News / Africa

    Can New Oil States in Africa Avoid the 'Resource Curse?'

    An unidentified Shell worker pictured aboard the Bonga offshore oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria, Dec. 26, 2011. An unidentified Shell worker pictured aboard the Bonga offshore oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria, Dec. 26, 2011.
    x
    An unidentified Shell worker pictured aboard the Bonga offshore oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria, Dec. 26, 2011.
    An unidentified Shell worker pictured aboard the Bonga offshore oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria, Dec. 26, 2011.
    Gabe Joselow
    NAIROBI - When Equatorial Guinea discovered oil in the 1990s, the country was transformed forever from a sleepy former Spanish colony into an oil state.

    The country's Gross Domestic Product growth was a staggering 71 percent in 1997, according to the International Monetary Fund, almost entirely on the back of oil revenues.  By 2009, the country was earning more than $8 billion a year from the commodity.

    But the wealth has only further enriched and entrenched Equatorial Guinea's authoritarian president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who's held power for more than 30 years, while doing little to improve the lives of 685,000 citizens.

    Equatorial Guinea's oil resources
    Equatorial Guinea's oil resources
    The country ranked 136 out of 187 countries last year on the United Nations Human Development Index.  Other oil-producing countries, including Angola, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo,  rank even lower.

    The head of the Africa Program at Chatham House in London, Alex Vines, says citizens lose out when African governments misuse oil revenues for consumption, rather than development.

    "Prestige buildings, luxury goods, these have been really the kind of caricature of how countries have used this,” he says.  “Gabon, for example, had the highest consumption of champagne in the world for a while, all funded by oil."

    Managing expectations

    A growing gap between rich and poor, rampant corruption and the tightening grip of authoritarian leadership are all symptoms of the so-called "resource curse," when a discovery that should benefit the population ends up doing more harm than good.

    "The thing about oil and minerals is that very quickly, huge, fast flows of money come from these natural resources and the ability to manage that in a way that benefits citizens isn't always in place," says Brendan O'Donnell of the natural resources monitoring group Global Witness.

    New oil finds in Kenya and the Ivory Coast and natural gas off the coast of Tanzania have generated a lot of excitement in recent months, with countries touting the discoveries as a point of pride.

    “I think it's a bit like in the old days when each country wanted its own airlines,” says Vines of Chatham House.  “Certainly reading some of the Kenyan press, some of the euphoria about Kenya now having oil was a bit worrying I think.”

    Even countries that are relatively new to the oil game have shown some disconcerting behavior.

    Uganda discovered oil in 2006 and is due to begin production in three to five years.  But a lack of transparency in oil contracts is raising concerns the government is not acting in the people's best interests.

    "There was a lot of talk and expectations last time, and the information available on the oil sector is not enough,” says Lawrence Bategeka, senior researcher at the Economic Policy Research Center in Kampala.  “Not enough information is being released to the public."

    Uganda's parliament has been seeking to force the government to disclose the details of oil contracts signed with international companies.

    Bategeka says citizens are unhappy with the government's reluctance to cooperate.

    "But of course government has an explanation,” he says.  “When asked 'Why conceal information?'  They allude to security concerns, but the public out there does not accept that as a good explanation."

    Window of opportunity

    Discovering oil is not like winning the lottery.  The industry is sensitive to the whims of the international markets and demand from Europe, Asia and North America.

    Chief economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank Mthuli Ncube says with current oil prices relatively high, oil-producing countries in Africa have done well in recent years, and recovered from losses suffered during the global financial crisis three years ago.

    “But going forward,” he says, “with the softening of oil price, maybe even the slowdown of economic growth in China, that obviously could affect the growth prospects of the countries.”

    In Angola, where the oil industry accounts for 90 percent of economic output, the government accumulated some $9 billion in contractor arrears during the peak of the financial crisis in 2009.

    Ncube's first word of advice is to diversify.

    He says economies must not become reliant on one commodity, noting progress in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil exporter.

    “[Nigeria's] been diversifying slowly but surely,” he says. “In the IT sector, services sector and agricultural sector, they're competing with the oil sector in terms of size and contribution.”

    O'Donnell with Global Witness says resources management safeguards are not just about promoting social benefits, but also about making the most of an economic opportunity.

    "These resources have a lifespan, they will run out at some point,” he says.  “If your country misses the opportunity of benefiting from the resources, you can't get that back.  You've lost that moment."

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.