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Archive for December, 2010

President Mills turning the taps. Source: Ghana Business News

Two days ago, oil officially flowed for the first time in Ghana. Along with it our dreams, hopes and fears.

There is a general sense of optimism that oil can change the fortunes of the ordinary Ghanaian for the better. But this optimism is subdued as Ghanaians, hooked on to the radio even deep in the hinterland where electricity may not reach, tend to be well informed of how other countries have managed oil.  They’ve heard about our beloved Nigeria. They’ve also heard many promises and seen even more disappointments.

Wednesday was a day of reckoning, a day that could be as important as the day we gained independence from the British.  Ten years from now, we’ll wonder whether yesterday was a blessing or a curse. We may celebrate or mourn it. We will gaze at the horizon, blinded by a bright future awaiting our children or be engulfed in gloom, exasperated by wasted resources and opportunity.

Today, we have reason to be optimistic. We’ve had the good fortune of discovering oil over 50 years after independence. That, unlike Nigeria’s discovery of oil right after independence, has given us enough time to sort ourselves out, to practice resource management and governance. Over that period, we experienced enough turbulent periods that we seem to have learned the value of stability. Our politicians continue to do stupid things, but compared to the 70s and 80s the general understanding of how to run an economy has improved significantly. We’ve learned to give freedom to the media, abolishing the criminal libel law 10 years ago. And in a more recent trend, many Ghanaians educated abroad are returning home, helping to curb the lack of world class  business management skills.

Yet, we have reason to fear. Oil, more than time, is money. It’s a carcass, attracting vultures from near and far with rapidity. They’re here already and the deals they’re cutting have, almost always, no consideration Ghanaian interests; often it’s detrimental to the country’s well being. Unfortunately, our politicians don’t know any better. Almost all of them, up until now, had never seen oil before, let alone have the skill to manage it. Already, because of ineptitude, Ghana will flare all the natural gas from the oil well for the first 18 months – even though this gas could have supplied 10% of the country’s energy needs per year for 25 years.

People will get rich. That’s the most certain thing about the discovery. Mansions will go up, we’ll see a couple more Rolls Royces. But will my village have clean water and a good school? Will the farmers, laborers and market women be rewarded for their labor? Will it be easier for them to get their products to the market because a better road is built? Will they sweat for nothing or will they work knowing that nothing stands in their way of a happy and rewarding life?

We can only hope that we live up to our billing as a country of many firsts, becoming the first Sub-Saharan African country not to blow oil wealth.

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