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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid