By Heidi Li
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Is oil a curse or blessing for the people of Africa? Who are the big men in the oil business in Africa? Tracking down an American startup oil company and its discovery of the first commercial oilfield in Ghana’s history, “Big Men” by Rachel Boynton attempts to answer these questions and give the audience an inside look into profiteering in this risky business. The movie was screened as part of the True/False Film Fest from Feb. 28 to March 2.
Jubilee, the oil field discovered on the western coast of Africa in Ghana in 2007, attracted Kosmos Energy, a small-sized company with a big ambition. The company was backed by two giant equity corporations, Blackstone Group L.P. and Warburg Pincus, LLC. However, as Kosmos negotiated with the Ghanaian government to explore the oil field, the company found that changing heads of government, militant groups, the “resource curse” and illegal oil markets had further complicated their business. The company eventually sealed the deal, which resulted in billions in profits.
Boynton and her crew filmed splendid scenes in Ghana, Nigeria, Texas, Dallas and New York, including board-level meetings, spanning from 2007 to 2011. Multiple layers of the story were peeled off slowly as the movie dug deeper and deeper.
The movie began with quotes about “greed.” Then the scene shifted to Nigeria, where oil fields were already a key player in its politics.
Oil can be a curse, as shown in countries like Nigeria, where people cut pipelines to make money from the illegal oil market. In contrast, in 2011 Ghana established the Public Interest & Accountability Committee, which has overseen the government’s spending of oil money in public sectors, such as infrastructure, education and agriculture.
Like an Ancient Greek play, the film pulled together multiple threads at the end, when the oil contract was finally signed. Yet the question of Ghana’s future in terms of oil and capitalism is still unanswered.
“If the question is will Ghana ultimately benefit, which is the big question,” Boynton said in a Q&A at the film. “I worry.”