Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Myth of the Oil Curse: Exploitation and Diversion in Equatorial Guinea

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Myth of the Oil Curse: Exploitation and Diversion in Equatorial Guinea

Article excerpt

Those who deny these everyday realities of ghbal immanence fuel fundamentalism, of which there are as many types as there are intolerances. The mark of fundamentalism is not religious belief but dogmatic belief that refuses to interrogate founding texts and excludes the possibility of critical dialogue, dividing humanity absolutely into pre-given categories of the chosen and the expendable, into "us" and "them." And whether this is preached by a head of state, or in place of worship, or at the IMF; no cultural practice - religious or secular, economic or political, rational or romantic - is immune to fundamentalism's simplifying appeal. We in the nascent public sphere can do better than to succumb to mythic fundamentalisms of whatever sort.

- Susan Buck-Morss

While facing some representatives from international civil society during a lively human rights panel1 at a major Conference on Equatorial Guinea held at Hofstra University in April 2009,2 Mr. Agustín Nze Nfumu, Equatoguinean ambassador to the United Kingdom, rightly observed that his country had become "the latest fashionable attraction."3 Indeed, over the course of the last few years, Equatorial Guinea has quickly transformed from one of the least covered countries in Subsanaran Africa into a "media-activist" attraction, figuring as a new icon of the so-called "Oil Curse." However, in spite of this growing attention, which has developed proportionately to oil production, the country remains largely unknown. This is hardly surprising since a kind of incongruity commonly appears when it comes to Africa.4 While few seem to understand what goes on inside the "Dark Continent" (and few, perhaps, want to, as Achille Mbembe observed when bluntly speaking of a "willful ignorance" regarding the continent ["Eintarissable"]), everybody seems to have solutions for its alleged "problems." Mr. Nze Nfumu's remark might perhaps be seen as a reflection of weariness in the face of this regrettable gap between knowledge and ethical interventionism.

In this essay, I will mainly be concerned with what such a "gap" means. In fact, I would like to explore what I ultimately perceive as a kind of "relational distortion." My first point will deal with an ethical and Manichean atmosphere that runs through discourses about African oil. Such an atmosphere jumbles up the (dark) imaginary of Africa, developmentalist postures, and precepts of the dominant model - the whole articulation evoking the contemporary forms of ethics analyzed and criticized by Alain Badiou. One of the essential consequences of such an atmosphere is to create a radical scission of reality: it encourages the judgement of Equatoguinean reality from the perspective of Western capitals as if they were innocent and virtuous places, while perceiving Equatorial Guinea as "a foreign country with its own problems." In fact, it is universally implied that oil is a "good fortune" for Africa and for individual African countries, for it represents a financial income with the potential to facilitate autonomous development. Such an approach precisely defines oil problematics, presenting what James Ferguson has called the "false front of sovereignty" (Global Shadows). The oil problem is constrained within Equatoguinean borders, a fact that both naturalizes and legitimizes oil exploitation itself and that makes the oil-extracting capitals of the West appear to be virtuously detached. The intent of the panel's participants was "to help" Equatorial Guinea turn the "Curse" into a "Blessing." However, we live in a common and shared world, and we have to consider the relations and connections that link our current global reality. We must therefore query oil exploitation and the supposed moral superiority of the Western capitals. Indeed, my second point in this essay will seek to enlarge the perspective by suggesting that New York, Madrid, Paris, and Malabo are ultimately part of the same territory, and that they share the same destiny (Offner). …

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