The Observer (Kampala)

15 January 2013

Uganda: Book Review - Oil, Money and Greed

book review

Tom Bower attempts to tell the story of world oil over the past two decades. An investigative journalism piece, it takes the reader into the boardrooms and presidential offices where the world-changing decisions are made. In the world's desire for oil, the resource that makes and breaks economies, governments and world powerbrokers, there is nothing spared by any of the players to take control and make as much money as possible.

Intense, almost cutthroat competition by the global world oil companies to stay at the top, investing billions of dollars in speculative oil concessions and going through, bribery if possible, the red tape that is government and dictatorships and oligarchs as well as managing the challenges of terrain and technology to feed the ever-growing thirst for oil.

Governments own the resource that is oil but rarely 'own' in the true sense of the word due to their impotence that comes with lack of knowledge, skills and technology, not to mention the money to invest in its extraction, refinery and trading. Tom Bower is an investigative journalist and he covers not just how the power play over oil goes down between governments, global oil companies, powerbrokers, oil traders and environmentalists; he gives you the insider information of the plotting in each camp and why they move when they do.

This is a typical world of everyone for himself and there is a lot of ego at play, be it for the moneyed oil companies or the dictators under whose lands and seas oil has been discovered over time. The Squeeze tells of the consequences of oil, not all rosy from communities which suffer eternal environmental degradation due to poisoning of rivers and soils by oil spillage, to countries which lose democracy because their leaders are now no longer dependent on external support, to drastic changes to lives when companies decide to massively downsize.

Yet this mix of economics and politics is played out in a market where prices are neither stable nor have a single determining factor. Control moves from one player to another. Companies gain and lose control - others get swallowed up once they lose control, and profit and allegiance is never a given.

Given that the factors which determine the ultimate gains and how they swing lie in power and control, it is sad that those whose resource oil is, will a lot of times come out poorer and sicker even as the rest become richer beyond imagination.

But in the 556 pages, one constant stands out: it pays to plan well both politically and economically, whoever you are if you are to make any gains as a player - be you a country, trader or oil company.

Book: The Squeeze

Author: Tom Bower

Publisher: Harper Press

Volume: 556 pages

Cost: Shs 32,000

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