Over the past year the world has experienced unstable prices in more ways than we could have imagined not that long ago. Just as turbulent as international stock exchanges and food prices? Crude oil.
Over the summer of 2008, oil prices peaked close to $150 a barrel. Last week it was selling below $40. Crashing prices mean tightening budgets in many countries that rely on income from oil extraction. In places such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, social programs that derived most of their funding from resource sales have been drastically cut.
This unfortunate downturn is a point in case of history repeating itself. Developing countries reliant on wealth from extractive industries have often mismanaged their natural wealth and found themselves reliant on IMF loans and strict management plans when the inevitable boom becomes a bust. One country that has successfully weathered ups and downs is finding itself at a dangerous precipice. Gabon, a small previously oil-rich in Central Africa, now needs a new source of income.
Many countries with shrinking, or non-existent, resources have attempted to attract international tourism dollars to spur development. But with lacking infrastructure and inhospitable neighbors, Gabon is not a prime destination. And with a softening world economy it is not the best time to try and restructure an economy based on the hopes of tourism.
But as their oil runs out and the country needs fast cash just to stay afloat, the country's pristine forests are being opened up to foreign prospectors. Now, there is nothing wrong with managed, sustainable resource extraction. It is necessary for national economic development. But for Gabon to truly benefit, this newfound money must be invested in educational efforts for the youth. In the long run, establishing educational standards and diversifying their economy around manufacturing and services may prove more successful than allowing forests to be razed. Let's hope this is one case where history doesn't repeat itself.