NAURU: L’Île Dévastée by Luc Folliet

The story of Nauru’s sudden overwhelming phosphate wealth, subsequent economic and environmental crash, and it’s attempts to find something else to support its economy weaves itself into almost every discussion about Nauru. However, this 2009 book by French journalist Luc Folliet, Nauru, L’Île Dévastée (Nauru, the Devastated Island, subtitled “How capitalist civilization annihilated the richest country in the world”) sets out one of the most comprehensive looks into the politics, both Nauruan and international, that caused the phosphate boom and bust.

Nauru’s story is a country-scale story of lottery winners who end up going bankrupt – much has been made about spending on luxury cars and failed musicals, but there’s a deeper story about how a population reacts to this largess and then collapse.

Apart from interviews with many Nauruans, including those in power in the 2000s, Folliet walks through Nauru’s story as a parallel to the possible futures of petrostates – what does a country do when the money is gone? Nauru’s current situation economically, now that the interior of the island has been pulverized and the phosphate all fertilizing other countries’ fields, seems to make use of it’s status as a sovereign country though bilateral deals in exchange for investment and aid. That’s taken the form of recognizing Taiwan, hosting Australian detention camps for refugees, supporting Japanese fishing policies, and more – unfortunately all stopgap measures. The question still hangs over the country – what will work in the long run?

It’s a very interesting read, I’d recommend it if you speak French – unfortunately I don’t think it’s been translated into English.

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