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Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil


Each week the oil and gas fields of sub-Saharan Africa produce well over a billion dollars? worth of oil, an amount that far exceeds development aid to the entire African continent. Yet the rising tide of oil money is not promoting stability and development, but is instead causing violence, poverty, and stagnation. It is also generating vast corruption that reaches deep into American and European economies. In Poisoned Wells, Nicholas Shaxson exposes the root causes of this paradox of poverty from plenty, and ...

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Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil

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Each week the oil and gas fields of sub-Saharan Africa produce well over a billion dollars’ worth of oil, an amount that far exceeds development aid to the entire African continent. Yet the rising tide of oil money is not promoting stability and development, but is instead causing violence, poverty, and stagnation. It is also generating vast corruption that reaches deep into American and European economies. In Poisoned Wells, Nicholas Shaxson exposes the root causes of this paradox of poverty from plenty, and explores the mechanisms by which oil causes grave instabilities and corruption around the globe. Shaxson is the only journalist who has had access to the key players in African oil, and is willing to make the connections between the problems of the developing world and the involvement of leading global corporations and governments.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shaxson argues convincingly that the failed oil states of Africa will be the next Great Game in a world still addicted to oil and increasingly willing to fight for it.  This book is a must read for anyone concerned about Africa and Big Oil. Shaxson’s obvious love for the continent and its people comes clearly through in his writing but does not temper his revulsion at the complex and bloody mess he found there. He digs deeply to uncover the real story beneath the headlines and to eloquently explain an Alice in Wonderland world of money, corruption, war and intrigue. It is a story well told that has the power to stun even the most hardened observer of Africa’s tragedy. Yet at the same time Shaxson powerfully describes people who have battled against the corrupt, the venal and the just plain evil, making a book that is often as inspiring as it is horrifying. Mixing the personal and political, he has written a compelling story that explains one of the most baffling riddles of the modern world: why has oil become a curse for Africa, not a blessing?"

—Paul Harris, US Correspondent, The Observer


"Nicholas Shaxson has traveled to some of the most dangerous and dysfunctional nations on the planet, delved into the murky depths of the African oil business and emerged with a grisly but compelling tale of greed, corruption, and violence. There are still some who believe that oil can rescue Africa from poverty at the same time as saving America from its fatal dependence on suppliers in the Middle East. In this remarkable book, the fruit of years of painstaking research, Shaxson exposes oil as a destroyer, not a savior, of all that is best in Africa."—Victor Mallet, Asia editor, Financial Times, and author of The Trouble with Tigers: The Rise and Fall of South-East Asia


"This is a splendid book about a crucial subject.  We need oil. We want the countries that sell it to us to be stable. But oil itself destabilizes them, unless they were mature democracies before they discovered it. Nicholas Shaxson has put in more legwork in wrecked African petro-states than any other reporter I can think of. The result is a cracking tale of blood, champagne and the 'Devil's excrement.'"

—Robert Guest, former Africa editor, The Economist, and author of The Shackled Continent


"This book will be unsettling for those with preconceived ideas about the oil industry, international business or African politics. Shaxson shows that there are no easy answers to questions on the role of multinational oil giants in Africa, or how to tackle the corruption that is often the result of their oil deals. He shows there are many, many complicated shades of grey—but he does so, thankfully, using such a colorful style and language that the book comes to life and is a pleasure to read."

—Hugh Williamson, Berlin correspondent, Financial Times


"[A] highly readable and provocative book... Devoid of social science jargon, the narrative in this engaging, informative book reads like a novel, making it accessible to a wide audience... Highly recommended." —CHOICE

Publishers Weekly

While all eyes focus on the oil-rich Middle East as the nexus of conflict in a world addicted to crude, the future belongs to Africa, writes British journalist Shaxson in this page-turning, character-driven narrative. Illuminating African postcolonial (and neocolonial) history through the prism of oil, he reveals the central and dangerous role that Africa's oil states now play, casting the precious fuel as a poison not only for the continent but "to liberty, democracy, and free markets around the globe." An acute observer of the vast and secretive industry, Shaxson draws on his own reporting in key areas like Nigeria, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola as well as the work of experts like the late François-Xavier Verschave. In this stark portrait, the paradox of African oil is that, time and again, enormous wealth for a few translates into increasing poverty and political and economic insecurity for the majority. Shaxson sketches a system largely outside the purview of international law involving the highest levels of French, U.S. and other Western governments, financial institutions and elites. Although he proposes practical legislative steps, Shaxson makes clear that the grievous mix of politics, mafia-style operations and endless oil profits not only subverts democratic reforms, but in places like the Niger Delta gives rise to exactly the kind of conditions that produced September 11. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230605329
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/13/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Shaxson is a journalist who writes regularly for the Financial Times, The Economist, African Energy, and the insider newsletter Africa Confidential. He is an associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, and a world authority on the politics and economics of the oil-producing nations of the Gulf of Guinea. He has been covering the African oil trade for the last fifteen years.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Paradox of Plenty in the New Gulf * Fela Kuti: How Things Fell Apart in the Oil Boom * Pedro Motú: A Morph to Another World * Abel Abraão: Wielding the Oil Weapon * Omar Bongo: Taking the Red Pill * Eva Joly: Elf Africaine and the Rabbit Warren * André Milongo: Golden Eggs * Obiang Nguema: What Caring Neighbors Do * Fradique de Menezes: Battening Down the Hatches * Arcadi Gaydamak: Between Global Borders * Dokubo-Asari: Corroding the Soul of a Nation * Global Witness: Hooligans and Rock Stars * Conclusion: Drawing the Poison

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 9, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent survey of the curse of (foreign-owned) oil

    In this informative book, journalist Nicholas Shaxson looks at some African countries that have suffered the curse of foreign-owned oil - Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Gabon, the Congo Republic and São Tomé e Principe. In 1970, before the oil boom, 19 million Nigerians were poor; after $400 billion of oil earnings, 90 million (of a 130 million population) were poor. Each week sub-Saharan Africa's oil fields produce more than $1 billions' worth of oil. But the oil money promotes not investment and development but capital flight and poverty. Greedy foreign oil corporations ally with corrupt rulers. The struggle of rival imperialisms for oil strips Africa bare. In 2005 the USA imported more oil from Africa than from the Middle East, and it is intervening in Africa to control its supplies, as now with its illegal attack on Libya. Oil comprises 87 per cent of US imports from Africa. Angola is China's biggest source of imported oil. France too is scheming and warmongering to keep its hold on Africa. France's former colonies have to keep two-thirds of their reserves in France's treasury. Their central banks' HQs are in Paris. Much EU 'aid' funds French companies in Africa. Shaxson also looks at the curse of tax havens. More than half of world trade passes through tax havens. Over half of all banking assets and a third of foreign direct investment by giant corporations are routed offshore. Terrorists and drug smugglers use the same offshore system that corporations use. Offshore finance is centred on Britain, the EU and the USA. The City of London runs half the world's tax havens and holds more than $3.2 trillion in offshore bank deposits, half the world total. When the Labour government signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2000, it exempted all the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories. The West's banks, mainly from the USA and Britain, take their cut too. They force countries further into debt by making them take out new loans to pay off old ones, at ever higher rates. The bankers make private gains out of public losses.

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