Seeing as oil is the natural resource du jour I thought these findings by Christian Aid might be of interest to readers. Christian Aid note that the discovery of oil in a third world country isn’t neccessarily a good thing for the people of the country in which it’s found for the simple reason that local elites tend to pocket the profits from the oil and then don’t bother to encourage any other economic development. Having been involved in legal cases involving oil money in Nigeria and the Arab world I can only agree with their conclusions. In my experience without an accountable government, functioning civil society and widely-observed rule of law the discovery of oil (or any other natural resource) encourages corruption and graft.
It is not considered the done thing to say this in polite society (which is overwhelmingly behind the Drop the Debt campaign) but the problems of much of the world are less to do with the legacy of European imperialism than with the massive corruption endemic in many of the world’s poorer countries. That’s not to say that the legacy of imperialism is not a factor but it’s not the whole story by a long way. The best example of a country which has successfully developed from third world to first world status is one with neither natural resources nor colonisation by Europeans – Japan.
If we are really interested in helping the developing world (and we should be for all sorts of reasons) we’ve got to drop the self-hating “guilt” which blames the failure of the third world solely on the first world and instead point the finger locally when it’s appropriate to do so. It’s what those who live in the third world have been doing for decades as they watch the economic performance and the living standards of their countries slip down the tables further every year.