Saturday, March 19, 2011

Business continuity in Africa now strategic

In 2006-2007, I worked for the French oil company Total in Africa as a business continuity planner. Based in Port Harcourt Nigeria, my mission was to develop ways and means to ensure that the company sustained production of oil and liquid natural gas (LNG), protect workers and their families in the face of an ongoing insurgency, political instability, piracy, and kidnapping threats. In light of today’s Western coalition forces military actions against Libya, it seems that “business continuity” has gone strategic in Africa.

This is not all about our needs…

China’s growing economy depends upon the stability of Africa. Access to the seemingly boundless amount of resources there is essential for them. The Chinese national petroleum company, CNPC, may appear to have a small presence in Africa but their influence grows by the day. They purchase. They invest. With deep pockets, they interact effectively with host governments. Business continuity, once an IT term, has been an industrial principle in the oil industry since 2005; ensure continuous production to maintain shareholder/owner value with plans and contingency choices.

Our current reading choices for news about oil concentrate upon price, speculation, and self-reliance. Many encourage drilling at home in the US and our territorial waters. It makes sense but the oil industry is pioneering elsewhere, overseas. The industry cannot shift quickly even if they were to decide to do so. Cutting edge deep-offshore production technologies happen today in places like Nigeria. It’s an amazing frontier there; a race, or rather a collaborative push by major oil companies to explore and develop new wells with new efficient methods…we, the customers demand it.

Libya’s an old oil story and it’s not the only reason we’re taking military action there. But to me, it’s a strategic statement, a statement being commanded and controlled by a young, new Africa Command (headquartered in Stuttgart Germany), AFRICOM, the Unified Command responsible for most of the continent of Africa.

It’s a new area to our military but they’re learning about it quickly, I suspect. We have a Joint Task Force in Djibouti, the Unified Command’s forward presence. Our State Department has numerous development programs in Africa with a security flavor, aimed toward keeping the peace, and training indigenous security forces and constabularies. Security contractors do most of this work. AFRICOM employs contractors as well. It’s the way of the security world now.

Business continuity is essential at the corporate level and the national level. Shareholders demand it and hold corporate leadership accountable. Insurance companies measure the risks mitigated by good business continuity plans (BCP) and charge accordingly. The SEC requires business continuity plans…it’s the law, actually. Ink on plans dry as you read as it’s a new-ish requirement (since 2004). One could effectively argue that our foreign policy is driven by market business continuity requirements and plans now.

In fact, if you research this “business continuity” topic, much of foreign policy makes sense. Map the sources, the resources, our energy nodes of production, future sources, host governments, and trade routes, and you can become a strategic planner too. Kind of. Determine the countries with a stake in the sales and acquisition of energy and a picture forms.

There’s a great deal of moral argument in all of this, but take some pragmatic time to assess the “what is”. It’s not anywhere near pretty but it is what it is. It’s a race for Africa reminiscent of the late 19th Century.

The future of our economic sustainability, such as it is that we wish for, has the continent of Africa at center stage. Our foreign policy there is emerging as it’s been an area of our benign national neglect. We have much to learn about this immense area, its people, cultures, governments, religions, history, and beauty. We’d better learn quickly. Our business continuity demands we do.

Pictured, Total's "Akpo" project, offshore Nigeria

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