Professor Leif Wenar’s new book ‘Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence and the Rules that Run the World’ is a comprehensive insight into the world of corrupt trade and politics, specifically in the oil industry. Most of the world’s oil, amongst other valuable resources, is stolen from its people by big corporations such as Shell or BP. The deals and illicit financial flows that go in and out of impoverished countries such as Nigeria are kept within the elite echelons of society, lining the pockets of tyrants and dictators in both the developing and developed worlds, effectively stealing income and employment from ordinary people in the developing world. Leif links the everyday process of buying goods such as fuel and food to the harsh rule of oppressors and autocrats through the trade links established between these tyrants and the West, and provides an insight into how countries can stop their reliance on trade with these regimes.
He first came up with the idea for the book when visiting Nigeria, observing the poor levels of governance in the country. After asking people again and again, what was the issue, Leif found one reoccurring answer: oil.
While this may seem like a topic that would take the efforts of many people to delve into, Leif researched the book himself. “I did it all myself, and I mostly just listened to people” he explains. “I would ask anybody I could get a hold of. The representative of Nigeria to OPEC to the head of the Central Bank, to journalists, someone high up in Shell Oil, to militants in the Delta, to NGOs.” While Leif makes this process sound short and simple, it almost certainly wasn’t. But for him, the challenge of writing such a thorough piece of work can be met by following two pieces of invaluable advice. First of all, “People will just talk to you, so ask them, and you will be surprised how willing people are, even very important people”. Leif’s second piece of advice is to listen, and don’t assume that you know all the answers.
While there is reason to feel dejected about what is happening in the political world at the moment, Leif remains resiliently upbeat about the future. “All the old certainties are being questioned, people are really looking for progressive new answers. So this is a great time for people with challenging initiatives. “One area he is especially enthusiastic about is advocating for the use of renewable energies, something which fits in nicely with his message about countries avoiding oil trading with authoritarian regimes. “The best way to get away from blood oil is to get away from oil altogether, and because of climate change we should certainly be transitioning away from fossil fuels as fast as we can”.
He is also keen to point out that “even without the transition to alternatives that we should make, all major western countries right now could stop importing authoritarian oil”. There is a lot of oil in the world, and we could easily move away from the Blood Oil referred to in Leif’s work and “we can still keep the traffic moving, we can still keep the lights on”.
It is hard not to feel optimistic about the future when listening to Leif. We discuss what can be done by consumers to help end the corruption that Blood Oil highlights so strikingly. We agree that trying to buy goods such as food, clothes, laptops and phones ethically is a minefield. According to Leif “It is just too hard to trace the origin of the oil that goes into our plastics that makes computers or the nitrogen that grows our crops, or the synthetics that our clothes are made out of”. But he believes there are ways for consumers to contribute. “There is an organisation called Fairphone based in Amsterdam, and the Fairphone smartphone is a wonderful thing, the ideal is that young people have got together and as far as possible they have made a conflict-free and also modular, recyclable phone, which is a really terrific product”.
Leif’s next piece of work is also designed to help consumers understand what oil companies do the most ethical trade. “When the paperback edition of the book comes out I hope to be able to tell consumers, between BP and Shell and Total, which of these companies are doing more business with authoritarian regimes. Then people themselves can decide where to fill up their petrol based on the scores of those companies”.
Leif’s work is crucial to understanding how we feed our oil addiction, and the index provided in the paperback version of Blood Oil will go a step further in identifying which companies are trading with authoritarian regimes. One of the key messages of Blood Oil is simply that “every country belongs to its people”. If this is true, then that also means that the actions of our country belong to us, and we as academics, taxpayers and global citizens can change our actions for a better world.
Feature Image: Leif Wenar
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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