Monday, April 14, 2008

Untapped The Scramble For Africa's Oil-- John Ghazvinian-- Review

Untapped The Scramble For Africa's Oil by John Ghazvinian is the story of the recent rush to develop Africa's oil. It is the story of John Ghazvinian's travels through twelve countries in African and firsthand observations on how oil development is affecting many countries in Africa. We get accounts on Nigeria including the Niger Delta, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Sudan, Sao Tome, and Cameroon. The author speaks directly to government officials, NGOs, company representatives, and local people.

This story is a muckraking expose of corruption, crime, underdevelopment, and grinding poverty. It describes the "Dutch Disease", a process where oil becomes the major export, and local manufacturing and agricultural industires collapse as the upper classes become awash in foreign currency from the oil fields.

The next stage is when oil becomes the major source of revenue. The state becomes the central source of revenue not local business. This often leads to the state not paying attention to local sources of tax revenue and losing focus on building things like roads, schools, and infrastructure. Control of the state becomes the major source of revenue. In Equatorial Guinea one family holds most of the high government positions and thus control of most of the wealth in the country. Thus whoever happens to be in control of the government is in control of the major source of wealth.

This process is described firsthand with visits to the Niger Delta where local people have turned to banditry tapping the pipelines illegally and selling oil on the black market, a self-contained walled Exxon-Mobile city with armed guards in Chad, talking to politicians in Sao Tome, and many other first hand accounts.

We also get to see the international scramble for oil in Africa. The Middle East is viewed by many countries as an unstable source of oil. The European Union, China, India, Australia, the United States, and Indonesia are all in the scramble to get the oil concessions first. Many of the multinationals are trying to get concessions offshore so they do not have to deal with ethnic conflict, war, and sabotage onshore. I found the story of how China is approaching African nations to acquire oil to be surprising. Apparently, China is making big inroads in Africa with very long term promises for development aid in return for oil.

This book definitely has an anti-globalist slant to it. It also seems to be left leaning. The book is muckraking in the tradition of Upton Sinclair. However, it is not meant to be a fictionalized account. The author has a list of suggested reading on Pp. 302--306. These are mainly books and reports. An interesting thing which reflects throughout the book is that his suggested reading is international in scope. There are books and reports in the recommended reading list printed in Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, London, New York, and Washington D.C. Most of the books are still english, a few are French and Portuguese.

I enjoyed the book. It is an interesting story about an important subject. The authors interviews sound real, but you can never tell completely. John Ghazvinian has written for Newsweek and Nation so he is a reputable author. One thing which is missing from the book is pictures. It would have been nice to see a few of them.


Anonymous said...

This book I think can help get the word out about what's happening in terms of how much oil can be a countries boon or burden.

Anonymous said...

That login part is a crucial one, before you do the drops.

Book Calendar said...

Sorry, I got distracted while I was writing. I got back to the review though and finished it. Thanks for looking, dave.