From benign neglect to strategic engagement: The shifting dynamics of America’s policy towards Africa
On Christmas Day 2009, Abdul Farouk Mutallab, an unknown 23-year-old African passenger on a Delta airline ﬂight bound for Detroit from Amsterdam, was arrested and detained by U.S. law enforcement for attempting to blow up the aircraft in midair. Within days, details of the incident revealed that this was no mere mischief on the part of the youngster. Rather, his action was a 9/11style terrorist attempt on U.S. soil, and that it was masterminded by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Further information revealed that Abdul Mutallab is a Nigerian national, whose father, awealthy Nigerian banker, had spent a fortune giving his young son an international education in some of the ﬁnest western educational institutions in the world. Analysis conducted by U.S. intelligence on the young Abdul Mutallab indicated
that he had been estranged from his family, had been lonely and had established known relationships with Islamic extremist groups-initially via the internet-in what appeared to be the young man’s cry for help that, we now know, went largely unheeded. According to an account by a crack team of investigative reporters for the inﬂuential Newsweek magazine, “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab grew up in luxury, in the walled courtyard of his family home … , and when he went to college, he lived not in a dorm but in an apartment his parents maintained in a posh London neighborhood. And just before he graduated from college, he wrote eerily: ‘I have … no one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And I think loneliness leads me to other problems’.”1 Now convicted of terrorism by a federal court in Detroit, Abdul Mutallab has become the poster child of Africa’s link to the threat of global terrorism against the U.S. At the same time, however, as compellingly disturbing as the neglect of Abdul Mutallab’s near-catastrophic journey from a young privileged African youngster to a terrorist may be, he has become the metaphor for the profound strategic neglect of Africa in U.S. foreign policy for more than a half-century. This begs the question: what accounts for the neglect of Africa, relative to other regions of the developing world, such as the Persian Gulf, in America’s foreign policy? Africa has more population than the states of the Persian Gulf and, like the ever-strategic Arabian Peninsula for U.S.
administrations, Africa has crude oil, a lot of it, and of even better grade. Citing a European expert on the Gulf of Guinea’s Atlantic coastline, Ricardo de Oliveira contends that: “With current production an estimated 4.5 million barrels of good-quality crude per day and [which reached] the 7 million mark in 2010, and holding still under-assessed natural gas reserves, the Gulf of Guinea is undoubtedly one of the world’s fastest growing sources of energy.”2