‘Bewilderment” is the term the AU used for the inclusion of Chad on the new US travel ban list. The former head of the US Africa Command called it “puzzling”, and Chad deemed it “incomprehensible”. The move seemed to defy all logic considering Chad is one of the closest allies of the US in counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel.
Not only does Chad host a US drone base, but it has hosted recent annual US-led military exercises in West Africa three times. The country hosts US and French forces and is considered by Western nations as an oasis of stability in a dangerous neighbourhood. Chad has managed to avoid terrorist attacks like those in Nigeria and Mali due to its proactive security force presence and screenings at border crossings.
Brigadier-General Donald Bolduc, until recently the commander of US Special Ops forces in Africa, has argued that the indefinite ban of Chadians entering the US “makes no sense”. The rationale given by the White House for including Chad on the travel ban list is that “Chadian authorities have not been sharing information relating to public safety and terrorism with US counterparts.”
While the White House has called Chad “a haven for jihadist groups”, in reality Chad has suffered the least attacks from Boko Haram militants, and has pushed them back into Nigeria.
Chad has proved notably effective in its counter-terrorism efforts, particularly its military interventions in the Central African Republic and Mali. Chad is also one of the G5 counter-terrorism forces in the Sahel.
So that begs the question, what lies behind the US motivation to impose a travel ban on Chad, and whose interests does it serve?
It certainly cannot be dismissed as sheer incompetence as the US secretary of state and White House inner circle are too calculating for that.
It is prudent in such cases to “follow the money”. The most significant part of Chad’s revenue comes from oil exports, and the largest oil company operating in Chad is ExxonMobil.
The chief executive of ExxonMobil was Rex Tillerson until he became US secretary of state in January. Scratch below the surface and story unravels - just last year a huge showdown took place between ExxonMobil and the Chadian authorities.
A Chadian court ordered ExxonMobil to pay $819million in unpaid royalties, in addition to a fine of $74billion. The court order was almost a declaration of war against ExxonMobil, considering the fine itself was almost seven times the size of Chad’s GDP, 27 times its national budget, and four times the amount of BP’s Deepwater Horizon settlement.
If one considers that Chad’s current annual oil exports are worth $2.5bn, then it is incredible that Chad would fine Exxon$74bn for unpaid royalties. When the fine was imposed, Tillerson was the chief executive of ExxonMobil, and he did not take the provocation lightly. He has a track record of seeking revenge against countries that have treated Exxon, the company he worked for for over 41 years, unfairly. When Venezuela nationalised ExxonMobil’s assets in 2007, Tillerson made sure that the company would get even - and it did.
Tillerson allegedly got the backing of the Pentagon, and the new head of state in Guyana (a US-trained general) for ExxonMobil to start exploiting oil off the coast of Guyana in an area Venezuela has historically claimed as its territory.
Tillerson declared the 1.4billion barrels of high quality crude oil found off the coast of Guyana a major find, to the outrage of Venezuela.
Tillerson is still on the war path with Venezuela, and as secretary of state has threatened to orchestrate regime change in that country. He also ensured that Venezuela was added to the latest US travel ban list.
In the case of Chad, ExxonMobil entered into negotiations with the Chadian government last year when Tillerson was still chief executive, to avoid paying the massive fine. The issue was supposedly resolved in June, although the details of the deal have not been made public. But three months later Chad has found itself added to the US travel ban list - a very convenient form of revenge which has dumbfounded veterans of the US security establishment.
What makes the travel ban all the more ludicrous is that Sudan, listed as a state sponsor of terror since 1997, and whose president is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, was taken off the travel ban list.
The United Arab Emirates was allegedly lobbying fiercely in Washington to get Sudan removed from the list. Lifting of sanctions against Sudan will also enable ExxonMobil to invest in the country’s oil sector.
Tillerson is a master manipulator, and the lesson which should be gleaned from this case is that one cannot chalk up manoeuvres of the Trump administration to buffoonery. If anything they are cold and calculated, usually with the shareholders of US oil companies in mind.
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