Book ReviewBIG BARRELS has arrived very late. For many like myself, who struggled with the scarcity of positive Africa-specific case studies at business school; it’s about time, too.

By showcasing examples of countries where the ‘Resource Curse’ is being overcome, NJ Ayuk and Joio Gaspar Marques have placed a finger right on the pulse of Africa’s future prosperity. The writers point to a more transparent kind of African leadership, with working examples of cooperation, civic responsibility, accountability, and successfully managed policy. BIG BARRELS provides material for far-reaching academic discussions about Africa’s growth prospects in the coming decades. As more African nationals and decision-makers get familiar with these success stories, we expect to see better management of extractive resources simply because more people now know that African nations can do right by their people.

Ghana’s meticulous preparation for the management of her new oil resources; the call for expertise from the global community, and the direct involvement of the citizens – all point to progress. We see a collective victory over the image of doom that hovered around Africa’s oil and gas conversations. We are shown that there are positive lessons to learn from the tragic resource dependencies of countries like Nigeria, Congo, and Equitorial Guinea; and from the new milestones that are emerging as each country adjusts and corrects the course. We are shown the vast and fast-growing East African corridor with Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique building up the regional eco-system, and showing evidence of national GDP increase, global trust building, and innovations for improved infrastructure and regional connectivity.

Ayuk and Marques do not shy away from the fact that Africa’s resource-related corruption problem is not entirely self-made. The authors clearly acknowledge the chaotic forces behind institutionalized corruption masked as CSR, bilateral business deals, economic development, military aid or Foreign Direct Investment. Yet these negatives are balanced with inspiring narratives like the stability of Angola’s SONANGOL. Through the eyes of Ayuk and Marques, we see the path of Angola’s oil in 7 important steps that are applicable to just about any human endeavour:

– Resource identification (identify and protectively isolate the main income source)

– International best practices (build systems on a solid base and gain industry trust)

– Unique human capital solutions (make a deal that changes industry history)

– Technical stability (get the job done, in spite of the chaotic external situation)

– Infrastructure and capacity building (invest and improve exponentially)

– Contract and negotiation expertise (well-informed interface with external stakeholders)

– Self-determination and positive self-governance (strong decisions for the longer term)

Despite Angola’s years of civil unrest, we see SONANGOL as being isolated from the chaotic economic mistakes and policy tussles of most other state institutions. We see that it is possible.

Beyond the merits of prudent natural resource management, we are shown the jewel that is Gabon and the value of environmental stewardship. We see proof that ‘oil and water’ can mix, as Mother Nature has harmonized oil exploration structures with the aquatic environment. The thriving underwater communities around Gabon’s old oil platforms have revealed exciting fish species that are newly-native to Gabon and the West Africa area. We see a country that has prioritized the protection of aquatic and terrestial eco-systems through “strategic political decisions and policy shifts” and grown into a globally recognized champion of the environment. With government and private sector commitment, Gabon proves that oil exploration can contribute to environmental protection and enrichment in Africa. We see that it is possible.

The overall effect of this book will be felt across different demographics. Framed by Africa’s painful socio-economic trajectory, BIG BARRELS is written with a genuine (and tangible) objective of shedding light on the many opportunities for growth in oil-related fields. The authors show us that there are opportunities to develop stronger indigenous talent, and form solid human resource foundations to service the growing oil and gas industry. There are opportunities for better informed leadership, in civic activism and public involvement with policy formulation and decision-making. There is entrepreneurial hope in these scenarios of “political and social integrity and stable economic development”. And most importantly, there is empirical proof that Africa can produce successful models for other extractive industries in both developed and developing economies.

I see readers coming away encouraged by these cases, and effectively freed from the myth that Africa cannot be cured of the age-old “resource curse”.

It is possible.

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