British natural resources company ‘New Age African Global Energy’ announced a Natural Gas deal worth over £1.5 billion in Cameroon today, sparking controversy over the situation in Southern Cameroon.
The deal involves the development of the Etinde field, located off the coast of Cameroon, with a floating liquefied natural gas platform that was recently leased from Vantage Drilling. The rig is expected to be on-station for at least 150 days, and will involve international LNG/LPG carriers offshore and a gas export line to Limbe, a city in the contested South-West region of Cameroon. The British Embassy has stated that the project will create 350 skilled jobs, split between onshore and offshore positions.
A former British colony, many residents of Southern Cameroon were looking to the British government for support during the current crisis, and so this latest development has been a highly controversial event. There has been a furious response to the deal as the British government is now seen to be supporting the Biya regime despite documented human rights abuses and incidents in the same region. The deal also casts aspersions over the visit over the Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, earlier this year. It had been considered that the Minister had been seeking to mediate in the Anglophone Crisis, however, this now appears impossible. Instead, it appears highly likely that the Minister played some role in promoting the deal to her Cameroonian counterparts.
‘New Age African Global Energy’ has an interesting history that should also be considered when viewing this investment. New Age’s backers, the US hedge fund Och-Ziff, were previously found guilty of paying more than $100 million in bribes to government officials in Chad, Niger, Libya, Guinea and the DRC to secure natural resources deals. The hedge fund (and it’s subsidiaries) were forced to pay a $2.2 million fine to settle a record-keeping violation, and a further massive $413 million fine for related criminal and civil charges. This shady heritage raises serious questions about the validity of the New Age deal.
Finally, whilst the recent military deployments to Southern Cameroon had only been considered in the context of the Anglophone crisis, it is clear that the New Age deal adds another dimension for the Biya regime, with the security of the Limbe port being vital to the success of the project. This may result in further heavy military deployment to the region.
The reaction to the deal has been marked by fury at the British Government, which is seen to be stealing resources illegally from the independent state of Ambazonia, as opposed to assisting its former brethren to solve the Anglophone Crisis. Threats have already been made towards the project from elements in the region, although there is an overriding sense of great disappointment, disillusionment and hurt from local citizens.
From an independent perspective, rarely has British policy in Africa appeared so callous in recent years. Citizens of the former British Southern Cameroons have been calling out to Britain for support for generations, but especially since the start of the current phase of the Anglophone Crisis. Britain’s silence- and consequent agreement with the government of Cameroon- speaks volumes as to its position on the anglophone crisis. Questions will undoubtedly be raised in parliament about the investment, but that will likely require the information and data of this project to have any impact.
It is important to note that the UK Government is under pressure to announce trade deals due to pressure surrounding Brexit, however, there is a distinct possibility that this announcement may backfire on them in the long run.
Ultimately, today’s announcement was a deeply unwelcome, wounding intrusion into the affairs of Ambazonians, and it would be logical to expect a response in some form in the coming days.