Dr George Roberts
IASH Postdoctoral Fellow, June-August 2021
African Oil Crises and the Global Seventies
Biography and project details:
I’m a historian of Africa, with a focus on the global dimensions of its decolonisation. I studied for a PhD at Warwick and currently hold a Junior Research Fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. My first book, Revolutionary State-Making in Dar es Salaam: African Liberation and the Global Cold War, 1961-1974, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. The book tells the story of how the Tanzanian capital became a focal point of revolutionary politics in post-colonial Africa. It explores the intersection of a range of dynamics, including the activities of exiled liberation movement leaders, the aspirations of local elites, and the agendas of Cold War powers. Through the lens of the city, it seeks to move beyond national analytical frameworks, while simultaneously grounding these developments in the concrete urban landscape of Dar es Salaam.
My new project leads on from this work, but takes a broader geographic perspective. Dar es Salaam’s cosmopolitan revolutionary scene went into decline in the mid-1970s. This was partly a consequence of the economic crisis triggered by the dramatic rise in the price of petroleum. Although the oil crisis is frequently cited as a turning point in the history of contemporary Africa, its political and economic repercussions have yet to be subject to real historical inquiry. My new project argues that, far from prompting an inward turn, the crisis pushed African elites into a range of new relationships and solidarities in a time of global transformation. Far from being marginal to the ‘global 1970s’, Africans played vital roles in these developments. In continental forums, states sought to channel pan-Africanist unity towards new forms of economic cooperation. An ‘African-Arab moment’ represented a short-lived attempt to reconcile older forms of anticolonial solidarity with the challenges posed by the widening gaps in wealth between Third World states. The increased power bound up in the control of oil supplies pressed African elites into closer relationships with the international petroleum firms. In examining these dynamics, the project will reflect critically on the implications of the oil crisis for state-making practices in post-colonial Africa, as well as the continent’s role in processes of so-called ‘globalisation’.