Credit: Tunde Leye

Tunde Leye: When the Oil Finishes

There is something called the World Systems Theory, and understanding it might facilitate how we think of many things, and make us know that we are not as important as we think we are. The world is organized into three rough groups – The Core Countries, The Semi Periphery Countries and the Periphery Countries. Wikipedia offers a detailed explanation as well as a map of the world depicting which countries are core and which are periphery (I have a small disagreement with their classification of China though). The classifications are however not fixed, they are fluid, changing with times and new developments.

Core countries are the rich, industrialized nations that control the world economy, extract resources from other countries, have the greatest technology and military and profit the most from world trade. At some point in history, this would have been the Romans, the Mongolians, the Ottomans, the European Colonial Empires, Russians and then America alone for a long time, with China joining this league today.

Periphery countries are those who are not industrialized, and whose economy is totally dependent on the extraction of its natural resources or provision of cheap labor to the core nations for its sustenance. At some point in history, as hard as this is to believe, Egypt, Britain, Germany and France were periphery countries for the Romans. The Koreans were periphery countries for the Mongolians and so on. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, most of Europe became periphery countries to the Middle Eastern and Asian Empires. The rise of capitalism and the industrial/technological revolution turned the tides and the Europeans became the core, with Asian nations like India, China and Indonesia as well as Middle East like Egypt, Iran and what became Saudi Arabia serving as the periphery. It was also at this point they turned to Africa, and there was no set of nations that became as peripheral as the African nations. The colonies were organized for one thing and one thing only – the exploitation of the natural resources and the native peoples (as slaves and cheap labor) for the benefit of the core nations. The two disastrous World Wars broke Europe economically and militarily, leaving first the United States and the Soviet Union as the core countries, and then eventually, only the United States with the breakup of the Soviet Union. As mentioned earlier, China’s recent meteoritic rise militarily, technologically and economically has moved them into core nation status.

In those past days however, the core nations didn’t mince words about their superiority to the periphery states. They made it crystal clear what they were in for, and went for it without any pretense. However, today, things are a lot more subtle. The core nations do not beat you over the head with their status any longer. And this has created an illusion of importance in the minds of the periphery nations. Let me bring this home – as it must be clear to all who have read so far, Nigeria is a classic case of a periphery nation. And we have the terrible case of an over inflated opinion of our own importance because of how important oil is. And we thump our chest and trumpet our rebase economy of evidence of our importance; after all, we are the biggest economy in Africa. But it is at best an illusion, fostered by the more veiled manner the core nations wield their power.

And as a result, we have organized ourselves as merely a collection of people bound together by how we share oil resources and access to oil. But we are not looking at what is going on in the world, and the realities that we face – our position is simply not sustainable.

Unlike most oil producing states, we have a remarkably high population compared to our oil reserves. And as the years go by, these reserves are depleted, and our population keeps growing. We will come first to a point where what we get from the oil will not be able to sustain the population we have. And then we will get to the ultimate point where the reserves are totally depleted. And then we will have nothing but the cheap labor of our vast population to offer, a sort of second slavery.

The core nations are already preparing for this eventuality. China and the United States are already looking for alternatives, and closer to home too. Heavy research is ongoing into energy extraction from Shale (Gas and Oil). And China and the United States have some of the largest reserves of these. They can already extract energy from this source, that will not significantly affect the design of their industry. The only reason they are yet to switch is the fact that this extraction is still much more expensive than the cost of purchasing and refining oil. I can assure you that the moment they can, they and the rest of the industrial world we sell our oil to will move on to this, leaving us behind. Then the illusion we have will shatter, and we will see that it is the need of the core nations that made our oil important. Once their need is gone, we lose our importance fast, and things might truly fall apart. The importance of oil is a recent development, and falls within the last 100years. It was precipitated by new technology and it will end when technology moves beyond it.

And if any reader hasn’t gotten the point thus far, this is the summary – a nation based on sharing resources from the sale of an extractive resource is simply not sustainable in the long run. The resource will be depleted and it will become scarce. This scarcity will increase propensity for violence and we will be on the path to serious conflict.

2015 is around the corner and we will be electing a leader. We desperately need one with the foresight to smell the coffee and realize that we are headed for a more severe repeat of what happened in the 80s after the initial oil boom of the 70s. Anyone that studies our history will realize that it was since that period that our infrastructure has deteriorated and not much new infrastructure has been built. We simply were not prepared for a glut in the flow of oil money. If we do not see this coming sooner than later, we will be in for an even worse experience.

Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.


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