Between elite reflexes and deliberative impulses: Oil and the landscape of contentious politics in Ghana

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From the vested interests that have held back the promulgation of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry for more than seventeen years, to the sporadic stoppages that often frustrate attempts by the Kenyan government and Tullow Oil to truck oil from the Turkana region, attempts by national political elites to construct grand schemes from petroleum resources often get entangled in a complex of contentious politics. Nonetheless, the basic instinct of the predominant literature on oil governance has been to confine these contentious processes to the ‘black box’ of elite consolidation. Based on an in-depth account of the distinctive political economy drivers of reform in Ghana’s oil industry and the complement of Abdul Raufu Mustapha’s interpretation of the ‘multiple publics’ governing Africa’s public sphere, this article offers a pushback against this dominant disposition. The article underscores the need to frame the analytic problem of reform in the oil industry as part of a more fundamental question; should the politics of oil in developing countries be viewed through the narrow prism of the rational calculations of dominant elites, instead of the broader impulses of democratic pluralism and contentious politics at multiple scales? The main argument advanced by the author maintains that the constitutive processes that drive institutional and policy reform in the oil industry reflect the impulses of contentious politics, instead of elite reflexes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOxford Development Studies
Early online date12 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Nov 2020


  • Abdul Raufu Mustapha
  • oil politics
  • public sphere
  • scaling democracy
  • Ghana
  • elites
  • contentious politics


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