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Navigating the resource curse: oil doesn't guarantee abundance

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By Paul Boeffard

· 4 min read

Embarking on an intricate exploration, we delve into the paradoxical economic situation known as the Resource Curse. This quandary becomes particularly pronounced when the presence of oil, conventionally associated with wealth, doesn't unfold as anticipated. In the article we’ll explore the complexities surrounding nations endowed with valuable resources,  scrutinize the root causes, and explore strategic avenues for sustainable development to escape from the curse. 

Unraveling the causes of the resource curse

The Dutch disease

The journey into the Resource Curse begins with the Dutch Disease, where a nation's overreliance on a thriving resource sector triggers a decline in other industries. A classic case is the Netherlands, discovering a vast natural gas field in Groningen in 1959, which, upon export, led to a decline in overall competitiveness.

Price volatility

This decline in competitiveness intertwines with the volatility of commodity prices, especially in the case of oil. Sudden price drops, as witnessed in Venezuela during the mid-2010s, not only impact economic stability but also result in revenue shortfalls affecting government budgets and public services.

Economic dependency and stagnation

As economies expand, a perpetuating extractivist and colonialist dynamic emerges, particularly in Africa. The economic dependency on oil and gas exports skews benefits towards the Global North, leaving local populations burdened with environmental impacts. Oil Change International research shows a  staggering 60% of Africa's projected production from 2020–2050 is controlled by European, Asian, and North American companies. This dynamic foster "addictive economies," where resource extraction-driven benefits lead to shortsighted policymaking. Nigeria's status as a major oil and gas producer coexists with the paradox of the world's largest energy access deficit, highlighting the limitations of resource-driven development. In 2021, only 43 percent of Nigerians had access to electricity.

Navigating the consequences of the resource curse

Social inequalities

Economic dependency and stagnation give rise to social inequalities. Resource extraction establishes isolated economic enclaves, contributing to regional disparities and increased inequality. For example, Nigeria's per capita oil revenues rose from US$33 to US$325 between 1965 and 2000. Despite this increase, the proportion of the population living on less than US$1 per day surged from 26% to nearly 70%, ranking Nigeria among the 15 poorest countries globally (IMF Working Paper No. 03/139)

Conflicts and authoritarian regimes

The presence of a significant single-point source of revenue often allows elites to manage funds outside normal budget processes, reducing transparency. Debated data aside, documented examples in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia underscore the challenges associated with this phenomenon. This situation also fuels conflicts, both internal and external, as groups vie for control over valuable assets. Since 1990, oil-producing countries have been twice as likely to experience civil wars, with examples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Niger Delta, Iraq, Libya, and Angola illustrating the volatile mix of resources and conflict.

Environmental degradation

Intensive resource extraction, particularly in oil and mining, intertwines with severe environmental degradation. The Niger Delta in Nigeria serves as a stark example, linking oil spills and toxic gas flaring to significant damage affecting local communities and biodiversity.

Gender inequalities

The broader consequences of the Resource Curse extend to gender inequalities, where oil production reinforces patriarchal cultures. The notable difference in female political representation between oil-rich Algeria, oil-poor Morocco, and Tunisia, despite similar backgrounds (former French colonies, simultaneous independence, rapid suffrage, Muslim majority), is illustrative (Oil, Islam and Women, MICHAEL L. ROSS).

Strategies to mitigate the resource curse

Contrary to the prevailing notion of the oil curse as an inescapable fate, there are pathways and strategies available for nations to liberate themselves from the clutches of the oil curse.

Economic diversification

The ripple effect of causes reinforces the importance of economic diversification. Botswana's success story, strategically investing diamond earnings in education, healthcare, and infrastructure, illustrates how diversification can lead to a resilient economy beyond resource dependence.

National funds and investment in long-term wealth

Establishing sovereign wealth funds is another effective approach. These funds allow countries to invest resource revenues in foreign assets, providing a financial buffer during commodity price fluctuations. Norway's Government Pension Fund Global, funded by oil revenues, becomes a beacon of success with a value exceeding $1.3 trillion USD. Investing in education, health, and infrastructure also emerges as a strategic move to foster economic development beyond resource extraction. Malaysia's focus on education investments, driven by Petronas, showcases the potential for societal and economy-wide change beyond resource-centric policies.

Strong governance

The need for transparent and accountable governance becomes evident. Norway, serving as a model for good governance, implements stringent regulations on oil extraction to ensure transparency and accountability and prevent corruption.


The resource curse is a cautionary tale, weaving a narrative of interconnected causes and consequences. Recognizing and addressing these complexities is imperative for nations with abundant natural resources. Navigating these challenges with strategic planning and global collaboration enables countries to transform their resource wealth into a catalyst for long-term prosperity.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Paul Boeffard is an entrepreneur in the sustainable finance sector, focusing on innovative climate finance solutions. As the founder of Leavit, he's dedicated to supporting oil-producing nations transition to low-carbon economies, drawing from his experience managing €305 million in sustainable projects and spearheading climate initiatives in Paris. Boeffard's expertise spans from carbon markets to energy/climate project management, with the goal of contributing to environmental resilience and sustainable urban planning. 

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