In This Review

Oil and Politics in the Gulf of Guinea
Oil and Politics in the Gulf of Guinea
By Ricardo M. S. Soares de Oliveira
400 pp, Columbia University Press, 2007

The eight oil states in West Africa around the Gulf of Guinea together produce some five million barrels of oil a day and may hold as much as a tenth of the world's oil reserves. Soares de Oliveira has written an important study of the impact of oil on the region's politics. Oil, he shows, has had a powerfully negative effect on the quality of government. Even as the oil economy thrives thanks to high oil prices and significant new investment from Western oil companies, governments in the region have increasingly failed to provide welfare or security to their citizens and have instead used their states' oil revenues to protect their hold on power and enrich small elites. Soares de Oliveira labels states that have achieved a combination of international respectability, disastrous governance, and regime stability "successful failed states." His study draws on a wealth of information to discuss the corruption of these regimes and their increasing ability to absolve themselves of the regular responsibilities of sovereignty, such as providing health care, education, and infrastructure to their citizens. Even as they fail in these routine tasks, they can demonstrate real skill and savvy in their negotiations with oil companies and have successfully used oil wealth to buttress their international standing. That oil represents a curse is no longer a novel insight, but Soares de Oliveira's study provides a rich political sociology of the oil curse in West Africa.