Islamic militants are quietly converging on a brand-new $3.7 billion oil pipeline project in sub-Saharan West Africa that represents the biggest American investment in the continent.
From a base in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Islamic extremists are heading out along al Qaeda’s secret, serpentine pathways across the Dark Continent (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 41, December 14, 2001), bent on destabilization and terror.
Urging them on is the trio of African leaders who are dedicated to driving the West off the continent for good – Libya’s Muammer Gadafi, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki.
Osama bin Laden’s outposts in East and North Africa have been broadly exposed; not so al Qaeda’s expanded operations in the western countries of Cameroon and Chad, two neighbors who are wedged strategically between Nigeria and Libya.
The name of the new game is oil, with Islamic expansion and political corruption forming up to challenge two of the poorest African countries’ promise of advancement.
The promise comes from the multi-billion American project to pump oil from Doba in southern Chad through a 1,070-km pipeline to offshore facilities in Cameroon’s Port of Kribi. Limited drilling began in February. A total of 300 wells are planned. In addition, a bridge across the M’bere River on the Chad/Cameroon border has been erected.
The scheme is a joint venture of ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and Malaysia’s Petronas in partnership with the World Bank and the governments of Chad and Cameroon.
By 2015, 25 percent of US oil imports are expected to come from Africa. The project’s planners estimate that Chad will receive between US$2.5-$5 billion in direct revenues from royalties, taxes and dividends over the oilfield’s projected 30-year life. Cameroon expects to receive $500 million in pipeline transit fees.
The oil development has raised opposition in Chad and Cameroon. International environmental NGOs say it will harm forests, food farming and river systems. Some experts warn that the militarized north of Chad will become dependent on oil from the disenfranchised south. Continuing political unrest in Chad is another concern. Planners are also worried about oil revenues being diverted into the private accounts of corrupt politicians instead of into development, social services, infrastructure and jobs. In the past, revenues from the development of Africa’s natural resources have been pocketed by politicians and financed war and repression. The Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha salted away a billion dollars of oil income in a Swiss bank. Oil and diamonds fueled wars in Angola
But now radical Islamic fingers additionally stir the pot.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Lagos disclose that the oil-rich region of northern Cameroon, ninety percent of whose population is Muslim, is ripe for radical picking and threatens to go the way of neighboring Nigeria in succumbing to Islamic extremists.
This week, Muslim leaders from northern Nigeria managed to introduce Islamic Sharia law in the south for the first time; this brought Oyo State in line with 12 states in the north, raising the specter of more inter-religious strife between Nigeria’s Muslims and Christians and further threatening Nigeria’s stability.
Similarly multi-ethnic and multi-religious Chad, though rich in oil, gold and uranium, is dirt poor. Largely Arab-Muslim in the north and Negro-Christian in the south, Chad suffers most from living in the shadow of the Libyan ruler, Muammer Gadafi, surviving only by becoming a virtual satellite of its domineering neighbor.
The ambitious American pipeline scheme has kicked off an assault by the South Africa-based Pan-Islamic Jamaat Islamiya, an offshoot of Pakistan’s main hard-line religious group. In the process of setting up an active base in the oil-rich regions of northern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, these Islamic radicals are dedicated to attacking American and other Western interests and creating anarchy.
Their operation is fueled by corruption.
Opposition parties in Yaounde accused South Africa’s biggest company, Transnet, of paying out 4 million dollars to the secretary general of the Cameroon presidency, Mr. Marafa. They further claim the money was used to finance the Jamaat Islamiya for electoral purposes. Delegations from the South African headquarters exchanged visits with fraternal members from North Cameroon and Nigeria.
South Africa’s one million Muslims, 455 mosques and networks of schools, charities and broadcasting services, and large Arab community – including wealthy Lebanese expatriates – provide the Jamaat with a legitimate springboard and source of financing for spreading its wings around the continent. Only last month, the first Shariya court was opened in Johannesburg.
The Pakistani militants are accustomed to roving in large groups of itinerant workers from place to place, carrying clandestine messages, explosives and arms, going to ground in the poor districts of targeted towns. Fundamentalist strategists single out countries with weak central governments for Islamic colonization and as territorial launching pads for terrorist operations against the West, especially US and Israel.
Gaddafi, Mugabe and Mbeki open many doors for these Islamic marauders, because by and large they share radical anti-West aspirations.
Chad is only one of Gadafi’s pet projects. As a generous sponsor, his footprints are to be found across the continent. But on the quiet, his security agents secretly collaborate with bin Laden’s network in the land grab against white farmers in Zimbabwe. Libya also patronizes South Africa’s PAGAD movement of Islamic fundamentalists, which is linked to bin Laden’s African cells.