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Views from the Center

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Nigeria, SWFs, and the Resource Curse? Two New Papers

This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz

Nigeria, perhaps the world’s poster child for the oil curse, is the latest country to deploy a sovereign wealth fund as a tool to try to better manage national income. At the same time, Nigeria is struggling with depleted savings and growing fiscal concerns, even in a time of high oil prices. Will the sovereign wealth fund help Nigeria get back on track? What are the chances it won’t be raided by politicians with short-time horizons, as in the past? Could cash transfers help? Two new background papers from CGD’s Oil2Cash Initiative look at these questions from different perspectives.

Is 2012 Iraq’s Last Chance to Get It Right on Oil?

This is a joint post with Steph Majerowicz.

The Arab Spring has grabbed the world’s attention, yet Iraq—the Arab country that not long ago was the very epicenter of American foreign policy—has all but fallen off the front pages. While Iraq’s security has improved greatly, the country is still struggling to consolidate a functional government in the face of strong sectarian tensions. Not least of these big challenges is reaching agreement on oil. Eight years after the fall of Saddam, Iraq has yet to pass a hydrocarbons law, let alone come up with a coherent spending plan for its oil wealth.

Related Working Paper and Podcast

Iraq’s Last Window: Diffusing the Risks of a Petro-State - Working Paper 266

Oil 2 Cash in Iraq: Johnny West (Podcast)

So how could Iraq manage its oil? One idea (and readers of this blog will be shocked to hear) is a universal dividend paid to all Iraqis. Colleagues Nancy Birdsall and Arvind Subramanian proposed just this idea back in 2004 as a way to try to create accountability. The idea of an Alaska-style dividend for Iraq was starting to catch on, for example, this NY Times oped by Steven Clemons, proposals from Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and even former Alaskan governor and dividend godfather Jay Hammond tried to export his grand experiment to Baghdad. Given the political and security climate of the time, the idea was thought too radical.

We Agree! Ugandan Oil Debate Should Take Place in Uganda (Plus a Few Clarifications about Our Paper)

This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz.

How should Uganda use its prospective oil revenues? Our recent paper on this question argued that choices should be considered with an eye towards both their development impact and the implications for governance. We are happy that the paper has sparked debate in Uganda, including discussions in the Daily Monitor by Tabu Butagira and Nick Young. As Nick Young correctly observes, the question of what to do with oil revenues should be debated in Uganda rather than in Washington. In hopes of provoking further informed debate locally, we wish to clarify a few points about our paper that seem to have been misunderstood.

Could Uganda Be the Next Niger Delta?

That’s the question in Alain Vicky’s piece this morning in Le Monde Diplomatique (gated). Vicky warns that oil discoveries in Uganda’s Bunyoro region threaten to heighten simmering tensions between the local communities whose ground is being drilled and the central government which is pocketing the cash. Unmet expectations and popular frustration with politicians could unleash violence and do raise concerns that Uganda might be heading for a rough patch.

If There Was Ever a Case for Oil2Cash, It’s Post-Qaddafi Libya

The idea of cash transfers—or just giving money to the poor—is gaining ground quickly. The use of conditional cash transfers as a way to assist the poor have shown pretty impressive results in Mexico and Brazil, leading to lots of other copycat programs in dozens of countries. Iran, and now India, are replacing inefficient and costly subsidies of basic goods with cash payments.

A Constitutional Moment: Oil2Cash in the Arab World

It is thrilling to watch the overthrow of despots and dynasties as people power erupts across the Arab world. But the headiness of the moment can only lead to durable political change and meaningful economic progress if the new governments that emerge find a better way to handle oil revenue and other easy money (rents, in econo-speak) that have corrupted the outgoing regimes.