The negative side effects of oil wealth in sub-Saharan Africa are well known. But Yates’ book fills in some gaps in the story with insightful details. Yates focuses on the oil sector in central Africa and has more to say about Francophone countries, such as Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabon, than about Anglophone producers, such as Nigeria and Ghana. He shows how oil wealth creates incentives to amass power and thus motivates political infighting in these countries. Leaders such as President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo have used their countries’ oil wealth to build enormous personal fortunes and buy the support of political allies and the military. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people in these countries have benefited shockingly little. Yates’ final chapter is a useful survey of potential solutions to this sad reality. The most interesting approach he describes is the distribution of oil revenues directly to the population, which would bypass corrupt state officials. Getting such officials to agree, of course, would likely prove rather difficult.
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