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Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher – Wole Soyinka, and the fumes of Nigeria petroleum –  The best way to waste your time (assuming you want to)

I am not a poem-person (most likely to my disadvantage), but I somehow stumbled on the 1861 Charles Baudelaire’s ‘L’Albatros’ several years ago. I can’t remember understanding it, but a single sentence stuck in my brain cells in the entire poem:

               Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher

       The albatross’s giant wings prevent him from walking.

A wing should help the albatross fly, but maybe if it’s too big, it prevents it from the doing the exact same thing it was made to do (or even worse prevents our dear albatross from breathing).

In the next four hundred and something words, I will explore the implications of the last sentence of Baudelaire’s Quatern in, almost, unthinkable places


Wole Soyinka, and the fumes of Nigeria petroleum

The resource curse.

 “Countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources” (on average).

The first popular empirical evidence for the resource curse (sometimes called the Dutch disease) came from the Sachs and Warner 1995 paper where they showed a pretty neat correlation between natural resources abundance and retarded economic growth. Afterwards, there has been an ‘out-pour’ of studies upholding the curse.

In the world, there are about 23 countries that have at least 60% of their exports emanating from oil and gas. Of the 23 countries, virtually all of them operates an exclusively epileptic democracy. Larry Diamond of Stanford University once observed.

Typically, this is what happens: when there is so much wealth in the system, particularly when it comes very, very easily (Exactly the type you dig from the ground), the accountability link between the government and its citizens begin to fizzle out.

Two, the moment there is an out-flow of ‘easy money’ and a bunch of homo sapiens starts administrating, signing papers, moving around with heavy convoys and most likely, giving very horrible speeches at events.  c’est fini! Corruption explodes.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at that, violent conflicts will erupt – the probability of a civil war occurring jumps completely off the roof. We begin to see, militant here, militant there. Either rebelling against the fragilista-corrupt leaders, asking for resource rents, or using the same ‘easy-money’ (from the natural resources) to foment trouble.

At this point, it will be remiss to say the albatross’s giant wings prevent him from walking, more appropriately – the albatross’s giant wings is preventing him from breathing.

The following countries might sound familiar: Nigeria, Angola, Burma, Papua New Guinea, Chad, Pakistan, Sudan, and the list goes on

Here is an apropos comment from the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka:

       “I am convinced that Nigeria would have been a more highly developed Country without the oil. I wished we’d never smelled the fumes of petroleum.”

As you might have guessed the resource curse cannot be solely organizational, since its cause is singularly human, it follows through then that it can also be very personal. Next, I will try to take the argument slightly personal.


The best way to waste your time

One of the first classes I took when I started my doctorate was a class on the anatomy of getting a PhD in sciences (it has even a fancier name, but can’t come to memory). The professor gave some tips for considerations when selecting a thesis committee.

Among several other tips, this one quickly jumped at me: “When you are looking for a professor for your committee, look for the busiest one”

I initially disagreed with the professor, but upon introspection, the logic seems tight. I soon realize how free time paralyses me, and not only me, virtually everyone I know.  Looking for excessive free time, I have found, is the best way to unmotivate yourself.

I have not had much thing to wound my head around the psychology behind resource curse, (or more poetically, if you like, the albatross lameness), but I have noticed this: anywhere there are humans, and there is anything in excess, it will most likely become toxic.

Anywhere, there is anything that can be squandered or mismanaged, it will be. A humanistic version of the Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong

In the end, constraint should not be seen as a bane. Paucity it turns out has a mysterious path to excellence.

(Photo Credit)

PS: Anywhere, there is an overflow of guns: people will kill people. That, I think, should be a no-brainer.


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