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27.01.2008 Feature Article

When Dancers Play Historians And Thinkers – Part 27

When Dancers Play Historians And Thinkers – Part 27
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Much ado has been made out of the construction of Ghana's Akosombo Dam, or the Volta River Project (VRP), by staunch lackeys and sympathizers of former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party. In the following two segments of our study, we intend to highlight the significance of the Volta River Project (or Akosombo) – both positively and negatively – to the postcolonial development of Ghana. In particular, we would highlight two of the definitive studies on Akosombo, namely, David Hart's The Volta River Project (Edinburgh University, 1980), and James Moxon's Volta: Man's Greatest Lake (Praeger, 1969).

Indeed, in his Foreword to Hart's The Volta River Project, Harold Dickinson, one of the author's doctoral dissertation advisors, at Edinburgh University, highlights what many a levelheaded Ghanaian has known for nearly two generations now: that the celebrated Akosombo Dam was more of a “Prestige Project” aimed at titivating the postcolonial Ghanaian political landscape, as Dr. K. A. Busia might have tersely cast it, than effectively fostering the salutary socioeconomic and industrial development of Ghana. In sum, for Dickinson, Nkrumah's dogged and blind pursuit of the Volta River Project may well have cost Ghana far more capital resources than any substantial benefits that may have accrued thereof:

“The unqualified commitment to the Volta River Project, on the part of the Government of Ghana and its advisors, as the vector of industrial progress, led to compromises over the items to be included in the projected costs of the scheme. In particular the estimates of the necessary expenditure on land acquisition, road works, resettlement and health problems were systematically pruned to ensure that the unit price of electricity would be attractive to smelter operators. In the event such public work costs were greatly underestimated and have remained a continuing burden on the Ghanaian economy. The only unanticipated benefit of the Volta scheme has been the size of the fish yield of the Lake behind the dam[,] but even this has to be offset against the destruction of fisheries downstream.

“David Hart's work may best be read as a 'cautionary tale.' Promoters of future schemes of a similar kind should be expected to take a broader, and more realistic, view of the costs and a less optimistic view of the benefits.

“There are many more dams to be built. They are more likely to be the culmination of an evolutionary process of river basin development in which there will be many small-scale interventions, and in which the benefits of the dam will be seen to be in flood control, irrigation, navigation, the productivity of the lake and economic diversification, and not solely in the 'monoculture' production of electrical power” (Hart v-vi).

For his part, the author of The Volta River Project issues the following blunt indictment: “The VRP is generally described as a successful development scheme, but the end result of this study has been a questioning of this description. The VRP seems not to have assisted Ghana's development. Even if the definition of development is restricted to a purely technical criterion such as whether industrialization has occurred, the VRP remains open to severe criticism. If development is defined in terms of economic criteria (in terms of monetary gain or loss), the success of the VRP is even more in doubt. And when development is defined in terms of the achievement of political autonomy, the VRP looks as much backward as a forward step” (Volta River Project 1).

Equally significantly, this is what President Nkrumah's right-hand man in Ghana's Ministry of Justice, the Anglo-Irish barrister-at-law and Queen's Counsel (QC) Sir Geoffrey Bing, had to say about the construction of the Akosombo Dam: “…in so far as any of Nkrumah's development projects were of a neocolonialist nature, the Volta Hydro-Electric Scheme best fitted this pattern” (Hart 103; Reap The Whirlwind 392).

The preceding notwithstanding, even should principled foresight legitimately prompt us to agree that, indeed, the construction of the Akosombo Dam was an industrial – or developmental – imperative, it still cannot be gainsaid that the man whose supposedly unprecedented genius many an unsuspecting postcolonial Ghanaian citizen credits with having both conceived and executed this landmark, or historic, project had virtually and practically nothing, at all, to do with either, except the purely accidental occasion of having been elected transitional Leader of Government Business (LGB), and subsequently Prime Minister and President in the 15-year period during which the absolute necessity of constructing the Akosombo Dam became glaringly obvious to even the most unimaginative Ghanaian.

Indeed, what has more than rankled many a forward-looking Ghanaian is the dastardly attempt, on the part of fanatical lackeys and supporters of the African Show Boy, to make a claim for their hero vis-à-vis the ideational and practical conceptualization of the signal project that became known as Akosombo. On this score, Hart has the following well-informed story to relate at length:

“The idea of the VRP was first conceived in 1915 by Sir Albert Kitson. Kitson was Director of the Gold Coast Geological Survey [Department], which had a permanent office in London and sent its staff to Ghana to undertake surveys lasting up to nine months at a time. Kitson was the man who first discovered bauxite in Ghana, near Mpraeso in 1914. The following year he was traveling down the Volta and noted that the river flowed through a gorge in a long range of hills, thus making an ideal site for a dam.

“The two discoveries became interlinked in Kitson's mind, for he knew that to produce aluminum from alumina (which is aluminum oxide prepared by heating and purifying bauxite) a lot of electricity is needed. A dam could be built on the Volta to supply electricity to an aluminum smelter, which would process local resources of bauxite. The notion was first made public in London, in 1924, at the First World Power Conference, to which Kitson presented a paper titled 'The possible sources of power for industrial purposes in the Gold Coast, British West Africa' (Kitson 1924), and subsequently publicized in Ghana in a Bulletin of the Gold Coast Geological Survey (Kitson 1925). However, from these documents[,] it appears that the development of Ghana's bauxite and hydroelectric resources was not inextricably linked, for Kitson discusses the possibility of exporting bauxite in its crude state and also of using hydroelectricity for mines, the electrification of the railways, and industries other than aluminum smelting.

“The scheme envisaged by Kitson involved the building of a dam 15 meters high at Akosombo. This would form a substantial reservoir, which would then be used to transport the bauxite from Mpraeso to the dam site, where it would be processed into aluminum.

“But Kitson's plan remained without detailed economic and engineering studies to back them up, until Duncan Rose, a South African engineer, read Kitson's Geological Survey Bulletin in a Johannesburg library in 1938. As a result Rose formed the African Aluminum Syndicate and proposed a 40-meter high dam at a cost of £ 3.5 million. The following year C. St John Bird, another South African engineer, carried out preliminary investigations for Rose and issued a reconnaissance report in July 1939. This proposed the building of a 75 meter dam at a cost of £ 6.5 million. During the war years, Rose attempted to arouse interest in the prospects for producing aluminum in Ghana, and in 1945 was responsible for the formation of the West African Aluminum Ltd (Wafal) of which he became the Managing Director. In March 1946, Unilever, through its subsidiary the United Africa Company, acquired a financial interest in Wafal. Between 1944 and 1949 C. St John Bird carried out a second, exhaustive investigation into the VRP and presented his report to Wafal in September 1949. His estimate for the cost of the dam and power station was £ 11 million. It was also in 1949 that Aluminum Ltd of Canada (Alcan) and the British Aluminum Company Ltd (Baco) became interested in the scheme, the former taking a 25 percent financial interest in Wafal.

“During World War II, Britain had rapidly expanded its exploitation of Ghana's bauxite deposits in order to satisfy a dramatically increased need for aluminum. During 1941-2, 6,300 tonnes of bauxite were produced; in 1942-3, 55,000 tonnes; and in 1943-4, 147, 500 tonnes.

“It was about 1948-9 that the UK and Ghana governments began to have serious intentions of producing aluminum in Ghana, partly because of their involvement in bauxite during World War II, and partly as a result of the representations that Rose and St John Bird had made to them. Government interest was first publicly indicated in 'The Report of the Commission of Enquiry into Disturbances in the Gold Coast' published in 1948. The Commission, known as the Watson Commission, was set up to investigate a Ghanaian boycott of highly priced imported goods. However, the report mentioned the VRP and stated: 'To harness the waters of the Volta, for the production of electrical energy and its utilization among other things in the manufacture of aluminum alloy on the spot, we believe is a scheme which has passed the visionary stage. The bauxite deposits which lie at hand for use in the process of manufacture of aluminum doubtless hastened the practical consideration of the Scheme. Such a scheme, apart from creating a new industry, capable so far as yet seen of very great expansion, might well enable large tracts to become fertile by irrigation. At the same time the surplus electrical energy set free could be utilized to great advantage in hundreds of ways not calling for any great imagination.' In the following year the Secretary of State for the Colonies, A. Creech Jones, proposed a survey of the Volta Basin to assess what contribution the projected scheme could make to Ghana's economy. The Ghana government endorsed this proposal and informed Wafal that their plans would be considered in relation to the development of the Volta Basin as a whole. Shortly after this, Sir William Halcrow & Partners (Consulting Engineers) accepted an invitation from the Ghana government to undertake the survey. Its terms of reference were to report on the economic value to Ghana of the development of the Volta Basin and to recommend the most suitable schemes for: i) hydroelectric development at Ajena or Bui, ii) irrigation in Volta Basin, iii) navigation on the river below Ajena and on the Lake, iv) provision of port facilities (Halcrow & Partners 1951). In October 1949, after negotiations between Creech Jones, Sir William Halcrow & Partners, and WAFAL, the latter agreed to make its findings available to Halcrow & Partners.

“Early in 1950 a British-Canadian Aluminum Mission, consisting of a number of representatives of Baco and Alcan, was set up with the encouragement of the UK government (Government of Gold Coast 1952, 2). The Mission spent some time in Borneo studying a project for the manufacture of aluminum by hydroelectric power and visited Ghana in August and September to investigate the technical and economic aspects of the Volta River Project. The Mission reported in January 1951 that both sites were suitable for aluminum production, but that Ghana was preferable because bauxite was available there and because the VRP had a greater potential for hydroelectric power. In August 1951 the final report of Halcrow and Partners was distributed to interested bodies, members of parliament, and so on, but not to the general public. It recommended a dam with a height of 80 meters above sea level and estimated the combined cost of dam and power house to be about £ 40 million. On 25 April 1952, the Ghanaian Legislative Assembly approved a motion for the starting of negotiations between the interested parties. In fact the negotiations appear to have begun at least six months earlier, for on October 1951 Mr. R. P. Armitage (Financial Secretary in the Ghanaian Civil Service), Mr. E. A. Hitchman (UK Ministry of Materials), Mr. Nathanael V. Davis (President of Alcan), and a representative from Baco, met in London to discuss arrangements for the project. Subsequent negotiations in May and June 1952, and consultations in London in September 1952, resulted in the UK White Paper 'The Volta River Aluminum Scheme.' Meanwhile, in April 1952, the Ghana government had published 'Development of the Volta River Basin,' which outlined the proposals made by Halcrow & Partners and presumably gave them a greater public airing. On 23 February 1953 Nkrumah's government proposed: That this House in the light of the further stage reached in the negotiations on the VRP as set out in HMG's White paper Cmd 8702, and having regard to the terms of its resolution on the development of the Volta River Basin made on the 25th April 1952, approves the continuation of the negotiations and the establishment of a Preparatory Commission with a view to arriving at a final agreement which will be in the best interests of the Gold Coast. However, after criticism of the proposed Preparatory Commission on the grounds that it would be a one-man show consisting essentially of a Special Commissioner who might or might not be representative, the motion was amended. The added clause was 'and that the Gold Coast government do take up with the UK government the views expressed by the House on the VRP, especially that of enlarging the Preparatory Commission to include two other members nominated by the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly.' A debate took place, and several members of the House spoke against the amended motion, including Dr. J. B. Danquah and Dr. K. A. Busia. Mr. William Ofori-Atta reminded the House that the UK White Paper had never been debated in Accra (although the Gold Coast government statement of April 1952 had been debated). Accusing the government of failing to justify matters to the House, he said the House was in the not unusual position of being asked to give the government the power to continue negotiations, rather than to approve them.

“Several CPP members (i.e. members of the government) spoke against the motion but voted with the government after a somewhat harsh application of the whips. The motion was carried by 50 votes to 13. But the vote was not reached until 25 February although the debate had been due to end the previous day. On the morning of 25 February, the 'Gold Coast Review,' a government paper, stated that Commander R. G. A. Jackson, CMG, OBE, had been appointed Special Commissioner of the Preparatory Commission. This appointment had been made on 17 February 1953. Since at the time of the appointment and the announcement of the appointment, the Legislative Assembly had not yet approved of the setting up of a Preparatory Commission, it is clear that the real decision were being made elsewhere. The Legislative Assembly's lack of decision-making power was made even more obvious in July 1953, when Nkrumah announced that the proposal that two members of the Preparatory Commission be appointed by the Legislative Assembly had turned out to be impractical. He explained to the House that if there were to be two members from Ghana there would also have to be two members of the UK and two members at least from the aluminum companies. This, he said, would make a rather unwieldy seven/nine man Preparatory Commission, and he therefore proposed that a Gold Coast National Committee on the VRP be set up with a brief to check on the work of the Preparatory Commission. This Gold Coast National Commission would consist of two government ministers plus three persons to be nominated by the Assembly. The first meeting of the Gold Coast National Committee was held on 25 July 1953. Subsequently, in September/October 1953, it went on study tours abroad, to Alcan's Kemano-Kitimat project in Canada, where hydroelectric power was used for aluminum smelting, and to some of Baco's installations in the UK, but it was only in November 1953 that Nkrumah announced to the Assembly the composition of the committee. It consisted of: Nkrumah (as Chairman), K. C. Tours (Minister of Finance), K. A. Gbedemah (Minister of Commerce & Industry), Dr. J. C. de Graft Johnson, Mr. W. E. A. Ofori-Atta, Mr. C. F. Amoo-Gottfried and Mr. S. T. Flecku. From subsequent events it seems clear that these were government appointees rather than nominations of the Assembly. The membership was slightly altered in the following months by the addition of Dr. E. E. Kurankyi Taylor. But in August 1954 Nkrumah proposed to the Legislative Assembly that the Gold Coast National Committee now consisted of: K. A. Gbedemah (Minister of Finance), K. Botsio (Minister of State), Mr. C. F. Amoo-Gottfried, Mr. S. T. Flecku, Mr. A. R. Otoo, Mr. Victor Owusu, Nana Ayerebi Acquah, and Mr. Bukari Mahma. A question was put as to why Dr. J. C. de Graft Johnson and Mr. William Ofori-Atta should be dropped from the committee but no satisfactory answer was given and the motion for approving the new committee was passed. This revision of the membership of the Gold Coast National Committee necessitated a second visit to the Kemano-Kitimat project, which took place in September 1955. This fact was communicated to the Legislative Assembly in November and gave rise to the following question and answer (in pursuit of the information sought in August 1954):

Mr. Kusi: Can the Hon. Minister give the reasons why the three prominent members of the first National Committee, namely Doctors de Graft Johnson and Kurankyi Taylor and Mr. William Ofori-Atta were removed from the Committee? Mr. Inkumsah (Ministerial Secretary to the Minister of State): I should like the Hon. Member to understand that the Government does not appoint members to committees for life (17 November 1955). Despite requests from members of the Legislative Assembly that the report of the first National Committee on its visits to Canada and the UK be made public, the report was kept confidential. The first National Committee had been too critical of the proposed project for Nkrumah's liking and he had not only altered the committee to suit his views but he had prevented the Legislative Assembly and the general public from hearing the first committee's considered opinions. Why did Nkrumah act in this way? Why was he attacked by a conservative opposition on the same kind of grounds as a left-wing opposition might attack a conservation government? Both J. B. Danquah and K. A. Busia (opposition members) stated that the Gold Coast government should have a large or majority share in the smelter. A question was asked: 'What plans have the Government to prove to the people of the Gold Coast that they will eventually own the whole Volta Project?' And the answer was: 'Nationalization of the scheme is not contemplated by this Government (Legislative Assembly Debates, February 1953). A statement was made summarizing the opposition's recommendations:

“The primary purpose of the VRP is the production of cheap electricity to smelt aluminum. The secondary purpose is the development of this country. The same benefits could be achieved without the Aluminum Project by a) building a small hydroelectric power which could be sold to many towns and areas at a commercial rate, b) a small-scale irrigation project at various points on the Volta, c) the construction of Tema Harbor. J. B. Danquah stated 'the Volta River is not for sale,' Dr. A. Koi said: 'The Volta Scheme itself is liked, but the project as stated is imperialist and capitalist arising out of colonialist days.' K. A. Busia told the assembly: 'It is against our interest as a nation to mortgage our entire economic future between the benevolence of the British and the restraint of the Aluminium Company.' and 'The Volta Scheme in its present form may be a return…of the old imperialism. Because, if successful, it would provide raw materials for British industry… and… the control of the plan as it stands would be in private hands.' W. Ofori-Atta laid the blame on the UK colonial government: '…consciously or unconsciously those who rule a dependent people would generally pay more attention to their own interests and advantages than those of the people they rule.' Why was Nkrumah, the author of Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, prepared to deny these arguments? Because of his belief in the necessity of foreign investment to build up capital-intensive technologies” (Hart 13-20).

In other words, notes David Hart, Kwame Nkrumah may well have been endowed with the most temporally vanguard of “visions” among the most significant postcolonial leaders of the African continent; unfortunately for his supplicants, however, the creation and conception of both Akosombo and Valco (or the Volta Aluminum Company) was almost certainly the one critical vision that the sacred, ancestral gods of Mount Nkroful had guaranteed, apparently before hand, that the “Wonder Boy of Africa” would not possess.

Furthermore, as the general thrust of the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly debates indicates, the most patriotic and astute members of the House, largely pro-Danquah, were rudely and summarily excluded from supervisory membership of the Preparatory Commission set up to negotiate a viable deal out of the Volta River Project for the soon-to-be independent Ghanaian nation because Kwame Nkrumah, eager to inherit the British colonial mantle, as it were, had adamantly refused to see reason and rather facilely opted for personal political aggrandizement, instead of the long-term interests of his countrymen and women. Which is why David Hart, here again, poses this most insightful question: “Why was Nkrumah, the author of Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, prepared to deny these [i.e. the Legislative opposition's] arguments?” Of course, Hart presumes fulsome charitableness when he answers as follows: “Because of [Nkrumah's] belief in the necessity of foreign investment to build up capital-intensive technologies” (Volta River Project 20). If so, then Nkrumah had proven himself to be unpardonably unconscionable, and at best sophomorically reckless in his dogged pursuit of the retrospectively pyrrhic Akosombo dam project.

Hart highlights Nkrumah's dictatorial and impolitic quirks, traits that almost definitely ensured that the contractual details of the Akosombo Dam (or the Volta River Project) would remain hidden from the Ghanaian public, and even the latter's legislative representatives, for a long time to come. Thus those Legislative opposition members who sarcastically monikered the VRP as a “prestige project,” rather than one that was studiously undertaken for the salutary and constructive development of Ghana, may be aptly seen not to have been wide of the mark in their assessment.

Indeed, a retrospective analysis of the entire project indicates that it was the most inauspicious – to speak much less of the outright unwise – venture to have been undertaken by the government of the so-called Convention People's Party: “Negotiations concerning the VRP were carried out without any debate in the House about their acceptability. While bargaining over details, Nkrumah's government accepted contracts for the completion of a highway from Tema to Akosombo, for the provision of access roads to the dam site, and for the construction of a considerable amount of housing for supervisory staff and workers. In that same year, in November 1959, the Volta Aluminum Co. Ltd. (Valco) was formed. It consisted of five major aluminum companies – Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation, Alcan and Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America), Olin Mathieson and Reynolds Metals – convened by Edgar Kaiser (Kaiser Corporation's Chairman of the Board) to explore their joint interests in the project. Three of these companies withdrew – Alcan in 1960, Alcoa in early 1961 and Olin Mathieson later in 1961. This left Kaiser with a 90 percent interest in Valco and Reynolds with 10 percent” (Volta River Project 27).

What is equally intriguing about the patently unimaginative contractual strategy of Nkrumah and his CPP, is the fact that The Party's stentorian proclamations of its Afrocentric socialist orientation did absolutely nothing to abrogate the largely apartheid housing and salary schemes set up, respectively, for the European and African participants in the construction of the Akosombo Dam. Nkrumah and his CPP were to staunchly adhere to the unpardonably invidious rules composed by the VRP's Euro-American planners and consultants. In the process, even European scholars like David Hart, an authoritative student of VRP history, are left wondering whether the accession of the CPP to the helm of the affairs of “Independent” and “Sovereign” Ghana brought in its wake any substantive improvements in the destiny of its purported primary constituents, short of a mere changing of the guard, as it were, with a “pink” European visage being merely supplanted (or replaced) by a “black” African one, with the Eurocentric socioeconomic and political status quo being pretty much intact.

But that this invidious aspect of the Akosombo Dam debate should continue to be glaringly ignored by postcolonial Ghanaians, particularly those of Nkrumaist persuasion, the so-called Nationalists, in Dennis Austin's characterization (see Politics in Ghana: 1946-1960), is rather curious, albeit hardly surprising, being that Ghanaians, like most recent ex-colonials, are not quite well known for their critical thinking skills as well as systematic scholarship. Partly, the latter may be aptly termed as a “postcolonial traumatic syndrome” (PTS), which partly entails a conscious and/or subconscious acceptance of a blistering status of inferiority vis-à-vis nationals of the former colonial powers. On the preceding score, David Hart writes:

“The St John Bird report makes no provision for the employment of Africans on skilled work. Africans are to be laborers and a few are to become semi-skilled workers. Basing his calculations on 1948-9 wage rates in the Gold Coast, he indicates that African laborers are to be paid £ 4 a month, African semi-skilled workers £ 7 [and] 10s a month, while a European is to receive £ 100 month. That St John Bird's proposals are basically 'apartheid' in nature is only partly due to his South African background. Such proposals fit very easily into typical colonial policy and have not been completely jettisoned even in the years of independence. The Preparatory Commission report was later to advocate a more refined system of apartheid, not based on color but on technical expertise and culture. As we shall see, this form of apartheid has been implemented at Akosombo even under an African 'socialist' government” (Hart 35).

It is quite significant to observe the fact that the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ghana's colonial overlord, eagerly joined in the sponsorship of the Akosombo Dam (or the Volta River) Project, naturally, not because of Britain's goodwill for Ghana's industrialization in the near future, but primarily for the massive benefits that the establishment of Valco, or any other aluminum plant, for that matter, promised: “Why did the UK government become involved in the VRP? This becomes clear on reading the White Paper Cmd 8702 of November 1952. Even the title of this document – The Volta River Aluminum Scheme – gives a strong clue. The paper starts with an account of the UK's requirements of aluminum and forecasts that these requirements would increase at about 5 percent a year. The UK's consumption in 1951 was about 203, 000 tonnes in virgin aluminum. Of this, 27, 000 tonnes were produced in the UK and 176, 000 tonnes were imported. Canada supplied 172, 000 tonnes of those imports at a cost in dollars over £ 18 million. The White Paper therefore stated: 'it is important that additional supplies should come as far as possible from the Sterling Area.' The White Paper (UK Government 1952) then went on to explain: There is no danger that the expansion of aluminum production will be restricted because of shortage of bauxite. Known reserves of bauxite of good quality in countries of the free world are estimated to be of the order of 1,500 million tons (350 million tons of metal content) and they are widely distributed. Nor is there any reason to think that shortages of other raw materials will be a handicap to expansion. The chief difficulty is heavy demand on electric power which the extraction processes make. Unless cheap power is already available in large quantities, any major new development of aluminum producing capacity involves at the same time the large scale development of power – normally, as things are, hydroelectric power. This means in practice that large-scale expansion of aluminum production under present processes can only take place in connection with major power developments. Thus the reason for the UK's interest in the VRP was not so much Ghana's bauxite, as her hydroelectric potential. The scheme envisaged by the UK involved the production of 564 MW of electric power for the dam, of which 514 MW would go to the smelter and only 50MW to other users in Ghana. As for the production from the aluminum smelter: The UK would be the natural market for most of the Gold Coast metal, but the smelter company would be under an obligation for 30 years from initial production to offer buyers in the UK not less than 75% of the metal produced. The option would be in terms of ensuring that in normal circumstances the price would not compare unfavorably with North American prices. As a result of the scheme UK consumers should be able to count on at least 60,000 tons a year of additional Sterling Area aluminum in the early days of the smelter and on a minimum of 157,500 tons a year when the full capacity of 210,000 is being worked. So, the White Paper concluded: Her Majesty's Government in the UK are favorable in principle to participation in the scheme, which would further their policy of encouraging the development of the resources of the Commonwealth as well as contributing to the raw material needs of the UK. They believe, on the basis of the information so far available, that it is soundly conceived and that its successful completion would bring substantial benefits to the two countries. However, the White Paper failed to mention what benefits Ghana would receive, failed also to make clear whether Ghana could actually benefit from the scheme as proposed…. So the aluminum smelter was to be supplied with electricity at cost price, and, moreover, a cost price that would involve the deduction of any profits made by supplying electricity to other consumers. With this arrangement in force the Ghana government could not hope to derive any revenue from its expenditure on the power project for sixty years. …. Ghana was therefore to be limited to holding 10 percent of the equity capital for the first twenty five years, and 20 percent thereafter, despite being expected to provide 27 to 31 percent of the final capital cost of the whole project, and 36 percent of the capital cost of the first stage. It is clear from this White Paper that the UK was only interested in acquiring supplies of aluminum from a non-dollar source. No concern is expressed for developing Ghana's bauxite or hydroelectric potential. No mention is made of the possible deleterious side-effects of the scheme” (Volta River Project 36-38).

And so, in every significant case-scenario, the key phrase was “foreign exploitation of Independent Ghana,” not foreign collaboration, or cooperation, with postcolonial Ghana for the latter's salutary admittance into the comity of industrialized nations. And this is why approximately 80 percent of the energy projected to be produced by the Volta River Project was to be directly channeled towards the operation of the Volta Aluminum Company (Valco) at Tema, whose modern settlement, by the way, had absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with the purportedly nonesuch – or unparalleled – vision of Kwame Nkrumah. But that the “Nationalist” and “Revolutionary” Ghanaian premier would fall hook, line and sinker for the establishment and operation of a project that promised little or, virtually, no substantial enhancement to the economic status and culture of his countrymen and women in the foreseeable future, tells more about the megalomaniacal myopia of the man than anything else. It also eerily hints at the acute fragility and cringing naivety of the average Ghanaian elector.

In sum, by electing Kwame Nkrumah as prime minister, initially, and later as “executive president,” postcolonial Ghanaians had, literally, ensured their own economic enslavement for at least some two generations post-1957, actually two generations post-1966, when the Akosombo Dam became fully operational, and two generations post-1967 when Mr. Edgar Kaiser's Valco became operational.

But that in unwisely consenting to the funding of the VRP by the same “Western Imperialists” he had been strenuously fighting off, at least rhetorically, Nkrumah had luridly exposed himself in the raw as a proverbial Naked Emperor, or an ideological House of Cards. David Hart minces no words in making the following telling observations: “But in order to get the project going, Ghana needed foreign money and foreign expertise. It is paradoxical that Nkrumah, the author of Neocolonialism, should have been so keen on welcoming foreign money and foreign expertise into Ghana. For instance, during the heated debate on the VRP in the Legislative Assembly in 1953, Nkrumah intervened to state: '…since most of the participants are British companies the arguments should be so carefully worded that we could not in anyway prejudice those who are going to be participants; but the whole of the speech [by William Ofori-Atta] was a diatribe against the British government. As far as I am concerned when the national[ist] movement started in this country I was one of the principal soldiers against imperialism…. Go through the whole history of the UGCC and you will see that my government has always been against imperialism. Yet you say here that Kwame Nkrumah is selling out to imperialists…. We are not boys! Do you think I am a fool to enter into a project like that blindly? If I were a fool, do you think I could have been able to organize the country to this stage? I am not so damned silly as to put my nose into something that is detrimental to the interests of this country.' Much later he described the Kaiser Company as 'enlightened foreign private enterprise' (Ghana Government 1962), and as 'a firm of proven ability and international renown' (Legislative Assembly Reports, March 1959). And at the VRP inauguration ceremony shortly after the publication of Neocolonialism he stated 'like Britain in the heyday of her imperial power, the U.S. is, and rightly so, adopting a conception of a dual mandate in its relations with the developing world.' This could, he said, 'enable the U.S. to increase its prosperity and at the same time assist in increasing prosperity of the developing world.' Obviously Nkrumah and the CPP thought that they could handle such outside influences successfully and fulfill the aims of all the participants in the project. It is often suggested that 'prestige' is the consideration that explains Nkrumah's desire for the VRP. However, this does not seem to provide an explanation in terms of social psychology. It is more helpful to remember that all the participants indicated definite and practical goals that they wished to achieve. One can then identify three much more specific reasons for Nkrumah's implementation of the VRP: 1) He believed that the conflicting Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian interests could be brought to a satisfactory compromise. 2) He was misled by technological and economic arguments (sometimes biased arguments) into believing that this was the only way to proceed. 3) He thought that as well as providing electricity the VRP would found the essential basis of an aluminum industry and lead to widespread industrialization of Ghana – on this he was to be disappointed” (Volta River Project 41-2).

Nkrumah collaborated in a clearly apartheid policy of investing the barest minimum of capital resources in the resettlement of Ghanaians displaced by the flooding of the Dam. On the other hand, the largely foreign skilled and technical labor force was to be accorded the most modern and advanced residential amenities. In sum, the human cost of the construction of the Akosombo Dam to the local inhabitants has yet to be fully calculated, in terms of exposure to diseases and economic hardship:

“There was to be a much greater outlay on the development of the industrial community than on the resettlement of the rural communities that had to be moved. The labor force on the dam would reach an estimated peak of 5,000 by the fourth year of construction. The cost of temporary housing for this work force, inclusive of hospitals, schools, community centers and other amenities, of roads and other services and of the supply of water and electric power would be about £ 4.5 million. Allowing for contingencies, however, the cost of servicing these communities was put at £ 7 million, that is, £ 1, 400 per capita. In contrast the Preparatory Commission estimated that there were almost 62,500 people living in the area to be submerged by the new lake and put the cost of their compensation and resettlement at £ 4 million or £ 64 per capita. Over 65 percent of the capital investment in the project would have to be external in character, representing imported equipment and materials. Thus the immediate benefits of the project were to be restricted to the small sector of the Ghanaian population receiving housing and employment, and to the overseas suppliers of capital equipment. The project was not to involve the people of Ghana as participants in any significant way, there was a deliberate policy of minimizing their involvement” (Volta River Project 43-44).

For those Nkrumah fanatics who facilely claim that had he not been “prematurely” ousted the African Show Boy, and not the Danquah-Busia adherents, would have supervised the construction of the Bui Dam, for the accelerated development of the northern sector of the country, this is what David Hart has to say by way of a riposte: “That Kaiser was not particularly interested in Ghana's desire for development is indicated by the way in which they rejected the Bui scheme as an alternative to the VRP. The proposed Bui dam, a smaller one than Akosombo, had been assessed at the request of the Ghana government in the Halcrow report of 1951 and in the Preparatory Commission report. To no avail. The Bui scheme was not large enough to interest non-Ghanaians, it was the VRP that whetted their appetites. Kaiser too could raise no enthusiasm for it, and frankly stated the reason: '…this development [Bui], due to smaller river flow and the remote location, would be relatively economical only for the general public supply of electricity. The very large block of low cost power for electrochemical production is not available here.' The emphasis here is on Kaiser's interest in aluminum production rather than Ghana's desire for electricity” (Volta River Project 49).

Indeed, so bankrupt was the deal struck by then-Prime Minister Nkrumah with Edgar Kaiser, Britain and the American government that even George Padmore (a.k.a. Malcolm Nurse), Nkrumah's own trusted Afro-Caribbean adviser on African Affairs, had this quite blistering verdict to deliver: “All in all, while it is clear that the scheme will provide the UK with a source of aluminum outside the hard currency area and the smelting company with profits from an assured market, the benefits which would accrue to the Gold Coast are not discernible, beyond the incidental ones of an artificial lake and possible provision of some electric power for the development of other industries once the company's needs have been met….[The Company in question here is, of course, Valco]. It may come as a shock to the Gold Coast people to find that they have perhaps given away rights to work yet another rich natural resource of their country for little or nothing” (Hart 51).

Even the 1948 Watson Commission, which enquired into the salient motivating factors behind the Nii Kwabena Bonne-engineered rioting and boycotting of European merchandise, had this prophetic warning to issue regarding the abject wrong-headedness in predicating the construction of the Akosombo Dam (or Volta River Project) solely on the basis of Kaiser Corporation's aluminum smelter (or Valco): “We are very much concerned to see that in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Gold Coast the indigenous population shares to the fullest extent the advantages. We realize that in so far as the execution of the VRP depends on the manufacture of aluminum, it is a commercial venture the success of which may well depend on world prices being maintained. If the view held by those in the trade and maintained in high places in Britain immediately after the late war is any criterion, any prediction of this nature is no sure guide. It would not be right therefore in our view, unless the scheme held prospects of paying its way independently of aluminum manufacture, for the Government of the Gold Coast to embark upon it as a national venture. On the other hand, while capital is entitled to a fair return measured by risk it may be proper to observe that views may differ on what is a fair return. It would be equally improper in our view to permit without adequate safeguards the investment of foreign capital. These should include a share of profits and provision for the national use of surplus water and surplus energy, together with the option of ultimate national ownership. Accordingly we recommend that, assuming the Government upon consideration, for the reasons given or other good and sufficient reasons, decides not to embark on the scheme as a national enterprise, then in permitting private enterprise to carry out the scheme, such permission should be conditional upon agreement on the following broad lines.

“1) The nominal share capital of the company formed to carry out the scheme should be small and the Government entitled to subscribe up to 49% thereof. 2) The bulk of the working capital should be provided by way of loan capital at a fixed rate of interest including a rate for amortization in 50-75 years, the interest to be a first charge on the company's revenues but not otherwise secured. Upon redemption of the loan capital the Government to have an option to acquire the balance of the 51% share capital at a price to be fixed, failing agreement, by arbitration. We appreciate that this recommendation in this form may be quite unacceptable to foreign capital. Our intention is not to tie the hands of the Government to any fixed formulae but to indicate the kind of arrangement which in our view should be aimed at and which we think the people of the Gold Coast are entitled to expect from the exploitation of their natural heritage. What of the Ghanaians who are to be most affected by the VRP, those people living in the area to be flooded by the lake? We are told that: '…residents well up-river from the dam site were incredulous that their own villages would actually be flooded. Indeed, some suspicions were voiced that the move was merely a Government device to get them out of the way so that their land could be utilized in a different way.' In other words, they thought their land was being stolen. And, as we shall see later, this view is at the present time of writing [1975-80?] roughly correct” (Hart 52-3).

In sum, it here above appears that even the British colonialist Watson Commission was far more vicariously nationalistic and patriotic than the very CPP government which contracted for the execution of the Volta River Project.

As David Hart poignantly and aptly points out, the agreement bringing the Volta River Project into operation may, in all probability, have regressed the organicity of Ghana's industrial development by at least 30 years or a full generation. In all its insufferably embarrassing quiddities, the Valco agreement was tantamount to Ghana's postcolonial enslavement, a contradiction in terms, of course, but a practical and factual reality, all the same: “It is not merely the VRP's mode of external linkage into the world aluminum industry that must be criticized for its detrimental effect on Ghana's internal affairs. The aluminum sector of the project almost seems to have been designed to minimize the internal linkage effects that might have benefited Ghana. The decision to import alumina and all necessary raw materials for the smelter meant that the scheme would have no encouraging effect upon [local] industries that could supply inputs: that is, the scheme would have no backward linkage into the general Ghanaian economy. Similarly, all the primary aluminum produced by the smelter is exported so that the aluminum scheme has no forward linkage since it supplies no inputs to other [Ghanaian] industries. Not only must the general arrangements of the aluminum sector of the VRP be criticized but also the particular terms of agreement. The master agreement, signed by Kwame Nkrumah on behalf of the government of Ghana and Edgar Kaiser on behalf of Valco, makes the following concessions: a) Valco to pay no import duty on alumina, or other materials to be used in the construction or operation of the smelter, until 25 April 1980. b) No restrictions or taxation of Valco's aluminum exports. C) Valco to pay no company tax until 25 October 1978. From that date, until 1997, tax will be levied at the rate in force on 2 January 1961. d) Valco's dividends to be free of tax until 25 April 1980. e) The VRA is to be obliged to serve increasing electricity demand from the smelter. (Personal communication, 3-3-1976, Director of Finance, VRA” (Hart 62).

Finally, regarding the abject bankruptcy of Nkrumah's strategy vis-à-vis the contracting and execution of the VRP, David Hart issues the following indictment: “The VRP did not arise from a desire of the people of Ghana, or, initially, from their political representatives. This is fundamental in explaining its lack of success as far as Ghana is concerned. The VRP was conceived originally as a means of fulfilling the aims of non-Ghanaian parties. The project was adopted by newly independent Ghana without, it appears, very much thought for its relevance. Attempts were made to investigate the possibility of a smaller hydroelectric scheme that would have suited Ghana's power needs, but only as a kind of second choice to the VRP. The possibility of building an aluminum smelter much later, when Ghana's demand for aluminum warranted it, does not seem to have gained serious credence” (Volta River Project 106).

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of 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” (, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., © 2008

The author has 5445 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwameOkoampaAhoofeJr

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