June 29, 2007

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, is featured in an Associated Press (AP) report on the oil boom which is transforming strategic and political calculations in Africa.

In his article, “Oil Boom, Politics Shape Africa’s Future,” Edward Harris, the Lagos, Nigeria-based correspondent for AP writes:

Europe’s great powers once scrambled for dominance across vast, underdeveloped African lands rich in raw resources, including the scarlet palm oil used to grease the first cogs of the industrial revolution. A century later, a new group of nations are competing for a different valuable, viscous material, with Sub-Saharan Africa closing in on the Persian Gulf as the prime overseas supplier of oil to the last remaining superpower. As China and India increasingly prospect for resources here, terrorism concerns rise and the U.S. military seeks a permanent military presence in Africa, the continent has its greatest international influence in decades. Whether Africa can use its newfound might to end its longtime blight is a separate issue.

Harris concludes his panoramic survey by turning to Dr. Pham:

Peter Pham, a professor of international relations at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., said, “ Africa can no longer be safely ignored ... that era of benign or not-so-benign neglect is over.”

 Oil will get the attention of policy makers, but Africa's security has become a national security issue for the U.S., said Pham.

 “If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that weak nations can cause threats,” he said. “There’s an interest in building up the capacity of African states to handle their own problems, provide services for its people.”

 It all adds up to a rare moment of potential influence for Africa, he says, but only if African leaders can at last end their own self-enrichment at the expense of their people.

 “It’s a question of whether African leaders rise to the occasion,” said Pham, “or if it just becomes another moment to support themselves.”

The full text of the AP article is available by clicking here.