Ghana Strikes Oil – I Am Very Cautiously Optimistic
Those who remember the heady days of Dr. Hilla Limann's People National Party (PNP) and Agripetco (or some such company) and the whole business of Black Gold-prospecting, are not likely to be too ecstatic about the recent announcement by an Anglo-American and Ghanaian petroleum consortium that the latter has discovered huge quantities of oil offshore West of Cape Three Points, in the Axim area of the Western Region. In the case of Agripetco, the point - or source - of jubilation lay offshore in the Saltpond area of the Central Region.
Back then, Ghanaians were even told that the sort of petroleum deposits discovered in the Saltpond area were far richer than those which were mined in Nigeria. I forget the exact statistical figures, but I quite vividly remember that we were given something on the order of eleven (11) petroleum byproducts being derivable from the Ghanaian brand of oil, while from Nigeria's only some piddling six or seven byproducts were derivable. And Ghanaians, being the uniquely proud Africans that we are, at least in our own eyes, proceeded to jubilate. Perhaps 'partying' would be the most apt characterization.
Then several months later, we were all brought down to earth, sobriety, that is, by being rudely told that the Saltpond deposits were, after all, not in commercial quantities, as we had initially been made to believe. I believe just recently some oil-related issue came to light, having emanated from some parliamentary caviling of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) by some key members of the opposition National Democratic Congress so-called, regarding the need for transparency of expenditure records pertaining to the appropriation of some piddling royalties accruing to the government from petroleum prospecting in the Saltpond area, I believe.
And so, dear readers and fellow Ghanaians, to be frank with you all, this rapturous talk about Ghana having joined the select, or enviable, membership of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), comes to yours truly as just another déjà-vu case of whipping up false hopes. Let no one accuse me of being a Brother or Uncle Spoilsport - at least not just yet.
Needless to say, at just about the same time as the Agripetco announcement some twenty-odd years ago, another even more elating report came to light in the Ghanaian press indicating that the country possessed such humongous deposits of Real Gold, that is, like that which is mined at Obuasi and Konongo, both of which towns are in the Asante Region, that if these deposits were to be mined at the then-prevailing rate of gold-mining in the country - whatever rate that it was (for nobody really bothered to tell us exactly what the rate was), it would take at least 700 years to deplete the entire deposits of gold endowed Ghana by the Mighty One. And boy were those heady days, indeed!
In any case, I don't know just what happened, but our 700-year's worth of mineral gold and all, some twenty-odd years into the future, Ghana remains on the patently unenviable list of Highly-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPIC). And so just what happened to all those declamatory anodynes?
In the current instance, we are being told that Ghana possesses an estimated whopping quantity of some 600 million barrels of Black Gold, which readily puts our beloved country among the enviable ranks of global energy superpowers. And I am quite certain that the Chinese, who just recently loaned Ghana some $ 600 million for the construction of the Bui Dam, must be jubilating too, perhaps even regretful of the fact that they hadn't loaned us at least twice the amount of credit originally agreed upon.
The preceding notwithstanding, it is not my aim, or even objective, herein to highlight the plethora of uses to which revenue accruing from the Cape Three Points venture may be put. My concern here is the fact that judging by the fact of Nigeria, one of Africa's largest producers of petroleum, woefully trailing Ghana in the critical area of income per capita, something eerily bordering on extreme caution ought to be unstintingly and promptly observed.
First must be thoroughly understood the fact that the mere endowment of vast petroleum resources does not, in of itself, necessarily imply that the one so endowed, Ghana in this context, is willy-nilly going to escape the soul-wrenching tentacles of poverty overnight. The Nigerian case in point ought to serve as a sobering antidote against premature hysteria. Secondly, we may yet be afflicted with the concomitant problem of undisciplined consumption by the mere fact of seeming to possess Black Gold in such great abundance. And here must also, rather belatedly, be added the fact that in oil-rich countries like Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, such national treasure, or wealth, has come to be almost exclusively owned by politically connected families, with the rest of the greater populace passively or helplessly looking on in a situation that might be aptly termed as THE WINDOW-SHOPPING SYNDROME.
Thirdly, most of the locations, or regions, where Black Gold has been struck on the continent, tend to be economically depressed. The Ogoni, Nigeria, cause célèbre, culminating in the brutal assassination of environmental activist and playwright Ken-Saro Wiwa, cannot be readily forgotten or ignored. And for those who may not remember, the latter victim was tried in a Kangaroo court and summarily condemned to death, I believe by hanging, by then-Nigerian president Gen. Sani Abacha, for vehemently agitating for economic justice for the Ogoni and other ethnic and sub-ethnic nationalities on whose land the bulk of Nigeria's oil is mined.
In sum, the invariably deleterious impact of oil-mining on local inhabitants, both directly and obliquely, is a crucial question that must be placed front and center of any negotiations pertaining to the commercial - or full-scale - mining of petroleum.
The other, not-so-flattering aspect of the latest announcement of Ghana having struck oil in commercial quantities, is the fact that it comes just about the same time that vehement calls have gone out for the country's Minister of Energy, Mr. Joseph Kofi Adda, to resign. And so this sudden discovery of oil in commercial quantities could not have come as bad news at all. The bad news for Mr. Adda and the rest of Ghanaians who have had to endure an unsavory culture of rampant power outages, is that full-mining operation does not begin until some seven years hence (Ghana News Agency 6/18/07). More so, when one correctly analyzes the following observation made by Mr. Bob Daniels, one of the key players in the Cape Three Points' Black Gold prospecting venture, as reported by the GNA: 'He [i.e. Bob Daniels] said [that] to date the well has been drilled to a depth of approximately 12,083 feet and is planned to reach a total depth of 13, 780 feet, adding that once the well reached the target depth[,] it [i.e. drilling] would be suspended for evaluation and appraisal (Ghanaweb.com 6/18/07).
In other words, says Mr. Bob Daniels, the reality of Ghana becoming a full-fledged oil-exporting country is still up in the air, or in the wild-cat stage, as it were. Another public relations coup for the NPP? Remember the PNP? Just what exactly might be aptly seen to have changed, but the simple re-arrangement of party letters or signatures?!
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of 'Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana' (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: email@example.com.
Articles by Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.