Africa · Books

Untapped- book review

I write for The Excalibur, York’s student newspaper and have done so regularly for almost two years now. While I mainly write for news, I started writing book reviews in September for Arts. This is my latest review, on Untapped: The scramble for oil in Africa. Here’s the link from the Excal website. Or just read the whole article below:

What happens when one of the most desirable global commodities is found in the most turbulent continent in the world? Untapped: The Scramble for Oil in Africa is the result of journalist John Ghazvinian’s work on this issue. After traveling to a dozen countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Ghazvinian writes a stirring account of the impact of oil on these countries with a combination of personal observations, interviews and facts.
Among the countries Ghazvinian visited are major oil-exporting nations like Nigeria and Angola as well as several others like Chad that also possess significant reserves with potentially more to be found. This potential is what makes Africa so tempting. The insatiable global appetite for oil and the impending oil shortage makes the search for new oil sources a very vital goal.
Oil has not proven to be significantly beneficial to many Africans. Nigeria may be one of the world’s top oil exporters, but violence, poverty and environmental problems plague the people in the Niger Delta area where most of Nigeria’s oil comes from. Local frustrations have led to insurgencies and sabotage on oil pipelines. These acts are viewed with alarm by foreign observers due to their impact on the world’s oil supply as well as rising oil prices. The situation in other countries like Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Angola is not much better as state oppression, corruption and socioeconomic inequality are rampant.
Ghazvinian also addresses an important argument on oil by convincingly explaining how oil prosperity can create and exacerbate corruption and dependency. To illustrate this in Africa, the author visited a country where prosperity has actually come about through oil. Gabon, a lush and stable nation, used to be one of Africa’s top oil producers. It has one of Africa’s highest GDP per capita at $6,500 and its supermarkets are filled with imported foods. Yet serious problems loom on the horizon for Gabon with decreasing oil reserves. An economy dependent on oil means the country will have trouble maintaining its current earnings in the future and may see a huge drop in living standards.
While African oil reserves are currently estimated to be only about 10 percent of the world’s proven reserves, there is potentially more due to unexplored areas. One third of new oil discoveries since 2000 have been in Africa. Ghazvinian states the desirability of Africa’s oil stem from its good quality, ideal geographic locations (especially offshore) and contractual arrangements favorable to Western companies. These production-sharing arrangements allow companies to retain an ongoing share in projects after putting forward all the initial exploration and production costs. This means that a small investment can turn into billions in profits.
The last chapter starts off with China, which is obtaining an increasing amount of its oil from Africa. Chinese oil companies have an advantage over Western companies because they don’t need to worry about shareholder demands and domestic human rights protesters. The booming economies of other countries like India, Malaysia and South Korea also create exorbitant energy demands.
Untapped does a good job of describing the tragic and intricate influence of oil in Africa. Sadly, at the end, one cannot help but think that oil will just be another one of a long list of problems for Africa.
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