african oil is changing


Jim is an American oilman from Oklahoma, and he’s sitting in a darkened corner of a whorehouse in downtown Luanda. He’s fat, white, gaping lazily at the black African prostitutes in fuchsia-colored miniskirts and heels who patrol the floor. He orders a beer, sits back on the leathery couch to watch the dimmed lights flicker off the shiny bar tops, the dark wood of the balustrades, the crystalline shimmer emanating from the disco ball that dangles like a low-hanging fruit. Waitresses in short, tight tops, jeans, and fuzzy rabbit slippers pad around sleepily taking orders and comments. Jim has been to this place and places just like it so often in the twenty years he has lived and worked in Africa that he seems — and I wonder if he also feels this — to fit in as comfortably here as anywhere else I might imagine for him, a bar in West Texas, a beetle-stained butte, gazing contentedly at the sand. More men have begun to drift in now, and along with them more languages. There is a smattering of French. And German. There’s Dutch, Spanish, and of course Portuguese, the language of the colonizers. The diamond men are coming, Jim says. And the arms men, too. The barman pumps the volume up, Bobby Brown then Shakira. More women stream in. African oil is changing, Jim explains. For a long time, several decades in fact, Nigeria was the undisputed king of the continent. It had the best oil and more of it than anyone else. Jim worked there for years, risked kidnappings, armed attacks on heavily guarded offshore rigs, the mighty chaos of Lagos. Like other oilmen he lived in a compound with grocery stores, restaurants and bars, and rarely ventured outside, and then only when it was absolutely necessary. But in 2007, times are changing, he says, ordering another bottle of Nova Cuca, a local beer, from a passing waitress and taking a slinking, unsmiling look at her bottom as she walks away. Angola is becoming the new king.

more from Scott Johnson at Guernica here.