ON THE SUBJECT (and irony) OF AFRICAN OIL

I care not how affluent some may be, provided none be miserable in consequence of it.
—Thomas Paine

China’s ravenous and socially-devastating involvement with oil in the Sudan (and selling weapons to Khartoum) was discussed in the little film Darfur in 10 Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan.

But then, wouldn’t you know it, today I was at the Bibliophile bookstore on Commercial Drive in Vancouver (a lovely bookstore), with my mom, when I stumbled upon journalist Nicholas Shaxson’s 2007 book Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil.

It expanded upon the not deeply-discussed effects of the discovery of Africa being an oil-rich continent.

Shaxson understandably made clear that the problems of corruption within so many African countries are pervasive and devastating to civilians already under duress. I agree with this, of course. It’s a disaster.

Ironically, though, I have no doubt—instinctually, anyway—that, monetarily, the amount of corruption in Africa is nowhere near the dollar amount perpetrated in the Free West.

Consider this, for example:

But back to Africa. After discussing African corruption and what might be needed to diminish it, Shaxson writes on page 224 (I wrote this down on a piece of paper to write it down here):

To understand the next bit of radical surgery, consider this. It is not unlawful for a United States bank to receive funds derived from alien smuggling, fraud, racketeering, handling stolen property, contraband, environmental crimes, trafficking in women, transport for illegal sexual activity, slave trading—and many other evils.

Can this really be true?

I could not believe it at first, and I checked. But it is true. The only catch is this: the crimes must be committed abroad…

And Europe, it seems, are hardly better behaved.

In short, the real power centres are outside Africa, and until they change, nothing can change on any large degree anywhere, for the problem is systemic—and there is some hope of change, within democracies, and I use that term loosely.

Regarding the above, I literally stumbled upon this (only listen up to 5:20 with regard to this blog):

THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA CONTINUES

There was in the colonial era direct rule and then indirect rule—indirect rule being ruling by local leaders on behalf of the colonial power, as opposed to the direct rule of the colonial power.

This legal freedom for banks and businesses to profit with impunity via humanity’s most foul profit-making enterprises—slave trafficking, drug trafficking, mass fraud etc—seems to me to be the global continuation of Indirect rule unabated.

In other words, it is no longer Britain’s rule over Sudan or France’s rule over the Central African Republic. It is Multinational Institutions (via their legal framework: Trade Agreements) ruling over the Third World—with locals, often willingly, doing much of their dirtiest work.

And Shaxson is no anti-corporate activist. He has written for the Economist and the Financial Times. But in a six-question interview with Harper’s, he reveals what he learned after over a decade of research, against his beliefs:

Western schemes to “guide” Africans to behave better often fail, because African rulers—especially oil-rich ones—tend to be quite good at mastering their own destinies nowadays.

We can best help by making changes at home. One way is to curb our fuel consumption.

Another matter cropped up repeatedly during my 14 years of research: the draining of Africa’s wealth into rich-world tax havens. Current transparency initiatives don’t touch this issue; but instead we pretend that it’s only the Africans who are corrupt. Don’t forget that New York and London, swimming in foreign dictators’ loot, are two of the world’s biggest tax havens.

He continues, with reference to Angola and Nigeria—both resource-rich:

Angola’s oil-laden budget this year is about the same size as all foreign aid to all of sub-Saharan Africa—but according to the United Nations, Angola’s infant mortality is the second worst in the world, worse even than Afghanistan’s.

At the start of the last oil boom in 1970, one-third of Nigerians lived in poverty; now, four hundred billion dollars in oil and gas earnings later, two-thirds are poor.

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. It took me years to really accept this counter-intuitive idea. But after all I’ve seen, I have no doubts.

With the Western addiction to certain resources—oil in particular at this juncture of history—the “Scramble for Africa” continues with virtual impunity. The corrupt leaders of countries in Africa reap the rewards (as do banks and corporations in the West), and the majority of citizens already on survival’s edge (not to mention the environment) pay the excruciating price.

Anyway, it’s bitter food for thought, but important to know a little more about human nature and the systemic problems that ensure certain problems—but also show where hope is possible for a better world: working on laws, greed, accountability, increasing human rights, energy sources, environmental sustainability, politicians and solidarity and so on.

Lots of love to you, and sisters and brothers everywhere,

Pete

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One Response to “ON THE SUBJECT (and irony) OF AFRICAN OIL”

  1. […] To know a little more about the problems (and, I guess, hopes)from oil in Sudan and Africa—which is also very important, exacerbates ethnic tensions via power, resource and environmental imbalances, and part of what is sometimes called the “Resource Curse,” and you can extrapolate to the rest of the world—check the film out to see China’s pragmatic, ugly involvement, which by definition supports and arms the Khartoum Arabic Muslim government, and by definition is a human rights nightmare by proxy. […]

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