Thursday, April 19, 2007

the first law of petropolitics

While researching the internet for the material to the other post (yet to come) I found an extremely interesting article by Thomas L. Friedman that introduces "The First Law of Petropolitics". Quoting after this article that law states: "The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. According to the First Law of Petropolitics, the higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. And these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world thinks or says about them."

Case study: Nigeria
Quoting from the same article:
"Or, consider the drama now unfolding in Nigeria. Nigeria has a term limit for its presidents—two four-year terms. President Olusegun Obasanjo came to office in 1999, after a period of military rule, and was then reelected by a popular vote in 2003. When he took over from the generals in 1999, Obasanjo made headlines by investigating human rights abuses by the Nigerian military, releasing political prisoners, and even making a real attempt to root out corruption. That was when oil was around $25 a barrel. Today, with oil at $60 a barrel, Obasanjo is trying to persuade the Nigerian legislature to amend the constitution to allow him to serve a third term. A Nigerian opposition leader in the House of Representatives, Wunmi Bewaji, has alleged that bribes of $1 million were being offered to lawmakers who would vote to extend Obasanjo’s tenure. “What they are touting now is $1 million per vote,” Bewaji was quoted as saying in a March 11, 2006, article by VOA News. “And it has been coordinated by a principal officer in the Senate and a principal officer in the House.”
Clement Nwankwo, one of Nigeria’s leading human rights campaigners, told me during a visit to Washington in March that since the price of oil has started to climb, “civil liberties [have been] on a huge decline—people have been arbitrarily arrested, political opponents have been killed, and institutions of democracy have been crippled.” Oil accounts for 90 percent of Nigeria’s exports, added Nwankwo, and that explains, in part, why there has been a sudden upsurge in the kidnapping of foreign oil workers in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta. Many Nigerians think they must be stealing oil, because so little of the revenue is trickling down to the Nigerian people.
If Nigeria had no oil, then the entire political equation would be different,” said Nwankwo. “The income would not be coming from oil and therefore the diversification of the economy would become an issue and private enterprise would matter more, and people would have to expand their own creativity.”

Last weekend the state elections were held in Nigeria during which the governing party won (see a NYT or a BBC article for details), according to some not really in a fair way (link). Next Saturday Nigerians will be choosing their new president (luckily Obasanjo can not be reelected for the third term) and it seems that there are also reasons to be concerned about the outcome of this election. Nigeria opposition parties' leaders are even considering boycotting upcoming presidential election.