Black gold and the new scramble for Africa : the case of São Tomé

12 Jun 2008

From Liberia to Angola, oil companies are bidding for lucrative contracts for exclusive rights to Africa's oil. This flurry of activity has been dubbed the 'New Scramble for Africa', mirroring the original, which led to the creation of the current African. This new scramble, however, is not exclusively a European affair. Resources are available to the highest bidder or the most lucrative offer as countries now have more options for buyers. Interest in African oil results from various factors. The United States of America [US] is attempting to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil, while China is looking for new energy sources to fuel its rapid economic growth. The involvement of these actors on the continent has a direct influence on the democratic process - mostly negative. São Tomé and Príncipe is a relatively new player in the oil industry and has an opportunity to avoid making the same mistakes that other African countries have made. The Dutch disease and the institutionalisation of corruption are just two problems facing this tiny island nation, in addition to fending off the hegemonic aspirations of Nigeria and resisting US attempts to make it into a regional satellite state. Domestically, a mood of discontentment is directed at the government for failing to improve the lives of the citizens, while the ruling party suffers from factionalism and corruption scandals. If these issues are not dealt with appropriately, any one of them could explode into a conflict situation. The overall assessment is not encouraging, but the country can and has adopted several measures that, if implemented, could turn the oil curse into a veritable blessing.