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


  • Michael Watts


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?

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Watts, 2009. "The Rule of Oil: Petro-Politics and the Anatomy of an Insurgency," Journal of African Development, African Finance and Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 27-56.
  • Handle: RePEc:afe:journl:v:11:y:2009:i:2:p:27-56

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    1. Simon Gregson & Heather Waddell & Stephen Chandiwana, 2001. "School education and HIV control in sub-Saharan Africa: from discord to harmony?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(4), pages 467-485.
    2. Jane Fortson, 2008. "The gradient in sub-saharan Africa: Socioeconomic status and HIV/AIDS," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 45(2), pages 303-322, May.
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