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Few would argue against the notion that oil equals wealth. Few, that is, except the average citizens of Africa's oil-producing countries. Of course, big money is being pumped into the area just as oil is being pumped out -- $50 billion will be spent, nearly one-third of it by the United States, over the next three years. Almost without exception, from Nigeria to Chad, Congo to Angola, Sierra Leone to Equatorial Guinea, a pattern emerges: There is precious little percolation of oil wealth from top to bottom.
The lack of proper monetary distribution fuels other problems. Greed unites local politicians and foreign oil executives, to the detriment of nearly everyone else. Inflation, driven by the influx of foreign currency, further impoverishes villagers; agriculture, once the foundation of their economies, collapses, and the onetime breadbasket nations of the continent can no longer feed even themselves. Starvation, corruption, and myriad social ills follow.
Ghazvinian traveled to each country to assess the situation, an often-dangerous enterprise that made possible this thoughtful (and despite its serious subject matter, wholly entertaining) assessment of both the pitfalls and potential of oil exploration on Africa. With observations as witty as they are wistful, he illuminates a murky mega-business in a distant part of the world, which impacts our lives, and even more, the lives of those living in its shadow every day.
(Summer 2007 Selection)
With American relations in the Middle East on shaky ground, the U.S. government and the petroleum industry have turned to Africa as a new source of oil, investing more than a billion dollars a year in the continent since 1990. China and India are also looking to African crude oil, which is "lighter" and "sweeter" than its Arab counterpart and thus requires less costly refining, to fuel their booming economies. So Ghazvinian, an Oxford historian armed with "a suitcase full of notepads and malaria pills, and a sweaty money belt stuffed with $100 bills," toured a dozen oil-producing nations to see how they'd been affected by the oil boom. What he finds is internal strife: in Nigeria, the only thing that keeps one group of interview subjects from assaulting him is that he doesn't work for Shell. Later, an official in the "self-parodying burlesque of a tin-pot kleptocracy," Equatorial Guinea, makes a not-so-veiled threat after soliciting a bribe falls through. Even more stable nations have their problems: in Gabon the national economy was so transformed by oil that the government has to import most of its food from neighboring countries. Ghazvinian's ground-level interviews bring perspective to the chaos, though readers may wish for a map to follow his path through the unfamiliar territory. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Africa has long gone ignored almost everywhere outside Africa. But now that oil is scarcer and the continent has plenty of it, writes journalist/historian Ghazvinian, drillers and diplomats are paying attention. Since 1990, Ghazvinian observes, the petroleum industry has invested $20 billion in exploration and development in Africa. In the next three years alone, another $50 billion will be spent, "and around one-third of it will come from the United States." Most of this exploration centers around the Gulf of Guinea, a nearly ideal location, since it's offshore and thus perhaps not subject to the whims of landlubber dictators and corrupt officialdom and civil wars, things that plague places such as Sierra Leone and Nigeria; the Gulf also offers easily accessible sea lanes leading to Europe and the Americas, and, perhaps best of all, no sub-Saharan African countries belong to OPEC. Considering the sorry state of some sorry African states, notably Equatorial Guinea, an "overnight emirate" whose oil wealth goes straight into the ruling family's coffers, the oil developers are wise to stay out in the deep. Even so, Ghazvinian notes, because of the rich reserves the Gulf of Guinea holds, certainly as compared to the "sour" oil of places such as Chad, West Africa is now being overrun and contested; Nigeria and Angola jockey for political dominance in places such as Sao Tome and Principe, shady neocolonialists wander the streets of West Africa's capitals and everywhere one looks, China is suddenly a major presence, having smartly committed to foreign aid and infrastructure development while the West was looking the other way. Ghazvinian's grand-tour narrative has moments of lucid observationand sharp description that would do Graham Greene proud. Still, one wonders about his optimistic conclusion when past scrambles for Africa have hardly worked to Africans' advantage.
" ... [a] deftly reported book ... "
"Like the cars that might one day make the Western world a bit less reliant on crude oil, Untapped is a hybrid; part travelogue, part analysis and part lament. It is also well timed."
"Ghazvinian, who has a doctorate in history from Oxford, a sure hand with economic theory, and a journalist's touch for capturing the telling detail, delivers an account that would be wildly entertaining if the story he was telling wasn't so full of heartbreaking poverty, venality, corruption and violence."
"Untapped is John Ghazvinian's riveting account and superb analysis of what African oil means to a fuel-hungry world and to the African nations involved."