23 Jun 2010

Sample Essay: Role of Africa on Trade and Economic Development in The World

Every nation in the world has massive requirements of oil and as the Middle East continues to show signs of instability, the world is now looking towards Africa to satiate its need for the non-renewable source of energy. In his book Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, John Ghazvinian has described his exciting and occasionally dangerous twelve country African journey in exploring the unwanted impacts of the oil boom in the continent. In keeping with the strategy adopted by contemporary books that deal with oil in Africa, Ghazvinian has revealed how the continent is now viewed as the last major area in the world that still has oil reserves that remain untouched. Africa has thus attracted a great deal of attention from politicians and multinational companies. The book entails considerable understanding about international politics in the context of oil. In view of the continent’s colonial history that resulted in weak and questionable democracies, the oil business has aggravated economic and internal complexities in many of the continent’s oil rich nations. The author explains why oil is seen as a curse and has analyzed why economist Hossein Mahdavy has described oil nations in Africa as rentier states.

The author has expressed genuine concerns about the practices adopted by industrialized nations in escalating the oil crisis. He cites that the USA is now importing most of its oil requirements. He narrates that people are not farsighted and do not realize that if American citizens made some minor adjustments, the US could become a net exporter of oil. Rather, people in the country travel unnecessarily and make use of huge cars that are gas guzzlers. Such consumption patterns enhance the global demand for oil, which is now increasing at a much faster rate as India and China give a boost to their respective economies. Lesser numbers of people understand that the cost of extracting oil is much more than the cost incurred on equipment and salaries in oil companies.

Ghazvinian has narrated how the ill fated impacts of oil result in immense dependency on oil exports that further lead to the collapse of the conventional national markets. Such patterns further result in shortage of jobs in addition to the creation of a weak tax base, corruption in politics and fewer incentives to develop infrastructure. In having written in an eloquent and engaging form of narration, the author takes the reader through countries such as Nigeria, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Gabon, Angola and some other African countries to elucidate the manner in which the oil business works and how it effects people. He has dumped the academic style of writing in favour of the easier to understand language and sometimes appears to sound like a well informed passionate tourist while giving his first hand accounts. Such passion is evident when he writes about Gabon, “During a week and a half in Gabon, I feasted on beef bourguignon and rack of lamb, but never did I manage to find a bunch of bananas for sale” (Ghazvinian, 2007, p.131), which is a state that used to export large quantities of bananas and is now importing most of its food.

Ghazvinian explains that it is a usual misconception that countries with huge oil reserves will have immense wealth and asserts that oil can often impoverish a country. In clarifying why this is so, he has provided details of how several countries faced devastating consequences because of the damaging impacts of mismanagement after the discovery of oil. Unfortunately, he says, the same is true for almost all countries on the western coast of Africa. His main theme is that oil or other mineral assets have a destructive effect on countries, however counterintuitive they may appear to be. He has investigated and found that with the discovery of oil, the nation’s currency value is enhanced, which places agriculturists and industries out of business, thus resulting in the paradox of an oil rich nation such as Gabon being made to import tropical fruits. Under such circumstances the government becomes less receptive to the needs of the citizens because revenues are generated by oil companies, instead of the general public. Resultantly, the standard of living of the average citizen begins to decline, which further paves the way for corrupt practices and civil wars. The worst situation arises when the state collapses into chaos, a prime example being that of Nigeria.

The author is sure that the main reasons for the harms of Nigeria’s corrupt politics, Angola’s blood splattered civil wars; Equatorial Guinea’s inadequacy in governance and the non existent infrastructure in Chad are the result of scratchy and bumpy relations between Africa, the West and large multinational corporations. Ghaznivinian has revealed how the moral responsibilities towards African nations are greatly compromised while considering issues and arrangements for drilling oil. An ideal example in this regard is the worsening position of the Delta region in Nigeria, which has the country’s main oil reserves. The author’s personal experiences in observing distressed and militant villagers against the backdrop of a strongly secured and luxurious complex for expatriate oil personnel is clearly indicative of the stark realities of the price of oil.

Ghazviniam has described the blunders committed by America in Africa, which also includes its role in lengthening the civil war in Angola and supporting the oppressive government in Equatorial Guinea. According to the author, such circumstances led to China’s rise to power. In fact, he has used the last chapter in depicting the quick fix Chinese policies in Africa in terms of giving aid and in turn assuming lucrative drilling rights. This is how the author has revealed the future of oil in the continent. Presently the main players are the USA and Europe while China and India play a minor role or are not much concerned about Africa’s problems. However a noteworthy observation in this regard is the fact that although the emirates in the Gulf region are not democratic nations, their wealth has percolated down in benefiting the common citizens.

The fact that no clear solutions are provided by Ghazvinian is commendable because he has not pretended to be an expert on the issue. He has simply described what he saw and has dug the pit deeper in making the reader aware of the background in grasping the core issues related to the problem. It is clear that most of the oil economies in Africa have serious challenges to face, especially in the context of some countries that have always been facing difficult situations. For instance, Equatorial Guinea was characterized with corruption and poor governance even before the discovery of oil in the country. Ghazvinian’s short visit to Gabon did not delve into the fact that the nation is privileged with having the maximum preserved forests amongst all African nations, which resulted after the oil discovery reduced the need to harvest timber on a large scale. However, the oil industry in Africa is certainly to be held responsible for the follies committed in the past but there is need to consider developmental activities for communities from a different perspective by approaching the issue with care and caution. From such a perspective the author has not done full justice to the crucial issue of citizen welfare.

Works Cited

Ghazvinian John, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, 2007, Harcourt.

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