A man works at an illegal oil refinery in Bayelsa, Nigeria, November 2012.
Akintunde Akinleye / Courtesy Reuters

East Africa is the global oil and gas industry’s hottest frontier. Barely a month goes by, it seems, without a major discovery in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, or the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This new African windfall is hardly without precedent. Several west and central African states -- most notably Angola and Nigeria -- have already experienced petroleum booms of their own. Over the last decade, they benefited from a spectacular jump in oil prices, which rose from $22 per barrel in 2003 to $147 per barrel in 2008 and remained high, for the most part, until recently. The spoils were enormous: from 2002 to 2012, Angola’s GDP jumped from $11 billion to $114 billion and Nigeria’s went from $59 billion to $243 billion.

The opportunity afforded by this extraordinary decade was unprecedented and is unlikely to recur. Sadly, however, decision-makers have mostly squandered it. If the new east African producers are not to repeat the

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  • RICARDO SOARES DE OLIVEIRA is an associate professor in comparative politics at Oxford University. He is the author of Oil and Politics in the Gulf of Guinea and the forthcoming Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola After the Civil War.
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