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In Africa, Refinable Oil Draws Interest from West and China

As instability in the Middle East threatens energy security, Western countries are increasingly turning to west and central Africa. The region stretching from the Gulf of Guinea to Sudan produces high-quality, easily refinable oil. This, and the gradual discovery of new oil fields, could bring the biggest influx of income in the continent's history. It also raises concerns that oil transactions will help prop up corrupt regimes and increase poverty.

Sam Okoroafo is professor of marketing and international business at the University of Toledo in the US Midwestern city Toledo, Ohio. English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje asked him how he views the West’s growing interest in Africa’s oil.

“On balance, I probably think it’s a good thing whenever there is that kind of interest that will translate to investments. That’s tangible assets, immovable assets, that’s going to be beneficial. So it’s on balance, I think a good thing.”

Professor Okoroafo discussed the fears of heightened levels of corruption that are typically associated with oil-fed economies. “Definitely, once you have corruption, all bets are off. It will mitigate any kind of benefits, one expects. I refer to the Chad-Exxon-World Bank deal, which was set up in such a way [as] to mitigate corruption. But if you look at Transparency International’s ranking of corrupt nations, Chad is right at the bottom, worldwide. So that doesn’t seem to have alleviated corruption. So corruption, yeah, it’s a problem. And it’s easy money, oil is easy money and breeds corruption.”

Okoroafo said Africa’s participation in oil markets will enhance the continent’s stature “somewhat” on a global scale. “I’m not sure that the kind of numbers we’re looking at as far as oil production from Africa is really substantial, in any way comparable to what you have in the Middle East. But, yeah, it will obviously focus attention on Africa. Already it’s done that. We have Western interest; we have the Chinese going in, looking into investments in Africa in oil and in other areas. So it will enhance Africa’s prestige and interest in Africa in general.”

The professor commented on the parallels between US and Chinese involvement in Africa and whether one nation provides more benefits to the continent. “That’s tough to say. I see some of the same parallels. If you look at what the Chinese are doing, yes, they’re going in, investing and looking for oil. They’re doing some social investments, also. But they have also been engaged in military type transactions, which is definitely not in Africa’s interest. Those are the same MO [methods of operation] that the West has used. I think the Chinese are pretty much following the script of the West. I really can’t say one is better than the other, at this point.”

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