Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Tuesday, April 24

Shaxson on the 'oil curse'

This week, Ken Silverstein, in his "Washington Babylon" blog for Harper's, interviews Nicholas Shaxson, Africa-based journalist and author of "Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil." The two discussed Africa's oil curse.

The story of the "resource curse" as it pertains to African oil is not a new one. And, as with "blood diamonds," the public has picked up on the tragic truth that discovering a cache of the world's most coveted resource only spells disaster and despair.

Shaxson, though, sheds light on some interesting aspects of this story.

First, demand for African oil is poised only to go up—Shaxson notes that, today, the U.S. buys as much oil from Nigeria and Angola as it does from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Within the next five years, the U.S. will import a quarter of its oil from West Africa.

And despite growing awareness of the pitfalls of exporting oil and new efforts to mitigate these problems—such as the World Bank's partnership with Chad, Cameroon, and Exxon-Mobile to build a pipeline in a more humane manner—Shaxson still fears that the root problem has yet to be addressed, and points out that the Chad-Cameroon pipeline seems to have led to “a creeping deterioration in living standards," according to the German parliament.

The underlying problem is that oil riches eliminate the need for taxes, he says. Taxes, as unpopular as they are, provide citizens with their only meaningful form of leverage. So, not only are African kleptocrats robbing nations of their oil wealth, but they're stealing their votes as well. "People often put the problem like this: oil money would be a blessing but politicians steal it, so people don't see the benefits. But it's much worse: the oil wealth not only doesn't reach ordinary people, but it actively makes them poorer."

Shaxson also touches on some of the shady dealings between Western governments and oil-rich rulers, such as France's propping up of Gabon's Omar Bongo in order to maintain a secret slush fund for the French elite.


Caitlin said...

Do you know how much oil the Chinese get from Africa? China is likely to be a huge source of demand for Africa's resources in the future. It will be interesting to see how far they get expopriating resources themselves.

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