The French Oil Industry and the Corps des Mines in Africa, by Douglas Yates. Africa World Press, 2009, New Jersey, USA and Asmara, Eritrea. F&N Books reviewer
The French have always been ruthless when it comes to exploiting Africa’s natural resources. Take Congo. When in 1997 President Pascal Lissouba stood in the way of the French state-owned oil company, Elf Aquitaine, Paris turned a blind eye as ex-President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s Cobr a rebels launched an attack against government forces. Six months later, Lissouba was driven into exile and Sassou Nguesso became president.
Sassou Nguesso had telegraphed his intentions while he was in exile in Paris. But Lissouba still allowed him to return home and, as they say, the rest is history. French dominance of Congo’s oil industry, which Lissouba wanted to curb, was restored.
This book, though, is not about such nefarious acts. It is a biographical history of the French oil industry, told through the lives of those who made it what it is today. But from the perspective of Africans, the French oil industry is infamous for its underhand activities on the continent and Elf and Total are familiar names in Africa.
Yates deals with issues that might help place the French oil industry into context. How old is this industry? Who founded it? Who ruled it? Going back to the old family firms that drilled and distilled petroleum in the late Middle Ages, this book follows the story of the rise of a new breed of state engineers, educated at the prestigious ‘cole Polytechnique, who became members of a state administrative elite. This was the Corps des Mines.
Much more than a corporate history, Yates’ book attempts to bring to life the long and curious narrative of this grand corps and show how it shaped a n industry. Using vast archival material available only in France, interviewing the oilmen and visiting the locales, Yates has brought together a unique collection of soldier-engineers, wheeler-dealers and financiers whose lives tell the story of an industry that expanded into a veritable empire.