Oil, Democracy, and Development in Africa

In This Review

Oil, Democracy, and Development in Africa
By John R. Heilbrunn
Cambridge University Press, 2014
279 pp. $90.00

Heilbrunn’s well-informed book disputes the conventional wisdom that oil wealth represents a “resource curse” for countries in Africa. To be sure, his detailed reports of corruption, messy politics, and incompetent leadership in the continent’s dozen or so oil-producing states suggest that oil has not always aided the cause of political and social development—to put it mildly. But Heilbrunn argues that colonialism left these countries extremely vulnerable to the negative effects of oil wealth. He also provides evidence that the revenues from oil have in fact promoted some economic growth and some meaningful state building. His analysis is buttressed by thorough accounts of the oil sectors in each country and the state organizations that have developed during the last five decades to manage the oil wealth. In the book’s most striking claim, he argues that over time, middle classes created by the oil wealth have become significant voices on behalf of democracy in countries such as Angola and Nigeria.