June 24, 2003

CHAD IS TRYING THE OIL TRUST FUND IDEA, after a fashion:

More audacious is the route along which Chad’s oil money will flow. For the first time, a nation has agreed to surrender part of its sovereignty over how to spend the money earned by unlocking its oil wealth. Proceeds from Chad’s sale of oil from the first three fields — expected to exceed $100 million a year, nearly doubling the nation’s fiscal revenue — will travel a financial pipeline designed, and insisted upon, by the World Bank and other outsiders and monitored by a Chadian committee that includes Muslim and Christian religious figures and other community leaders. Their job is to ensure the money is spent on development projects such as schools, clinics and rural roads, and isn’t siphoned into secret overseas bank accounts, as happened in neighboring Nigeria, or funneled into civil wars, as in Angola and Sudan.

If it succeeds, the project — known officially as the Chad Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project — could offer the world a blueprint for how multinational companies, aid groups and governments can join hands to beneficially exploit the mineral wealth of Iraq and other countries. It could also reverse the violent curse of oil money in Africa. In recent years, the GDP of some oil-rich nations has actually declined, amid bloodshed and corruption.

Weirdly, I got a couple of emails regarding yesterday’s post on the Iraqi oil-trust idea in which the writers accused me of statism. Huh? The point of the oil-trust idea is to take control of oil revenues away from the state.

UPDATE: Reader Ben Szobody emails:

What the WSJ report ignored was France and TotalFinaElf’s complicity in the country’s poverty, the leadership’s corruption and the stumbling blocks already encountered by Exxon in its drive to pipe oil from Chad.

There’s not an regular Chadian citizen, in the bush where I lived, who will take tea with a Frenchman — it was to my advantage to garble “la langue celeste,” at times. It’s because Chadian oil wells have long been drilled and capped and sat upon by France, while jerry-rigged president Deby sits in his mansion, purchased by our anti-nation-builders, of course. At least, this is what nearly any native on the street will tell you, and they believe it as firmly as they believe that their votes don’t count, come election time.

French fighter jets routinely fly over remote parts of the Chadian bush, where my American parents still live. Ask any hut-dwelling native, and he’ll explain: “l’huile!”

Reporters Thurow and Warren note that Elf pulled out of its partnership with Exxon abruptly, and without explanation. Later, Deby nearly derails the deal by siphoning away some of the early windfall for his own uses. Could it be the French, yet again protecting their black gold after realizing their bit role in the pipeline? No wonder the story sardonically describes Mr. Chevallier’s full-time job of “harass[ing] people day and night to get things done.”

If Exxon succeeds in getting oil out of there, and the World Bank forces the corrupt leaders to use the money properly, it will be despite the wishes of the French, whose contracts have lamely papered over the oppression and poverty in Chad for years.

Heh. Good.