Africa’s Rich Oil: The New Political Scramble and Core Causes for Conflict around the Continent (Part 2)

Josephus Moses Gray_web.jpg

The African continent which is blessed with riches is drawing new interests from powerful and influential countries and companies around the globe owing to its resources especially the high quality of oil and wealth. These countries and major actors nowadays see the continent as the most promising place in the world for new production since it doesn't have the huge deposits that the Middle East and Russia do, but what it does have is accessible and largely unexploited rich oil and wealth. The continent oil's high quality makes it relatively inexpensive to refine.

But most Africans are seeing little benefit from this influx of oil drillers and investment; in fact they are often hurt by exports of their countries' oil and other riches. For instance, between 1970 and 1990, countries without oil saw their economies grow five times faster than those of countries with high quality of oil. A classical example is Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, these two neighboring countries with abundant of oil and riches are rated among the poorly nations. This is directly due to abuse of riches by the corrupt elites, politicians and foreign capitalists.

Unlike part one of this article, part two of this article aims at scrutinize the fantasy  that Africa is facing a New Scramble squally due to its high eminence of oil; while at the same time analyzing the nature of economic and political changes in place across the continent. This article further deals with the importance of Africa’s riches, and the political and economic forces behind the new oil rush. It also present in-depth, incisive analysis of critical issues obtaining on the continent and beyond such as the new scramble for Africa’s richer resources, and the core causes for poverty, corruption, bad governance and sparse distribution of oil wealth.

Part one which was published few months ago started with an overview of the phenomenon labeled by some as the ‘New Scramble’. The main body of the article evaluates the existence of a new scramble for the continent oil. Finally, by analyzing the likely impact on the economies of oil-rich states, this article considers whether we should dismay or rejoice over the ‘new scramble for Africa’ oil. It further wraps up that the on-going existence of a oil scramble or a US–Chinese pursuit for Africa should be treated with some caution.

So far, most concerns have been focused on the struggles by external forces for Africa’s riches with the continent high quality of oil at the center of this new scramble by big powers, corrupt elites, politicians and foreign capitalists. Yet, it is important to critically examine the struggle for the control of oil in Africa, and the ways in which these connect with the broader global structures, actors and processes. This struggle has several dimensions, but it is often represented as pitching centralized control of oil revenues such as by a centralized state or dominant elite or group to the exclusion of marginalized groups or regions. The foregoing underscores the close intimacy between state and oil oriented power or agency, and the nature of the fractional squabbles over oil revenues on a national scale, which imposes centralist logic on the control and distribution of oil rents.

The result of a centralist imposition of control from past experience is both the intense horizontal struggles for access to, and control of a larger share of oil rents, but more fundamentally, vertical struggles between the marginalized and oppressed groups and the corrupt foreign capitalists, egocentric politicians or oil elite privileged individuals. These struggles also underpin the privileged class formation process mostly through strategic locationing in the distributive circuits of the politics of the oil-state often carried out through primitive accumulation activities. As such the premium on controlling political power is very high. Such features can be gleaned from politics in Nigeria, Angola, Southern Sudan, Sudan, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, just among few countries.

 Another dimension of the struggles over oil is the relationship between foreign oil companies and national capital in African oil blessed-states, where there are also competitors in those African countries where a petro-bourgeoisie is emerging, and seeking incorporation into a transnational capitalist class. This is most visible from the policies of most African governments. This effort at building indigenous oil-elite can be gleaned from several policies intended to benefit few instead of the largest society on the continent. There is no doubt that the leverage given to most of these companies run by corrupt foreign capitalists, gluttonous politicians and advantaged elite class   has partly fed into a new kind of economic nationalism, driven by the quest for more profit and the political patronage. Theses botched policies are wholly attributing to poverty and suffering on the continent, where 60% of the population lived beyond poverty lines, latest report by the UN has said.

A recent UN report shows that 85% of Africans have no access to standard pipe born water, good health care, electricity, social security benefits, sanitation facilities and good meals a day. The report further indicates that 25.8 million people of the two-thirds of the total world population suffering from HIV/AIDS live in Africa. And that Africa remains abundant in human and natural resources, but these riches especially millions generated from the sale of oil managed to enrich only a handful of African leaders and the family members, corrupt bureaucrats and their relatives and close friends, privileged individuals and foreign capitalists.

The continent riches blessed with natural resources faces devastating crippling rates of poverty, hunger, and disease due to a ‘new scramble due primarily to its riches especially oil, with world’s two largest economy powers, US and China competing over access to African resources and markets. The U.S. long-standing dominance in several African countries and influence have been challenged in recent time by emerging China. Most studies explain that this is due to the changing distribution of power at several levels on the continent, while the French, British and Russia on other fronts have enforced their influences through a diplomatic tie on the continent. Most studies show that the new diplomatic maneuverings and stratagem could be several factors responsible for the continents chronic political, economic and security problems and also the infusion of violence in several African states. 

Several political pundits believe that China ties with some regimes on the continent and Chinese government’s aid to many African states with no strings attached policy undermine democracy, apparently can be blamed for bad governances, praetorian rule by ruling elites and vulnerability of the largest populations. But there are millions of others who hailed Sino-African partnership and believed that it results to a win-win situation, arguing that African countries stand to benefit immensely in the context of infrastructural development. However, the actual cause of the argument stands from different interpretations and perceptions, most importantly how accurate is the information they obtain or hand over to them.  Nevertheless, I am mindful against making a decision on the debates, I decided to refrain from discussing a particular case or situation in relationship to a specific African country or any of the big power since my doctorate studies in International Relations and Public Policy dissertation which contains over 500 pages discusses the subject on hand in details, with illustration, cases and references, among other acceptable standard of doctoral dissertation. The title of the dissertation is: China Strategic Oil Interest in Africa—The Sino-Africa Emerging Ties.

What flows from the following is the complex architecture of the scramble for oil and its enmeshment with trans-global processes and actors. Given its place in the class struggles around in a rapidly globalizing world, oil is destined to be choice for power, influence and wealth. Whether the struggle between foreign capitalists and the ruling elite or  State/ Indigenous private oil capital, the contestations are framed within highly inequitable relations of production and distribution, which deepen existing social contradictions within Africa, and further complicate any prospects of social transformation, or the democratization of state-society smooth relations.

 Beijing‘s recent engagement in Africa has attracted a lot of attention and become a major economic force in Africa with a big amount of trade, investment and aid. Some critics especially from the West often use a double-standard to measure the Chinese engagement in Africa compared with the Western one. But also many people from different standpoints believe Chinese action to be beneficial to African development and help to empower the huge population on the continent. But from a critical point of views, China serves as both an opportunity and a challenge. The opposite side claims Chinese-African relations were established long before China‘s need for raw materials on the basis of mutual sympathy and common development instead of colonization.

For others, Africa is frequently viewed as a loser in the process of economic globalization. Writers and authors have emphasized that Africa is of little relevance ‘because no important economic interests are greatly affected’. But Africa’s oil and gas can be one of the few outstanding exceptions to the perceived insignificance of Africa. Some capitalists  predict that the United States will soon depend on Africa for a quarter of its total crude oil imports, and Africa already accounts for more than a quarter of China’s oil imports nowadays. Oil experts have revealed that unless geologists succeed in finding new and so far unidentified provinces, consumers will all be depending on supplies from just three areas —  Africa, Russia and, most important of all, the five states around the Mideast.

The present resource-rich African states and political elite may not be able to use the increased revenues from the sale of oil to transform their economies or societies, and would more likely enrich themselves and their patrimonial networks, or seek to entrench themselves in power through forceful means. The prospects of oil-rich African states emerging from the present struggle for the continent’s resources will ultimately depend of the ability of these states to transform themselves through a developmental philosophy to acts as spurs both for social and economic transformation, but perhaps more fundamentally, for the re-organization of production in the oil rich African states in the ways that lift it out of its peripheral position in the globalised division of labor.

 This is clear from the well-known Niger Delta crisis where the struggle by the ethnic minorities for autonomy and resource control has assumed insurgent proportions with frequent attacks on oil and government interests by well-armed militias. Apart from the militias, transnational networks trading in illegal bunkering and small arms are also involved in the struggles for oil in the Niger Delta.

No doubt that oil money tends to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats whose end up fighting to pocket a share of the finite oil riches, rather than looking for ways to invest in their country's long-term prosperity. Studies show that most oil rich’s governments aren't dependent on income taxes and therefore don't have to do what the citizens want, as such the state isn't an engineer of economic growth, but a gravy train. In this case, only a limited amount of money gets down to the people." The preceding clearly shows that although the scramble for Africa formally ended at the doorsteps of colonial rule, and independence, its spirit continues to haunt the continent as the world most powerful states, foreign capitalists, corrupt bureaucrats and egotistic actors continue to seek its resources for power, influence and domination on a  national and global scales.

Although the Western development workers and Africa have been questing the way of development of Africa for a long time and have been seeking for a change, the reality is still disillusioning. The structural adjustment initiated by western government and adopted by African government seems to be a failure. The idea of turning to China as an alternative for prosperity has captured the imagination of many ordinary Africans, although others fear the threat of competition from the Chinese industrial juggernaut, and the rise of Chinese traders competing in local African markets.

Majority of the crises across the African continent are direct result of the struggles for oil wealth or opposition against exclusion from resources and bad governances. The continent experienced dozen of vicious wars in several countries including the Nigeria’s Biafra war, the rebels’ war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire), Angola, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopian-Eritrea war, Rwanda war between the Hutu and the Tutsi, Senegal-Casamance Region, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Northern and Southern Sudan’s war, Kenya post election violence, Libyan, and now Mali, just to name few. All these wars were direct results of abused of state resources and national wealth, bad governances, corruption, class system and abused of state power and authority by handful of African leaders and foreign capitalists.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josephus Moses Gray holds BA and MA Degrees in Communications and International Relations. He formerly worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Assistant Minister for Public Affairs. He is a Ph.D fellow with concentration in International Relations and Public Policy. He is a graduate of the ICFA Global Journalism Program, Washington D.C., USA. He holds dozens of certificates and post-graduate diplomas in Journalism, international affairs, political, Development economics, peace studies and diplomacy from abroad including the Chinese Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, Cape Town, South Africa and Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  He has authored two books and has written extensively and published over 40  articles on contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here