Thursday, October 28, 2004

Quite A Contrast
Most of the stories one hears about the oil industry in Africa tend to focus on corruption and the "resource curse", strikes and threats of violence against foreign companies, or environmental damage. By contrast, this story from the Financial Times concerning "black empowerment" in South Africa is almost heartwarming.

Since the end of the Apartheid era, the South African government has worked to involve black entrepreneurs in the downstream oil products business, often at the individual service station level, but as the article describes, sometimes at much larger scale, in the billions of Rand (@ ZAR 6.15 to the dollar). The result is a substantial economic stake in the the country's fuels business by the previously disenfranchised majority population, as well as employment opportunities and transfers of business practices and relationships.

Some might see this as a soft form of asset appropriation or nationalization, but I think it bodes well for the future of the country, especially when compared with the graft that is routine in places like Nigeria. It is also a much better outcome than companies like Mobil, which formerly owned the Engen assets that are going into the joint venture with Sasol referenced in the article, might have expected in a post-Apartheid South Africa. While the country still has a ways to go in deregulating the oil industry, its energy industry is probably on the best path of any sub-Saharan African nation.

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