IS Academy Lecture: Oil and Politics in Africa

Seminar date: 
05 June 2008
Place:   Faculty Club, Rapenburg 6, Leiden

Dr Ricardo Soares de Oliveira is a University Lecturer in Comparative Politics (African Politics) at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University, Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford, and a Fellow with the Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin. Prior to assuming his post in Oxford in September 2007, he was the Austin Robinson Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and an Associate of the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge. During the academic year 2006-07 he was a visiting scholar at the Centre d'etudes et recherches internationales (Sciences-Po) in Paris. Earlier, he was a Joseph C Fox Fellow at the Centre of International and Area Studies at Yale University. Soares de Oliveira has worked in the field of governance and the energy sector for the World Bank, the European Commission, Catholic Relief Services, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the French Ministry of Defence, among others.

Discussant: Nicholas Shaxson 

This lecture will analyse the political economy of oil in West-Central Africa, one of the world's rising centres of hydrocarbons production. It focuses on a central question: why are US, EU and Asian companies pouring tens of billions of dollars in long-term investment into a region characterized by failing states, ruthless elites, recurrent warfare and some of the world's worst human development indicators? The answer -the present of large petroleum deposits- accounts for the counterintuitive politics of the region. While the vast majority of the population is allowed to waste away, having been effectively abandoned by their governments, the ruling elites benefit from access to capital and expertise irrespective of their reckless conduct. This partnership between importers, producers and companies seems immune to the many political tragedies festering across the region. State institutions, while inoperative for most purposes, are prevented from collapse in order to allow the oil partnership to continue unimpeded, in a pattern that could be termed that of a "successful failed state". This lecture, based on the author's field research across the region, will highlight the sources of long-term sustainability of current arrangements and patterns of governance, especially in light of high oil prices, deepening foreign investment and growing oil production.