Oil and Gas at Ghana-Ivorian border: conflict or cooperation?

By Lord Aikins Adusei
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By Lord Aikins Adusei

1/9/2012 7:53:19 AM -

By Lord Aikins Adusei

The African continent is no stranger to conflicts and disputes over natural resources. The diamond conflicts in Angola in the 1980s, and in Sierra Leone in the 1990s and the recent Niger Delta oil and gas conflicts in Nigeria are few examples of how resources have fuelled conflicts in the continent.

Armed conflicts occured between Libya and Chad. In the 1980s and 1990s Eritrea and Ethiopia in the East Africa fought brutal wars over lands and territories that claimed several lives. Similarly, in the 1980s and 1990s Nigeria and Cameroon clashed several times over oil and gas resources in the Bakassi Peninsula. The conflict was later settled by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but not after several people have been killed. The conflict over gas and oil resources emanated from among other things the need by both countries to keep their territorial sovereignty intact, ensure energy and human security, economic survival including the need to benefit financially from the sale of the resources.

In the past dispute has also occured between Bostwana and Namibia over the Kasikili Island or Sedudu Island in the Chober River. The dispute was peacefully settled in 1999 by the International Court of Justice.

Recently in Ghana the media have reported that Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), which shares maritime border with Ghana, is making claims to parts of the sea where Ghana has recently discovered oil. The report saw Ghanaians pouring in on online chat rooms and radio discussions in solidarity of their country. They condemned the Ivorian claims as opportunistic.

Mr. Collins Dauda, Ghana's Lands and Natural Resources Minister buttressing the point that Ivorians are being opportunistic argued that there was no maritime dispute between Ghana and Ivory Coast, and that both countries had always respected the median line until oil and gas was found in the Ghana part of the maritime border. 'All of a sudden, with the oil find, Ivory Coast is making a claim that is disrespecting this median line we have all respected. In which case we would be affected or the oil find will be affected' the Minister claimed.

Mr. Dauda was right about his 'no maritime dispute' statement. Ghana and Ivory Coast have been good neighbours ever since both countries gained independence. Both nations are trading partners. There is no memory of a major armed confrontation between the two sister nations. In 2011 Ghana even torpedoed efforts by regional bloc ECOWAS to invade Ivory Coast after the disputed elections. The government of Ghana argued at that time that war was not necessary and that dialogue should be used to settle the electoral dispute. When conflict finally erupted after France and UN joined the Alassan Quattara forces, Ghana became home to Ivorians who fled the conflict. Recently when I visited Sekondi-Takoradi, I was told stories of Ghanaians and Ivorians refugees dining and drinking together, confirming that both countries are like one big family.

Yet the recent discovery of oil and gas (both vital strategic commodities essential for the well-being of the global economy) is raising voices in both countries. Some of the hawkish voices are encouraging their governments to protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the national interest of their countries using every possible means including the use of the armed forces.

However, I believe that those with moderate voices should let their voices be heard. Of course moderation does not mean that Ivory Coast and Ghana should ignore their national interests. Far from that, however, I believe that such national interests can be pursued democratically and diplomatically without agonising the populations in both countries and endangering the fragile peace in the sub-region.

Fortunately, both Ivory Coast and Ghana are leading and respected members of ECOWAS as well as the Africa Union and could use these regional institutions to peacefully settle any disputes they may have.

Additionally there is international framework of rules, regulations, conventions, laws and institutions which determine who is entitled to which asset on land and on the sea bed. Such regulations and framework also provide clear rules and guidelines as to how disputes could be determined or settled in international courts. I am aware that both Ivory Coast and Ghana are signatories to some of these international conventions including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which sets and regulates among others the navigational rights, territorial sea limits, economic jurisdiction, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, passage of ships through narrow straits, conservation and management of living marine resources, and protection of the marine environment . Both countries should use these conventions to address their concerns.

Aside using diplomacy and international legal system, both countries can choose cooperation: joint exploration, joint development and joint management of the disputed area(s) for the benefit of their countries. There are many examples of such cooperation and joint management around the world including that of China and Japan, and the European Union.

In fact the current European Union was born out of the need to cooperate in pooling and sharing energy and other resources together. In May 1950 Robert Schuman, as French Foreign Minister, proposed that to perpetually eliminate devastating wars from Europe, archrivals France and Germany should pool their coal and steel production together and place it under one High Authority for the benefit of both countries and the rest of Europe. That proposal and its adoption has brought 60 years of political stability and economic prosperity to members of the European Union. Prior to the formation of EU, European countries fought several wars over resources including two world wars which were partly fought over access to resources.

The West Africa Power Pool and the West Africa Gas Pipeline coming from Nigeria to Togo, to Benin and to Ghana also serve as good examples on how the countries can share resources for their common good. There is nothing that prevent Ghana and Ivory Coast to follow these examples of cooperating to share resources for their own good.

In other words no matter the scale of the maritime boundary dispute, it can be settled by means of arbitration, negotiation or cooperation.

Besides, Ivory Coast and Ghana live in an interdependent region with common non-traditional security threats including militancy, piracy, drug and human trafficking, terrorist attacks, poverty, food and health insecurity, environmental pollution, climate change, and deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS. These problems demand a common, unified response and should make war between the two countries undesirable.

Ivorians and Ghanaians must remember that resources do not necessary bring conflict, people do and the people who advocate for conflict do so because of their interests. Much of the effort to solve the dispute will depend on the political and the military leadership as well as other groups (companies and individuals) with interest in the oil and gas resources in the area.

Therefore the leadership of both countries must demonstrate mutual political trust. They must show their commitment to dialogue and respect for international law and political structures within their countries and the sub-region; and they must discard any realist zero-sum perceptions they may have and approach the border dispute with openness, fairness and mutual respect. Both countries must avoid any unilateral actions that will jeopardise any effort to solve the dispute through peaceful means.

One critical element vital to avoiding any conflict or preventing conflict from escalating is communication. Ghana and Ivory Coast must establish communication at the ministerial and possibly at the presidential level. Similar communication and hotlines should be established at the military level and between the military chiefs of both countries so that should any skirmishes accidentally happen between the armies at the border the confidence could quickly be restored.

The citizens in Ghana and Ivory Coast also have a major role to play. While they may be the ultimate beneficiary of the resources, they may also be victims should the dispute become confrontational. Therefore the citizens must encourage their political leaders to use the available international laws, conventions and channels to resolve the differences peacefully. In short both countries need not waste vital human and material resources to engage in conflicts that can be resolved diplomatically or through arbitration and cooperation.

However, if both countries choose to war-war instead of to jaw-jaw then it is important to point out to them the ramifications of having to engage in a dangerously competitive and ruthlessly conflictual exercise. For example such conflictual exercise has potential to send West Africa back to the days of low investment, low economic growth, high inflation, huge external debts, human displacements and poverty.

Unnecessary military adventure will not only lead to human casualties, but also lead to huge military expenditure which will be a drain on the economy and may lead to huge external debts whose payment will have negative impact on the performance of both economies.

From a regional perspective a war between the two countries will have a strong adverse effect on economic performance of the entire sub-region, particularly the neighbouring landlocked countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, which rely on the transportation systems of Ghana and Ivory Coast for most of their exports and imports. In other words regional trade, economic growth and stability could be disrupted and might take the region decades to recover.

This is why dialogue, diplomacy, arbitration and cooperation should be seriously considered.

By Lord Aikins Adusei
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Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article." © Lord Aikins Adusei.

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