African states push back on Chinese oil deals

NIAMEY, Niger – In Niger, government officials have fought a Chinese oil giant step by step, painfully undoing parts of a contract they call ruinous. In neighboring Chad, they have been even more forceful, shutting down the Chinese and accusing them of gross environmental negligence. In Gabon, they have seized major oil tracts from China, handing them over to the state company.

China wants Africa’s oil as much as ever. But instead of accepting the old terms, which many African officials call unconditional surrender, some cash-starved African states are pushing back, showing an assertiveness unthinkable until recently and suggesting that the days of unbridled influence by the African continent’s mega-investor may be waning.

Now China’s major state oil companies are being challenged by African governments that have learned decades of hard lessons about heedless resource-grabs by outsiders and are looking anew at the deals they or their predecessors have signed. Where the Chinese companies are seen as gouging, polluting or hogging valuable tracts, African officials have started resisting, often at the risk of angering one of their most important trading partners.

“This is all we’ve got,” said Niger’s oil minister, Foumakoye Gado. “If our natural resources are given away, we’ll never get out of this.”

Energy-conscious to an extreme, Olaf Taeuber relies on just a single 5-watt bulb that gives off what he describes as a ”cozy” glow to light his kitchen when he comes home at night. If in real need, he switches on a neon tube, which soaks up all of 25 watts.

Even so, he found himself seeking help last week to fend off a threat from Berlin’s main power company to cut off his electricity, one of a growing number of Germans left unable to pay their soaring energy bills. He is among those feeling the immediate effects of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most ambitious domestic project: Germany’s energiewende, or energy revolution, under which the country is shutting down its nuclear power reactors, discouraging coal-fired plants and encouraging a near-complete shift to renewable energy sources.

”Energy poverty,” as Germans now call it, is just one of the many problems confronting Ms. Merkel’s plan, the likes of which has never been tried – not just in Germany, but in any major industrial country. Energy prices in Germany – the highest in Europe – have spiked 30 percent over the last five years as costs have risen with the transition. Providers pulled the plug on an estimated 312,000 German households unable to pay their bills in 2011, according to official figures.

Full article: African states push back on Chinese oil deals (Proactive Investors)

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