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Oil wealth and the well-being of the subaltern classes in Sub-Saharan Africa: A critical analysis of the resource curse in Ghana


  • Ayelazuno, Jasper


In 2007, Ghana joined the club of Gulf of Guinea oil-rich countries when transnational corporations discovered proven reserves in the Jubilee Field, off of the Cape Three Points along its Western coast. This has generated debate on whether Ghana would escape the resource curse. The orthodox resource curse approach (ORCA), dominant in most discussions on the issue to date, offers some valuable theoretical and policy insights but is also highly problematic: it is uncritical, ahistorical and reductionist. Fixated on internal political and economic factors, the ORCA ignores the longue durée of capitalist exploitation and its negative structural effects on the economy. This article formulates a critical political economy approach (PEA) which brings a fresh perspective on the oil-curse debate, focusing specifically on the case of Ghana. Using theoretical argumentation and empirical evidence, the paper explains why, in the context of ORCA, many would argue that a liberal democratic context, relatively good governance and long history of gold mining will help Ghana minimise the probability of a resource curse. But when analysed using a more dynamic PEA, it becomes clear that the danger of a resource curse ‘epidemic’ surfacing in Ghana is very real: the continuous exploitation by global capital, which has perpetuated the existence of enclave extractive industries and a dependence on the export of low-value commodities. A PEA brings into sharper focus the global political economy underpinnings of the resource curse in Sub-Saharan Africa by highlighting the way in which the dynamics of ‘uneven and combined’ capitalist development have conditioned the region, both resource-rich and poor, to become dependent on the production and export of raw commodities.

Suggested Citation

  • Ayelazuno, Jasper, 2014. "Oil wealth and the well-being of the subaltern classes in Sub-Saharan Africa: A critical analysis of the resource curse in Ghana," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 66-73.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jrpoli:v:40:y:2014:i:c:p:66-73
    DOI: 10.1016/j.resourpol.2013.06.009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Samir Amin, 1972. "Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa: Historical Origin," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 9(2), pages 105-119, June.
    2. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew M. Warner, 1995. "Natural Resource Abundance and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 5398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. International Finance Corporation & World Bank, "undated". "Doing Business in the Arab World 2012 : Doing Business in a More Transparent World," World Bank Other Operational Studies 16303, The World Bank.
    4. International Finance Corporation & World Bank, 2012. "Doing Business 2012 : Doing Business in a More Transparent World," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 5907.
    5. Lant Pritchett, 1997. "Divergence, Big Time," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 3-17, Summer.
    6. John Toye & Richard Toye, 2003. "The Origins and Interpretation of the Prebisch-Singer Thesis," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 35(3), pages 437-467, Fall.
    7. Ackah-Baidoo, Abigail, 2012. "Enclave development and ‘offshore corporate social responsibility’: Implications for oil-rich sub-Saharan Africa," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 152-159.
    8. Wade, Robert Hunter, 2003. "What strategies are viable for developing countries today? The World Trade Organization and the shrinking of ‘development space’," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28239, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    9. Bloch, Robin & Owusu, George, 2012. "Linkages in Ghana's gold mining industry: Challenging the enclave thesis," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 434-442.
    10. Todd Moss & Lauren Young, 2009. "Saving Ghana from Its Oil: The Case for Direct Cash Distribution," Working Papers 186, Center for Global Development.
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    Cited by:

    1. Felix Kumah-Abiwu, 2017. "Democratic Institutions, Natural Resource Governance, and Ghana’s Oil Wealth," Social Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(1), pages 1-13, February.
    2. Ovadia, Jesse Salah, 2016. "Local content policies and petro-development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A comparative analysis," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 20-30.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F21 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Investment; Long-Term Capital Movements
    • F54 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - Colonialism; Imperialism; Postcolonialism
    • L71 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Primary Products and Construction - - - Mining, Extraction, and Refining: Hydrocarbon Fuels


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