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Question of the Day
The co-founder of the Earth Rights Institute, Alanna Hartzok, said, “Western oil companies extract oil worth an estimated $150 billion a year from the Gulf of Guinea region.”
The hard sell
Last fall, CSIS sponsored a round table for Mr. Wade to present his idea. Mr. Wade fielded questions from the U.S. State Department, World Bank officials and the Algerian ambassador to the United States.
On his Web site, www.thewadeformula.com, he has offered to personally reply to comments sent to him via a link at “Ask the President.” To date, no major oil company has shown a readiness to invest in a dedicated fund to help non-oil-producing African nations lower their energy costs, despite enjoying a string of record-setting corporate profits. At best, the Wade formula has received a respectful hearing at Chevron’s corporate offices, where company executives are deeply worried about security and fostering community ties after the recent kidnappings of Chevron employees in Nigeria’s treacherous Niger Delta.
Not surprisingly, oil industry executives have seen little short-term advantage to committing a portion of profits to helping the African poor. But standing in front of a flip chart that is permanently positioned in his Dakar office, Mr. Wade scribbled out the mathematical workings of his formula and argued animatedly that the petroleum industry was being short-sighted. Mr. Wade is generally a free-market advocate, but he argues that an unfettered oil market in Africa is laying the groundwork for a pan-African disaster.
“It’s about poverty,” he said. “Poverty is the primary instigator of mass migration of desperate people and thus the most destabilizing factor to security and responsible governance.”
Although there is a certain appeal to Mr. Wade’s remedial formula, some of the stiffest resistance may well come from African leaders of oil states faced with abject poverty at home and widespread internal graft. The so-called “oil curse” has afflicted Nigeria, Angola and even tiny Equatorial Guinea, where the high gross national product has done little to improve daily life despite public-relations campaigns to label the tiny republic as the “Kuwait of Africa.”
In late June, after the G-8 summit and the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, Mr. Wade intends to invite oil executives operating in Africa, international donors and a few African leaders from oil-producing nations to Dakar to hash out the next step in his campaign to curb energy costs.
One thing is certain: Mr. Wade, who recently triumphed in a hard-fought re-election campaign, is committed to redirecting attention to the energy crisis in Africa. Even though his formula has yet to lead to concrete changes, it has highlighted the dangerous implications of unbridled oil costs on the continent and pushed non-oil-producing nations to give more attention to alternative sources of energy like biofuels. Citing Brazil’s successful substitution of ethanol for gasoline, Mr. Wade argued that West Africa should follow suit.
“There is no reason why countries like Senegal can’t become an energy exporter,” he said.
Echoing a sentiment that many Americans and his counterparts at the G-8 might subscribe to, Mr. Wade pointed out that international energy policy is stuck for now in a quagmire of conflicting demands.
“We live today in a world of interdependence,” he said. “Yet our aim is for energy independence.”
By John McAfee
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