This review highlights what has been learnt from research on West Africa’s oil economy, Ghana and what remains to be studied. The existing knowledge about the industry is both analytical (entailing different frames of thinking, such as enclave and linkages approaches) and empirical (including in what ways is the oil resource a blessing, a curse, or both and to what extent regulations can attenuate or accentuate undesirable outcomes). The existing research shows that to probe whether there is a resource curse/blessing is to ask the question the wrong way. Instead, it is more useful to ask in what ways the oil and gas industry in Ghana driven by a fear of resource curse moulds and is moulded by institutions and aspirations. The tendency has been to emphasise the need for more economic growth and avoid state corruption. Steeped in mainstream economic management, the interest is in bolstering growth-enhancing processes, such as attenuating currency instability and expending limited revenue on social development as a right because such social expenditure is ‘unsustainable’. While this emphasis can achieve the important goal of stabilising the economy, it totally ignores or superficially considers the more complex ramifications of oil and gas extraction, namely the growing sphere of influence of transnational oil companies some of which have become key actors in planning, inequalities across space in terms of income and productive resources, exploitation of women, especially, and labour more generally, and ecological pillage. When the policy focal lenses are changed to emphasise these other ramifications, both the implications for and possibilities to use oil resources for social development become more clearly evident and the need to re-theorise the ramifications of oil ever more pressing. In spite of this contribution to the global energy debate, the existing body of knowledge in Ghana is weak in the sense that it lacks a careful theorisation of oil as part of the biogas–electricity–oil–gas–biofuel complex, how this complex is melded into the local/global capitalist mode of production, contradictions in the process, attempts at attenuating these contradictory processes, and how these attempts, in turn, cause different and differential experiences across the entire spectrum (up, mid, and downstream) of oil production, distribution, and consumption. To address these gaps, this article briefly describes several new approaches that could be used to bolster theorisation of the oil and gas industry.
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is former Visiting Fellow at UNRISD. He did research for this article at UNRISD, 2015.