Africa dreaming

Lazy lazy day of staying in bed and reading the books I have been wanting to read.

It’s inevitable that I pick up a book connected with traveling, international relations, global economics… it is the cheapest way of going somewhere else without even leaving the room.

So I’m almost done with John Ghazvinian’s “Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s oil” and it’s a fascinating read.

I have always wondered about Africa’s abysmal spiral of disaster – dysfunctional economies, high mortality rates, seemingly crazy dictators, high HIV rates… the list is long. But Africa is a continent rich in natural resources, whatever you want you can get in one of the African countries.

And now, West Africa is touted as on the largest oil reserve regions after Middle East. So why can’t this continent get itself together?

Ghazvinian’s book lays out the difficult scenarios facing the 5 oil rich countries – Angola, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principle, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea – and explains why natural resources can be more of a curse than a blessing.

There countries have what is commonly referred as “The Dutch disease” where a country is economically ruined as local industries collapse when a natural resource¬† (usually oil for modern times) is discovered in these undeveloped countries.

What happens is that the discovery of a natural resource creates a sudden influx of money and provides the unprepared population and government with money they are ill prepared for. In most cases, they spend the money on consumer products (cars, TVs, imported food etc) and send the money into foreign countries that produce such luxuries.

In no time, local industries collapse as money bleeds out of the country and the once independent country has to rely on foreign countries for basic necessities. Sadly, natural resources never last (look at Middle East’s manic pace of non-oil related development) and such countries find themselves crippled once their wealth tap runs out.

It’s a sad sad situation from what the book is saying.

Rich foreign companies get rich, poor helpless Africans get shafted.

Of course, the Africans are not entirely blameless. Perhaps that’s the saddest part about Africa – many of its troubles have been created or at least extended by Africans themselves.

Look at what’s happening in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe and you can’t help feeling frustrated with the Africans. The economy is so bad that inflation is running at 11.2 million percent.

The amount of cash the man is carrying can only pay for some eggs since 3 eggs cost 100 billion zimbabwean dollars now.

Ghazvinian did list 2 countries that seem relatively normal – Sao Tome & Gabon – and actually somewhat idyllic. Both are colonies and seemed to have retained european charm isolated from the African craziness of their neighbors.

In fact, Sao Tome’s chocolates are the best in the world since they grow on volanic ash and chocolate conneisseurs rave about them.

Hmmm… reason enough to venture into the heart of darkness for my next vacation?

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