01.06.2022 Feature Article

Playing The Hand And The Land

Playing The Hand And The Land
01.06.2022 LISTEN

You know that thing we Africans say about the well, the hand, and the man? ‘Don’t throw mud into the well that gave you water’, ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’, ‘don’t drown the man who taught you to swim’, ‘don’t tell the man carrying you he stinks’… These references to food, water, and body odour, in the end, are vivid metaphors saying the same thing. They are morality tales for the receiver—cautionary tales forewarning the receiver about the bane that is ungratefulness. Finding ourselves in our lifetimes on the receiving end of this equation just as much as we perhaps do, the giving end, our understanding of these idioms must be nuanced. Because the receiving part of us knows that there are times that this ungratefulness to the giver is indeed merited—that all things being equal, we would choose to burn certain bridges than to keep them in gratitude or in the very factual foresight of needing them for the return. You think you’re the only one who has ever faced this dilemma? Hold your horses. Nations have it worse when it comes to fossil fuels…

An Introduction
First things first: an introduction. You might already know Dr. Kweku Ainuson. Being an avid reader of the Business & Financial Times, i.e., being concerned with, well, business and financial matters, you might just be familiar with the nation’s top business lawyer. But I’ll proceed with an introduction still.

Dr. Ainuson is a partner at the AB Lexmall Associates law firm, a practice that specialises in Corporate, Commercial, and Natural Resource Law. He is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ghana Law School with a pool of students spread far and wide, both locally and internationally; students like me—who are a great admirer of his dedication, sheer intelligence, and overall, the enormous respect he commands. He was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, USA. He also served as an Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University with joint appointment at the Department of Political Science and the African American Studies program in Starkville Mississippi, USA. He holds a PhD in Public Policy with specialisation in Natural Resource Law and Policy, and two master’s degrees—a Master of Laws (LL.M.) with specialisation in Maritime Law, and a Master of Public Administration.

Dr. Ainuson is the go-to lawyer for businesses, and has helped with the establishment of countless companies (both local and international). He has assisted many businesses both local and international to navigate the business legal and regulatory regime of the country. He serves on a vast number of boards of prominent companies. He is a member of the Ghana Bar Association. He was called to the Georgia State Bar as a Foreign Law Consultant.

Today, it is with the great, great Dr. Kweku Ainuson that we are ‘attempting prophecies’. Let’s proceed…

Energy Revolution: A Sticky Situation
From the wealth of geopolitical examples (many a time, outright gory examples) to choose from, we will go with Germany and its relationship with energy... For years the country has tried positioning itself as an energy ‘pietist’ of a sort, if you will, making promises to itself and to the world, promising a swift transition from non-renewables like fossil fuels and coal to renewables—perhaps more swiftly than other countries in the EU, the West, and the rest of the world have ever done. But what is interesting is that as Germany champions its ‘Energiewende’ (energy revolution), it does so with a two-face. Yes, Germany is phasing out non-renewables, yet it is unyielding in its patronage from countries not on a phasing-out, these same fossil fuels they are decrying. The Russian-Ukraine war isn’t helping matters. Because what do we see Germany doing? On the one hand, they are pro-Ukraine, yet on a very urgent other hand, they need that Russian oil...

You’ve heard about that dying man who was lying on the streets one hot afternoon at the mercy of onlookers, right? Oh, that man who fainted from hunger, and was advised by an onlooker to be sent to the hospital…You remember that when another onlooker advised that he be fed with ice-kenkey, he immediately came to, and advised his Good Samaritans to “listen to the ice-kenkey suggestion.” There are times that our helpers just get things wrong—take us to the hospital when, really, it is a meal we need. This is precisely the scenario we have ensuing with Germany and the ‘ice-kenkey’ it has been offering Ukraine for the past gruesome months. Accusations are increasingly mounting on German Chancellor Olaf and co. of being aloof with their supposed ally, Ukraine. As other countries are attempting to strike Russia where they feel would hurt the most—its economy, i.e., by desisting (no matter how temporary) from patronising its oil, Germany is, on one hand, offering Ukraine overt help in the form of ‘certain’ weaponry, and on the not-so-distant other hand, covertly financing Russia—by purchasing still, Russian oil. This is not an accusation; it is merely a statement of facts.

Weeks back, in the articles with Dr. Seth Kofi Debrah (the ‘Atom for Peace’ articles), we highlighted this same two-facedness… We saw how Germany, an opponent of nuclear energy still imports much of its electricity from France—a country’s whose love affair with nuclear power, Germany has for years criticised.

This brings to mind the question: what thing is this that it can loom so large—be so powerful that it makes hypocrites of nations that pledge distaste to it? This diplomatic two-facedness countries get forced into—today, ostracising the supposed devil; yet tomorrow, shaking hands with this same devil…this two-facedness, what thing can be so powerful that it makes nations behave so? What entity can be so vital to nations’ functioning that such nations cannot even take a stand against it completely and effectively? The answer is, as we know, power—energy.

Energy v. The Environment
Dr. Ainuson transports us to 2008 Great-Recession-ridden USA. In 2008, the American was faced with the single greatest economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929, with unemployment rate higher than ever before, stomachs emptier than ever before, housing crisis through the roof, and the energy crisis at its worst. During this period, the question of ‘the environment versus energy, which does the nation prioritise’ got much more nuanced responses from the American. For the first time in a long time in their history, the American was faced with real and widespread hardship, and was finding scarce the things the average citizen had for years taken for granted, like access to reliable energy and a market fostered by the industry this same energy enables, winters and summers made bearable by the heat and cold these energy sources provides, etc. The American, faced with this rude awakening, began rethinking their stance on the matter of ‘energy v. the environment’.

This is interesting because years prior, and even now—years after the Great Recession, a larger chunk of Americans when polled, gave (and give) their votes to prioritising the environment over energy—and mostly that means turning to renewables (and at times non-renewable sources like nuclear energy), and discarding infamous non-renewables like fossil fuels. It is interesting, is it not? How circumstances can easily determine certain moral, sociological, economical, etc. positions we take. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” This quote by Abraham Lincoln has a whole different meaning when taken in the context of the energy economy; it goes: nearly all people can stand adversity, but if you really want to test a person’s character, ‘take power from them’—take away energy and all the perks they come with from them... So, permit us asking: on the matter of ‘energy v. the environment’ where do you stand?

We v. Them
Before we can answer this, Dr. Ainuson quickly transports us from the 2008 financial crisis to our present global energy crisis. We need not even bother spelling out word-for-word, in this article, the hardships being faced by us all today. Kindly go ahead and fill out these blanks with complaints of your own hardships—

Petrol prices are on an all-time, fast-changing high, leading the market to become red-hot—by that we mean ‘extremely hot’; there is nothing exciting about these times of ours. We are coming right from a pandemic when oil and gas production saw an expected decline due to the reduced demand for energy, and an aftermath which saw an overnight resurgence in demand, with oil producers fumbling to recoup and meet this restored demand with supply. Coming right from this quick shift from low to high demand, the global surge in oil prices was only to be expected. Matters have been made worse since February as we all have been left to play stake-holding witnesses to a war between two oil producing nations—one of them being the second highest producer in the world. One can safely say we have moved right from frying pan to fire…

And this is where Dr. Ainuson believes a poll similar to the 2008 crisis’ must be brewing—in the minds of nations, at least. It is the question of ‘us versus them which do we prioritise?’ Subconsciously nations are raising this question in their heads and are clandestinely answering, the former. Don’t get this wrong, deep in this intertwined web of globalisation, nations have always put themselves first, but have as a matter of diplomacy played to the fraternity and supposed selflessness that makes for a good ‘united nations’. But now, coming right from a pandemic that forced us all to look inwardly, forced us to confinements with selves in our individual homes and in our individual countries—with borders compulsorily and necessarily closed, with the blurred lines of globalisation temporarily replaced with the sharp edges of nationhood, it must be expected that individualism will be asserted now more earnestly by nations.

The Politics of ‘Give and Take’
Fossil fuel resources are not evenly distributed throughout the world. There are the well-endowed, semi-endowed, and null-endowed nations—if you will. This politics of ‘I have what you need’ is one key ingredient driving globalisation—international trade is the key driver of international relations. With the ravages of climate change becoming increasingly resistant to glossing-overs, nations are increasingly becoming incentivised to increase their efforts and pledges towards investing in renewable sources of energy, and pulling back gradually and then completely on fossil fuel dependencies. Add to this is the recent geopolitical sparring we are witnessing in the energy economy. The politics of ‘I have what you earnestly need, and will utilise it as bait for your subservience’ Dr. Ainuson notes, is on the rise. Energy is being used more poignantly as tool for international politicking. One can only anticipate that efforts towards the transition from non-renewables to renewables would be redoubled by nations—especially the semi and null-endowed nations.

As countries are rethinking more earnestly, fossil fuels, Dr. Ainuson highlights that there seems to be an unfortunate, underlying rethinking of inter-dependency attached to this. Of course, globalisation can never fully be dispensed with. Not even after an ingredient as formidable as fossil fuel leaves the picture—fossil fuel that forces so-called ideologically-different nations to put their differences aside and shake hands in oil—in trade. Countries like America, Germany, etc. can still engage in all the ‘cold-warring’ and ‘cold-shouldering’ they want with Russia, but when the winter sets in, they may just have to find warmth with ‘cold’ Russia. We can say all we want about fossil fuels, but we cannot deny that this is an interesting dynamic only oil and gas has consistently pulled over the many, many years of statehood and internationalism.

As it stands, individualism seems more aligned with renewables than they do, non-renewables. Dr. Ainuson breaks this assertion down: top renewable sources like solar and wind, are still undergoing research to make them exportable produces as non-renewables like fossil fuel and nuclear energy have for years been. But these renewable sources, being more liberally spread worldwide than fossil fuels, it is to be expected, in this much-dreamed about post-fossil-fuel age, a world where nations would look more inwardly than they do outwardly for their energy sources.

The Question of ‘Curse or Blessing’ is a Question of Leadership

Since the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution kickstarted in Britain and spread rapidly to the rest of the world, and energy and the need thereof took wings, the global gold rush for energy sources, chief among them, oil and gas, has left many of these host countries becoming targets of constant poking and prodding—things that make for distorted governance and national systems. The world has seen many countries become problem and volatile areas upon the discovery of what was at the time of these discoveries touted as blessings.

In this country of ours, this extreme volatility symptomatic of many fossil-fuel-rich nations like those of the Middle East and our own sister country Nigeria, cannot be said to have yet been experienced by us—perhaps because we have not had as much oil to deal with as these countries mentioned. But it cannot be denied the fact that “we are so natural-resource-rich, but have very little to show for”—as Dr. Ainuson succinctly puts it. “I keep on saying a country like ours and Congo, for instance, have no business being poor.” Yet, here we are, to our dismay and the rest of the oftentimes complicit world’s, quite bluntly, poor—not doing as well economically as we should be doing. This begs the question, ‘what is the problem?’

  • The Magician

  • Dr. Ainuson believes the root-cause to be so leviathan a cause, a cause whose presence is felt everywhere, that it has become some sort of cliché—that it is often overlooked when we go in search of ‘reasons why’ in our pursuit of rectifications. And it is this: the system of governance the nation has within its borders.

    Developing a nation’s fossil fuel sector is not only a capital-intensive endeavour, but a time-intensive one too—and we discussed this in the ‘Atom for Peace’ articles. This is so, especially if a nation intends to build a sector which shall be by its people and for its people. In building an oil and gas economy, a nation may either go for the efficacious long-term approach or the convenient short-term approach. Our four-term system of governance has proven itself at odds with the former—not inherently so, but factually made so. So the Ghanaian oil and gas sector remains steeped in the short-term approach.

    In the short-term option, the nation calls in foreigners readily rich in resources—both financially and in terms of expertise... In this arrangement, these foreigners tend to take the larger chunk of the proceeds, as it is they who invest the larger chunk of the needed resources (money and expertise). This relationship is most often counter-productive to host nations—especially when these countries fail to put in place, among others, refining infrastructures to cater for the next stages of the oil and gas processes. When this happens, these foreigners take these resources to their home nations in their raw states, do some ‘refining’ magic to them, and bring them back to us, higher priced. This is the option we tend to go for due to our short-term thinking—largely enabled by our politics of quick turn-overs. In this politics of quick turn-overs, politicians are magicians, each come with their own plan, each is given yay time-span to do their own contortions, and in so contorting it just so happens that many of them end up with bigger bellies than they came with (but that’s beside the point, eh?), and just as quickly as they came, they vanish into thin air, and the next magician is called on.

    It does not help matters that the nation has a 79% literacy rate, which if we be frank, looks good only on paper, but in actuality comprises a chunk of people who are in fact semi-literates—subpar literates. These people often, through no fault of theirs, lack the sophistication to read between the lines—read between the politicking, the contortions, the magic tricks. Because if they looked closely at that magic trick, they would notice that that magician box is in fact not empty, that buried behind it, behind that plank of wood, is the item that has been shown to the public as having purportedly vanished (but again, that’s beside the point, no?). So the majority of the populace, they take things at face value—and politicians being performers, they know this. So they play to the crowd; they touch on short-term approaches and solutions having, at best, long-term mediocrities, and, at worst, long-term failures attached to them.

  • The Clown

  • Those sophisticated enough to read between the lines are taking advantage of the vast ignorance and enabling system of theft, and they are perpetuating this system, enabling it in its failure, joining the magician (a.k.a. politicians) in this charade of doing the same thing over and over again—yet expecting different results. These magicians and their enablers, some suspect to be clowns.

    Let us quickly note that this mention of the briefness of our four-year-term politics made by Dr. Ainuson is in no way an advocacy for authoritarian rule—he’s quick to issue that disclaimer. What is being advocated for is stability. And stability, we know—with the entire world around us as proof—is scarcely ever found in totalitarianism. Autocracy lacks stability—it has time and perpetuity going for it, but not necessarily stability. What despotism does is to almost always leave a people to fester in endless degradation—and that is, of course, not the kind of stableness that makes for a great society. What the ‘four-term’ issue raised does is show us the root cause of our short-term thinking—a defect that cannot be remedied merely by the increasing of the term of governance from four to whatever higher number agreed upon. But rather, one that can be remedied by having for ourselves, a real devolution of power from the centre, a national agenda, one embodied in the people, one demanding unchanging adherence, perhaps an adherence as staunch as that given the Constitution itself.

  • Sisyphus

  • “As they say, resources are limited, but the good ideas are unlimited. Every decision has an opportunity cost. And in the decision between long and short-term approach, the opportunity cost for choosing the former always seem to be real and earnest problems—national problems such as access to education, healthcare, decent living, unemployment, etc. These problems loom largely and incessantly over us as a nation. These are problems that have lasting remedies in the long-term approach. Yet most often than not, in our case, they are given quick polishing-overs—short-term solutions, solutions that win quick votes, solutions that in the end tend to lend perpetuity to these same problems rather than lend lasting solutions to them,” Dr Ainuson notes. So governments after governments come into power to solve the same problems over and over again. And you remember what they say about that man who does the same thing over and over again expecting different results, right? I believe they call them mad…no, let’s go with Sisyphus. Governments they are magicians; they may just be clowning, but most importantly, they are Sisyphus.

    “Politics is a transactional game. It is first, a question of how many people one is able to make promises to; then secondly, an answer of how many people one is able to actually fulfil these promises to. And politicians characteristically are one to zoom in on the first (i.e., the promises), overdo it (it becomes among them, a battle of promises), then following through becomes something of an impossibility (effective, long-term, generational governance becomes an impossibility), so they reach for the low-hanging fruits. A robust, functioning energy sector cannot effectively be built on such a foundation.” Dr. Ainuson adds.

    Crafty Poseidon
    ‘Don’t throw mud into the well that gave you water’, ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’, these sayings are, in the end, morality and cautionary tales to politicians and us all citizens deriving life and livelihood from this land called Ghana. All actions that lead to its degradation—be it its physical or fiscal structure—will be born first and only by us. And when it comes to relationships existing between citizenry and nations, there is no real option of burning bridges.

    You might just be wondering why we’ve chosen to concern ourselves this Wednesday, with what is inside the land when the very land itself which we see with our own two eyes are purportedly being pulled (stolen) right from under us. Remember magicians feed off diversions. So as all eyes turn on one thing, a sleight of hand is happening elsewhere…

    But we must say, the people of Ghana, we do realise the urgency of the matter of our natural resources—and in this particular case, our fossil fuel resources. Next week we will join Dr. Ainuson in looking at, among others, one vital strategy adopted by us to ensure optimum transformation of these resources into national development, i.e., local content and local participation laws, and the progress we have made with these laws.

    [Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) -1st June, 2022]

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