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The Rule of Oil: Petro-Politics and the Anatomy of an Insurgency

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  • Michael Watts
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    Abstract

    Thomas Friedmann’s “First Law of Petro-Politics” expresses the idea that political freedoms diminish in oil-producing states in direct proportion to increases in the price of oil; there is a whole petro-lexicon purporting to capture the dilemma of oil: of the “paradox of plenty,” the “resource curse,” “resource wars,” Dutch Disease and so on. I wish to take on three aspects of this rather diverse and variegated body of work, as a way of opening up a larger argument about how to understand the dynamics of oil-states, and specifically the relations between oil, politics and forms of rule. The first—I shall call “rebellion as crime”-cpeaks to the work of Paul Collier and his World Bank colleagues who address the economics of civil war, and offer an argument that oil offers a ground on which rebels can finance a self-interested and criminal movement against the state through the looting of oil resources. The second-I shall call ‘the territoriality claim’-is associated with Philippe Le Billon’s (2005) important research, which turns on the fact that oil has a specific character and a territoriality, which shapes particular sorts of political outcomes (coups or successions for example). And the third-‘the predation claim’-examines the idea that the violence of oil production-an oil insurgency or an oil rebellion-is associated with the ‘lootability’ of oil. In exploring (and departing from) these ideas I want to provide a rather different try and shed some light on Achille Mbembe’s (2001) question, namely: why is oil so frequently the epicenter of violence?

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by African Finance and Economic Association in its journal Journal of African Development.

    Volume (Year): 11 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 2 ()
    Pages: 27-56

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    Handle: RePEc:afe:journl:v:11:y:2009:i:2:p:27-56

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    Web page: http://afea.info/journal-of-african-development.html
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    Keywords: oil; petroluem; politics; insurgency; rebellion; Africa; natural resources; resource wars; Nigeria; Niger Delta;

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