I am currently working with literature on how oil may hinder democracy. One line of thought is that oil weakens democratic institutions of accountability. Rentier governments are able to use government spending and low taxes to reduce popular pressures for democratization, e.g. by buying off opponents. Lam and Wantchekon have argued that the economic benefits of resource booms are typically concentrated within political elites, thus enabling them to maintain their support and consolidate their power through patronage (2003). In authoritarian systems, this means more a limited scope for democratic change. Similar arguments have been made by Jensen and Wantchekon in relation to resource rich countries in Africa and Ross in relation to oil-rich countries in general (2004; 2001). Another view proposes that natural resource endowments hinder democracy by allowing those governments to spend more on internal security. With stronger internal security governments can limit the scope for political opponents to mobilize to challenge them.

Michael Ross finds that oil definitely inhibits democracy, even outside the Middle East and even when exports are relatively small, particularly in poor states. Also, nonfuel mineral wealth impedes democratization as well. He sees at least tentative support for the causal mechanisms he identifies as key to the anti-democratic force of oil: the rentier effect, repression effect, and modernization effect (1999). In contrast however, Michael Watts says that many of the dynamics noted by Ross emerge not from oil per say, but from centralized resource revenues typical of many extractive economies, and oil’s harmful effects build on pre-oil political dynamics (2004). I am more convinced of the latter, as I would argue that a history of European colonization has played a far more substantial role in stymieing democratic growth than natural resources. Most African countries have weak democracies, all but Liberia have been colonized to various degrees, yet not all have abundant resources.