The first barrels of oil were pumped from offshore Ghana after years of development just six months ago. With this, not only come multinational oil and infrastructure companies and crowds of foreign engineers and trades people, but surges of hope, optimism, and skepticism.The people of Ghana are hopeful, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were hopeful when oil was struck off of our coast that this will help them break through their status as a poor nation, or in the case of NL as one of the poorest provinces in Canada.
They hope for greater infrastructure development so that the average Ghanaian can get the crops they farm to domestic and lucrative international markets. Whether that is in nearby Nigeria, or in far off Canada or France, and whether it is maize, cocoa, shea nuts, or yams.
They hope for access to better technologies that they can access to grow their businesses and gain more attention on the international stage that will draw tourists to spend money within the local economy.
It could be a really positive breakthrough but it could also be, as oil has done in many other nations around the world, a cause of greater corruption within government, or of greater reliance on commodity exports like basic crops. This could also be the cause of a serious shift away from citizens holding their government accountable as the government could begin to view itself as being accountable to some of the world's largest oil companies because these companies hold the purse strings.
As I sit on a small wooden bench at a food stall under the star lit sky in Tamale, northern Ghana, eating rice and beans I think about the hopes and dreams of Ghanaians for this new found oil wealth. The glow on the faces of the kids playing nearby and the glow same in the eyes of the women sitting nearby show this hope. Where I sit is many hundreds of kilometres from the rigs producing oil off the coast of Ghana and is the largest city in the northern part of the country, but even from this distance you can feel the hopes and worries that come along with this potential wealth.
The hope of northern Ghanaians, the most under-developed region of the country, remains particularly high, but so does their skepticism. They are skeptical that the promises of development of the often neglected north will be as great as the development of the south of the country.
When you look at any data or information on the development of the north, or when exploring the region, the development of northern Ghana is below their fellow citizens in the southern regions of the country on all measures. The northern region is developing, but likely not at the pace required to achieve the goals of the young girls and boys that are growing up in the country. Oil can play a role if its wealth is shared and invested in the right way.
A positive future
Compared to NL at roughly 425,000 barrels of oil per day, Ghana is set to produce 120,000 barrels of oil per day as production ramps up towards the end of the summer with an estimated total reserve of 1.5 billion barrels. The hopes and dreams of Ghanaians are as big as those of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in their desire to take advantage of the wealth that this lucrative natural resource can bring.
The government of Ghana is fortunately among the most stable in Africa. In the last election, even with only a small margin between the two major parties, there was a peaceful and democratic transition of government from one party to another. The government of Ghana, including the nations president, from most accounts, is handling relations with major multinational companies well and appear to be on a path that sets them up for a successful future.
Much care and much patience, as we have learned through NL relations with large oil companies, need to be taken during these times to ensure that the wealth is shared equitably with the companies and with the country.
As I sip my tea under the same star lit night, I have confidence that Ghana will get its equal share of the wealth and that they will use the wealth from their oil and the investment from the international community to the benefit of all their peoples, in the north and south of the nation.
Ian Froude, originally from Twillingate, spent time in the northern part of Ghana in March on his second visit to the country.