article that revealed the ties between EO and Saracen International also revealed that Prince possesses an ownership stake in Saracen. The Times wrote, "According to a Jan. 12 confidential report by the African Union, Mr. Prince 'is at the top of the management chain of Saracen and provided seed money for the Saracen contract.'"
Blackwater, under Prince's leadership, has been involved in the game of guns-for-hire in the Horn of Africa since February 2009, according to a WikiLeaks cable. The cable reveals that Blackwater won a contract to operate an armed ship, called McArthur, from a port in Djibouti, the country which is also home of the U.S. military's Camp Lemonnier base.
The cable also reveals that McArthur "will have an unarmed UAV" (Unarmed Vehicle, aka a drone), "will likely engage...Kenya in the future," and that Blackwater "has briefed AFRICOM, CENTCOM, and Embassy Nairobi officials." In other words, this means the Prince and Blackwater mission had the blessing of top-level U.S. military and diplomatic officials.
Could Prince's and Saleh's guns-for-hire be teaming up with JSOC forces in the Albertine basin to guard oil rigs? History provides some highly relavant precedent.
Erik Prince, Blackwater USA and Oil: History Repeating Itself?
Prince's Blackwater has been involved in such engagements before. Rewind to Azerbaijan and Iraq, where Blackwater was tasked with guarding crucial oil pipelines and oil wells for the world's wealthiest oil and natural gas corporations.
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, revealed that "Blackwater USA was hired by the Pentagon...to deploy in Azerbaijan, where Blackwater would be tasked with establishing and training an elite...force modeled after the U.S. Navy SEALs that would ultimately protect the interests of the United States and its allies in a hostile region.
"Blackwater joined a U.S. corporate landscape [in the region] that included...corporations such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Chevron-Texaco, Unocal and ExxonMobil ... Instead of sending in battalions of active U.S. military to Azerbaijan, the Pentagon deployed...Blackwater...that would serve a dual purpose: protecting the West's new profitable oil and gas exploitation in a region historically dominated by Russia and Iran, and possibly laying the groundwork for an important forward operating base for an attack against Iran," Scahill continued.
Azerbaijan, like Uganda, is home to a vast array of oil and natural gas, and also a key pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which, after reaching its respective coastal homes in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, ends up on the global export market.
In Iraq, as revealed by the Guardian in a March 2004 article, Blackwater, via a Pentagon contract, recruited Chilean "commandos, other soldiers and seamen, paying them up to $4,000 a month to guard oil wells against attack by insurgents...many of [them] had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet." Pinochet, many will recall, was the brutal dictator who came to power after the CIA-initiated 1973 coup of Salvador Allende.
Iraq, like Uganda and Azerbaijan, is home to vast amounts of oil. Major syndicates ranging from BP America, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips have all flocked to Iraq in the mad dash for Iraq's resources since the 2003 onset of the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq.
WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Ugandan Oil Bid Corruption
ExxonMobil, teaming up with Tullow Oil, as seen through the lens of important Wikileaks State Department diplomatic cables, has also shown great interest in the economic opportunities surrounding oil exploration off of Lake Albert, as well as great concern over governmental corruption in the nascent Ugandan oil industry.
A key December 3, 2009 cable, titled, "Uganda: Corruption Allegations Accompany Arrival Of Major Oil Firms," reads, "Executives from ExxonMobil visited Uganda on November 18-19, and met with Ambassador (Jerry) Lanier (the U.S. ambassador to Uganda), Mission Officers, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), Uganda's Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD), and Tullow (Oil)...ExxonMobil representatives who traveled to Kampala said they were 'very impressed' with...the Ugandan government oil representatives..."
Roughly a month later, yet another important WikiLeaks-provided State Department diplomatic cable was produced on January 13, 2010, titled, "Uganda: Security Report Details Oil Sector Corruption," which discusses the impacts rampant corruption unfolding in the Ugandan oil industry would have on the U.S. if the ExxonMobil deal falls through.
"A corrupt...agreement would undermine a potential multi-billion dollar deal between ExxonMobil and Tullow, and have serious long-term implications for U.S....in Uganda in terms of...economic development," the cable reads.
The State Department's diplomatic cables make it quite clear that ExxonMobil and its partner, Tullow Oil, were both deeply interested in the Ugandan oil industry, but also gravely concerned about corruption.
Yet, Tullow and ExxonMobil had little to worry about, based on both Prince's ExxonMobil ties during his days at Blackwater USA, as well as a crucial March 2008 meeting between the Salim Saleh-led Ugandan military and high-level Tullow Oil officials, as exposed by Wikileaks.
Tullow's Mercenary Presence Long in the Making at Lake Albert Basin
Tullow, as revealed by State Department diplomatic cables leaked to Wikileaks, has been building up a mercenary army presence in the Lake Albert area for over three years.
A March 2008 State Department diplomatic cable reads, "...Tullow Oil, one of the four exploration companies operating in western Uganda, said that as the oil activity on Lake Albert increased, a security presence would be vital."
The cable also mentions that U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Steven Browning and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Rear Admiral Phillip Greene "met with representatives from Tullow Oil and the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF), as well as local leaders...on March 4." The UPDF is lead by Salim Saleh, who also owns a 25-percent ownership stake in Saracen International, the private mercenary army also owned in part by Erik Prince.
During the meeting it was also "noted that oil exploration and production would raise the profile of the area, which could lead to increased incidences of violence between Ugandan locals and security forces..." and the meeting concluded with a request for "an assessment team...to provide the Ugandan military with an organizational, doctrinal, training, and equipment needs assessment for a future lake security force."
Toss into the ring the ongoing great power politics rivalry between the U.S. and China, and things become even more complex.
Great Power Politics Posturing in the Works?
Though ExxonMobil and Tullow Oil lost out on the corrupt oil bid in late 2009, while exploration has been done, drilling has yet to occur in Uganda. In that vein, 100 U.S. JSOC troops, likely teaming up with Erik Prince, Salim Saleh and Yoweri Museveni-backed mercenaries, have swooped into the Lake Albert area to secure the prize, oil, before its rival does.
The opponent? China.
On October 24, Tullow sold $2.9 billion worth of its shares of oil to France's Total Oil and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), though it has yet to be approved by the Museveni government and requires his approval.
Throughout all of this, it is vital to bear in mind the bigger picture, which is that the United States and China have been competing against one another in the new "African Scramble" for Africa's valuable oil resources.
Serge Michel and Michel Beuret, in their 2009 book China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing's Expansion in Africa, write, "China's advances in Africa's oil-rich regions have been viewed with concern bordering on paranoia in the United States....[It] could...deteriorate into a a head-to-head clash between China and the United States, prompting the kind of open conflict that some see as inevitable by 2030."
One has to wonder what will happen with regards to this recent oil deal, knowing the players involved, and seeing the geopolitical and resources maneuvering taking place in the Lake Albert region.
If the United States and its well-connected guns-for-hire have any say, Tullow Oil, Heritage Oil, ExxonMobil will take home all the royalties, and CNOOC will be sent home packing.
Another Piece of the Puzzle: Senate Bill 1067 of 2009
It appears that since the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, Senate Bill 1067, a bill that called for, among other things, to "apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield...and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord's Resistance Army fighters," the United States has Lake Albert targeted in its crosshairs.
An important provision squeezed into the bill was a section mandating that an official strategy be written up to "disarm and demobilize" the LRA.
"Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall develop and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a strategy to guide future United States support across the region," the bill reads. "The strategy shall include...a description of how this engagement will fit within the context of broader efforts and policy objectives in the Great Lakes Region."
The Great Lakes Region includes Lake Albert and "broader efforts and policy objectives" translates into, based on State Department diplomatic cables and public statements made in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the control of precious oil resources in the Albertine Basin.
Signed into law by Obama in May 2009, it is crucial to put when the bill was written into proper historical context.
As revealed by State Department diplomatic cables, this was roughly a year after the special meeting between Tullow Oil representatives; U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Steven Browning; and then head of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, Rear Admiral Phillip Greene near Lake Albert. It was also roughly half a year after the launch of AFRICOM.
Some may have been surprised by this latest announcement to invade another country by the Obama administration, but based on recent history, there are no real surprises here. Still, despite evidence that seems to fly in the face of the reason offered by Obama to send troops to Uganda, it is still worth scrutinizing his rationale.
Humanitarian Intervention for Kony?
If there is one thing that is nearly for certain, it is that the Lord's Resistance Army and Joseph Kony, as awful as they are, likely have nothing to do with this most recent U.S. military engagement in Uganda.
In the end, it all comes back to oil, even if top-level U.S. officials maintain that this has "nothing to do with oil."
For one, days before this incursion, it was announced that the "the Obama administration quietly waived restrictions on military aid to Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)--four countries with records of actively recruiting child soldiers...Any country even remotely close to the horn of Africa (like these distinguished four) is just too strategically important...So, for the time being, it's still guns for the kids," wrote Mother Jones.
One of the rationales Obama gave for sending JSOC troops to Uganda, was that the LRA recruits and uses child soldiers, which, given this recent decision, made for the second consecutive year, is certainly not something high on the list of Obama's concerns.
Furthermore, if human rights were actually the chief concern, why did the United States show interest in Kony only after the discovery of oil in the region? Not only that, but Kony, as many have made clear, is nowhere to be found in Uganda and is on the run or in hiding somewhere outside of the country.
To top it all off, Yoweri Museveni and his brother, the gun-for-hire Salim Saleh, both have deplorable human rights records, and unlike the LRA, maintain state control over the people of Uganda. An article titled "Uganda's Tyrant," written in 2007 by the Guardian, sums up the human rights situation under Museveni:
"President Museveni's...regime is a constitutional dictatorship, with a rubber stamp parliament, powerless judiciary, censored media and heavily militarised civil institutions...Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International...confirm the harassment of Museveni's political opponents, detention without trial, torture, extrajudicial killings, suppression of protests and homophobic witch-hunts."
Abhorrent as his human rights record may be, the United States sent a $45 million military aid package to the Museveni-lead government in July 2011, which included four drones.
Do not be surprised if, months from now, ExxonMobil or another U.S. oil industry superpower walks away with drilling rights in the Lake Albert region and CNOOC, the current main possessor of Uganda's Lake Albert oil resources, is sent packing.
Also don't be surprised if Erik Prince and Salim Saleh lead Saracen International, working alongside JSOC troops, who work closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, are working as "security forces" off of the Albertine oil basin.
These are not only likely scenarios, but probable ones. Joseph Kony and his LRA allies might be taken down, but the people of Uganda, on the whole, will not benefit from this "humanitarian intervention."
Things, unfortunately, will probably only worsen for the people of Uganda as time progresses.
Steve Horn is a researcher and writer for DeSmogBlog. He lives in Madison, WI.