Untapped – The Scramble for Africa’s Oil

Untapped, written by John Ghazvinian, was an excellent introduction to what the author refers to as the ‘Second Scramble for Africa’. Ghazvinian jaunts about AfricaUntapped exploring and investigating the current and future oil producers of the continent and provides a comprehensive overview on the potential for success or failure facing African petrostates. Reading as part – travel journal, part – socio/economic/political analysis, Ghazvinian has provided the ideal book for anyone wishing to understand the history and current happenings of the African states of Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, The Congo, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea. His insightful investigating shows how he talked with just about anyone and everyone that was impacted by oil in Africa. From the Oil Execs at the super majors (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, etc) to the politicians, to the rural villagers adversely affected by the drilling, everyone has the voice heard in Untapped

Before reading Untapped, I knew how oil was impacting the outlook of the continent, but never heard the details of the dealings between the supermajors in the oil business and how they dealt with national governments and their populations. These revealing stories that Ghazvinian tells in his book should be of particular interest to those who wish to see how oil is interacting with the national politics of many African nations.

The book is a must read for anyone interested in the continent of the Oil Producing business, but is critical for anyone researching potential national security concerns for those countries of the West. As Ghazvinian shows in  the book, the cheque book of the Chinese could replace some of the stalwarts in international finance such as the IMF and the World Bank when it comes to dealing with aid in Africa. For so long the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have attached strict conditions to any aid or loans received by African governments from these two institutions. With the Chinese government willing to attach significant aid packages, without any preconditions or stipulations, to their bids on oil blocks, the dynamics in Africa could change significantly for the worse. Or rather more frightening may remain just as corrupt as they currently stand. However, another perspective could be put forth that less outside interference from Monetary Institutions and Foreign governments could lead to a greater degree of sovereignty for these African petro-states. However, if they continue to degrade the democracy that exists, or block the voices and concerns of their own citizens, the world must be seriously concerned about the use of petrodollars to pad politicians’ bank accounts and the purchasing of military equipment.

Ghazavinian makes no subjective judgements on the African leaders and the actions of the Oil Companies, which makes the book such a strong review of the continent’s ‘black gold’. However, the overall tone that is found from the book says that if significant changes are not made by the way African petrostates spend and use their money from oil profits, the ‘Dutch Disease’ and ‘curse of oil’ will propagate throughout these oil producing states benefitting the wallets of the gas guzzling West and corrupt African politicians rather than any improvement in the lives of those Africans living on less than $1 a day.

Academic Resource:

Untapped has a solid index, from which to quickly surf the book’s contents, but what sets this book apart is the solid list of sources and further reading that Ghazvinian provides at the end. A map showing his visited countries is in the front of the book, which proves useful for those unfamiliar with the region, but no other media is presented. A quick read due to Ghzavinian’s writing style should make it very accessible for students needing to use it as a resource

Overall Rating: A

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