Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil
by: John Ghazvinian
Published by: Harcourt Books
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Reviewed by Dara O' Sullivan
Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil is a book that takes the breath away.
John Ghazvinian heads to Africa to follow the oil trail in the regions that are being labelled 'the new Middle East." Traveling through twelve African countries in total, the account is divided fairly evenly between the older oil powers such as Nigeria and Angola, and the newer oil states such as Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome.
One of the features that makes this book such a gripping read is that it is not written from afar. The author visits each of the countries that he discusses and manages to capture the atmosphere of the place through both humorous and pithy anecdotes, as well as heartbreaking descriptions.
In one of the most fascinating sections of the book, Ghazvinian graphically illustrates how, by and large, the discovery of large quantities of oil actually damages an economy, increases unemployment, and deepens general poverty levels. This extraordinary phenomenon of 'the curse of oil' is discussed in some detail and the concept of a 'rentier economy' is expounded in a manner that is lucid even to the reader uninitiated in the mysteries of economics.
Crazed dictators, corruption and wealth on an unimaginable scale, shady deals, Western chancers, criminals, mercenaries, coup attempts, all form part of this amazing story. Ghazvinian manages to track down representatives of most of the players involved, from low-life Nigerian oil thieves, to smooth-talking oil magnates. He hangs out with the hard- living Western 'oilfield trash,' attempts to probe edgy African officials, and quizzes defensive politicians, revealing a subterranean world of western double standards, opportunistic hucksters, and naked greed.
With such a cast of characters, any attempt at telling this story would make interesting reading. Ghazvinian however, as well as being an intrepid investigative journalist, is a gifted writer. His turn of phrase, dark humor and ironic style, all make this book a compelling read.
Armchair Interviews says: Oil affects each one of us to one extent or another. For anyone with a social conscience, this book is necessary reading.
Author's Web site: http://www.JohnGhazvinian.com
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