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Vol 43 No 6

Published 22nd March 2002

Risky money

Oil companies meet human rights and political challenges in Africa's new fields

The oil majors, nervous about the Arabian Gulf, see big opportunities in Africa (AC Vol 43 No 5). Yet global recession and new political pressures present them with huge difficulties, and bitter criticism, as corrupt regimes hijack oil earnings or use them to finance wars. On 5 March, a United States' federal court ruled that a civil lawsuit charging Shell with human rights violations in Nigeria could proceed. The last decade's scramble for Africa saw growing rivalries between US and French oil companies, as deep-water technology opened new fields off West Africa. Swift expansion followed, as countries called in the oil majors and hoped for a big find. The result was years of fast growth, big signature bonuses and blurred borders between politics and business.

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