A new book entitled Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics Of African Oil claims Africa's oil has contributed to poverty, corruption and conflict on the continent. Victoria Cavaliere attended the book launch in New York City, and filed this report for VOA's New York Bureau.
West African nations, including Nigeria, Angola, Gabon and Guinea, produce about 5 million barrels of oil per day, or 15 percent of the oil on the world market. The resource has pumped billions of dollars into the hands of West African governments and multi-national oil companies.
However, statistics compiled by the World Food Program indicate that since the 1970s, when the West African oil producers joined OPEC, poverty has risen by about 30 percent and the gulf between rich and poor has widened.
British Journalist Nicholas Shaxson is a world authority on the politics and economics of the oil-producing nations of the Gulf of Guinea. In his book newly published in the United States, Poisoned Wells, The Dirty Politics Of African Oil, Shaxson explores the idea of the so-called "resource curse." This idea states that from gold to diamonds, copper to uranium, Africa's precious resources have had a conflict-ridden history. Shaxson refers to the disparity in oil producing countries as the "paradox of plenty."
"It's a paradox because you would think lots of money to poor countries would make them better off, but in fact you get countries not only fail to receive the benefits of the oil, its actually worse than that," said Nicholas Shaxson. "It actually makes countries poorer."
Shaxson finds several reasons for this. First, he says, there is the complicated relationship between consumer countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States and producing countries such as Angola and Nigeria. He also says the mismanagement of oil revenues are firmly linked to what he calls systemic problems within the governmental institutions of oil producing countries.
"I see corruption and conflict as flip sides of the same coin," he said. "This is all about fighting for the same share of the cake. But I think some of the current discourse about African oil tends to forget is that this is not really about personalities, its not about leadership. It's about how people perceive each other. Once you get to a point where you think only a fool would stand in line, or only a fool would not be corrupt then things get worse in a kind of systemic way."
Shaxson touches on some solutions, but says he thinks there are many issues yet to be unraveled. He calls transparency initiatives and anti-corruption campaigns "important," but says they address only one thread of the problem. Shaxson says African governments must undertake reforms and learn to better manage their oil resources.
"If a country has good institutions, it has a much better chance of tackling this," said Shaxson. "If it doesn't have these strong institutions it is much more likely to have problems."
Shaxson also says African governments should explore the idea of sharing the profits provided by their oil resources to help move people out of poverty.