Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude oil skyrocketing and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the nineteenth-century scramble for colonization there. Already the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.
What does this giddy new oil boom meanfor America, for the world, for Africans themselves? To find out, John Ghazvinian traveled through twelve African countriesfrom Sudan to Congo to Angolatalking to warlords, industry executives, bandits, activists, priests, missionaries, oil-rig workers, scientists, and ordinary people whose lives have been transformednot necessarily for the betterby the riches beneath their feet. The result is a high-octane narrative that reveals the challenges, obstacles, reasons for despair, and reasons for hope emerging from the world’s newest energy hot spot.
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