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African Geographical Review
Volume 29, Issue 1, June 2010


Research Article

Oil and Armed Conflicts in Africa

Philippe Le Billon (University of British Columbia, Canada)



Popular geopolitical representations of oil in Africa conjure up images of corrupt politicians, disgruntled populations, and predatory foreign oil companies: a volatile mix often held up as the cause of the armed conflicts in which African ‘petrostates’ are supposedly locked. This article queries these geopolitical narratives, and offers a different perspective: while several countries--such as Algeria, Angola, Nigeria and Sudan--have indeed experienced long and deadly conflicts, African oil-producing countries have not, on average, been more frequently at war than non-oil producers. The article explores this perspective by reviewing the main arguments linking oil and armed conflicts, providing a brief overview of conflict trends, and identifying some of the major conflict risk factors. These factors should inform future risk assessments for African oil-producing countries, while motivating further research considering broader forms of violence and their geographies.

Key words: Africa, oil, war, violence