Africa’s New Oil: Power, Pipelines, and Future Fortunes

In This Review

Africa’s New Oil: Power, Pipelines, and Future Fortunes
by Celeste Hicks
Zed Books, 2015
256 pp.
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Hicks considers whether African countries that have recently become oil producers will fall victim to the “resource curse”: the combination of corruption, poor economic growth, and environmental disaster that oil wealth has led to elsewhere. Her focus is Chad. Around 15 years ago, in exchange for financial support from the World Bank, Chad agreed to a number of restrictions on the use of its oil revenues, promising to use its newfound wealth to improve the welfare of its population. But Chad broke its pledges and ultimately turned to China, which offered help in developing Chad’s oil sector with far fewer strings attached. Hicks’ detailed account, which also looks at the role of oil in Ghana, Kenya, Niger, and Uganda, provides reasons for both optimism and pessimism. On the one hand, increasingly well-informed media and civil society organizations in those countries have ensured that oil contracts, revenues, and environmental problems are discussed much more frankly and knowledgeably than in the past. On the other hand, decision-making in these new oil sectors remains top-down and thus vulnerable to corruption.