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The Petrostate in Africa  

Omolade Adunbi

Oil exploration in Africa began during the colonial period. The discovery of oil in many African states and its attendant promises of development has been a double-edged sword for the continent. In many African countries, discovery of abundant oil fields coincided with independence, entrusting the management of huge oil reserves to the postcolonial states that emerged from the rubble of colonialism. Oil has made Africa a strategic energy source for the rest of the world. As of 2017, Africa was estimated to contain upward of 126 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, constituting about 10 percent of world reserves. Yet the search for more oil continues in many African countries. Oil generates immense revenue for states that have it but it also makes them susceptible to a boom-and-bust cycle that mono-economies often confront. The finite nature of oil and the technology that is needed to extract it have made oil a beautiful bride for multinational corporations and the state which partners with them. Elite competition is often the norm in states rich in oil, where its control is often accompanied by access to the huge resources, with no benefits accruing to the larger population. The process of elite accumulation of oil rent has preoccupied most scholarship on Africa since the 1970s, when many oil-rich states experienced a boom—hence the notion that such countries on the continent are a petrostate. Petrostates are susceptible to the resource curse of mono-economies, according to the analyses that have dominated the political economy literature for the better part of the last half century.