UH Students Learn About ‘The Natural Resource Curse’

Many Students Plan to Use the Knowledge When They Return Home

Students in a new interdisciplinary course at the University of Houston are learning about the troubled history of energy exploration in Africa and other developing countries and discussing ways to change the future.

Students taking a sequence of three classes, each delivered over two weekends along with an online component, can earn the Global Energy Development and Sustainability (GEDS) certificate. The graduate program began earlier this spring; the second course starts May 20, with a third beginning June 10. Graduate and professional students can take individual classes as an elective.

For more information and to register, visit the GEDS website.

Giselle Rodrigues, who originally is from Angola and is earning a master’s degree in law, said she was drawn to the course to learn more about the history of her native country.

“I thought it would be very interesting to find out and understand the history, the relationships, why Africa is so poor even though it has so many natural resources,” she said. “Now I have a different perspective.”

Rodrigues ultimately plans to return to Angola, and she said the lessons she has learned will be helpful. “I will be prepared to help find a better solution to the corruption and the poverty,” she said.

Kairn Klieman, associate professor of history at UH and co-director of the program, said the three-course certificate program is intended to systematically explore research and data about the resource curse and examine potential solutions.

“Foreign policy is involved, geopolitics is involved,” she said. “The historical moment when an energy project is undertaken is also important to consider.”

Klieman developed the program with Tom Mitro, co-director of the GEDS program and a visiting lecturer at the UH Center for Public History. Mitro has 30 years of experience in the oil industry and another decade as an advisor to governments and national oil companies in Africa.

Mitro said the first class drew 38 students, most of them enrolled at the UH Law Center and representing a range of countries, including the United States, Nigeria, Angola, Iran, Peru, China, Mozambique and Cameroon. Non-students – people working in government and industry – are a good fit, too, he said.

The certificate program has specific goals:

  •      Help students understand the origins of “The Natural Resource Curse.”
  •      Provide the analytical tools needed to address long-term social, economic and environmental effects of energy projects.
  •      Introduce best-practices for energy projects that benefit communities, companies and governments in developing nations.

Broadening awareness is another. Christine Herron, a lawyer for a private oil company, took the initial course while working on her master’s degree in law.

She’s in the industry but works on issues involving U.S. shale fields, rather than international exploration. Learning the differences – U.S. energy production generally requires working with private landowners, while overseas deals usually require a partnership with a national oil company – has been enlightening.

“It’s something I don’t get to see every day,” she said.