‘Oil Will Set Us Free’: The Hydrocarbon Industry and the Algerian Decolonization Process (Chapter in "Britain, France and the Decolonization of Africa: Future Imperfect?")

‘Oil Will Set Us Free’: The Hydrocarbon Industry and the Algerian Decolonization Process (Chapter in "Britain, France and the Decolonization of Africa: Future Imperfect?")

Source: UCL Press, 2017

Author(s): Marta Musso

Countries: Algeria

Topics: Extractive Resources, Governance, Peace Agreements

Added: 08/01/2018


This chapter aims to reconstruct the political and economic discourse around the Saharan reserves, from the moment of their discovery up to the Évian Agreements. The contingent visions of the future outlined during this period outline the importance of the oil industry in the Algerian decolonization process both on an ideological and a material level. The historiography of the Algerian War has generally focused on French and international politics, leaving non-state actors and the economic aspects of decolonization in the background. Given the fundamental importance that Algeria had in contemporary French history, and the messy political and social fallout of the war in both France and Algeria, it is perhaps of little surprise that non-state actors have been marginalized. Furthermore, national, diplomatic and even military archives are generally open and offer a vast amount of information; business archives are often more difficult to access. Reconstructing the history of the strategies of non-state actors, especially private companies, presents particular challenges, therefore. Yet, as this chapter will show, the role of non-state business actors was paramount in the unfolding of the war. In general, international industry followed the decolonization process closely, as shifting sands promised profits for the prudent. The withdrawal of traditional European control left open new territories in which to seize new economic opportunities; in effect, the Cold War could itself be read as a global competition to seize resources and new markets on the part of two opposite systems of power. While Algeria is an exception in the history of decolonization, because of its stronger ties to the metropole, the history of the oil industry in the Sahara shows that France was willing to accept Algerian independence as long as the new status of the country would not endanger French access to its oil resources. This was believed to be France’s right not only because of its historical control over the territory, but also because of the sustained investments by which it had sought to develop the Sahara. Controlling these resources altered the contingent vision with which France plotted out Algeria’s future. Maintaining this para-political entanglement became an important consideration for the French Republic. With that in mind, the difference between the political independence and the ‘actual’ independence of Algeria was very clear at the time, yet the latter was both much more elusive and much more difficult for France to accept.


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