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April 18, 2018 | Book Review

New Book on Africa/Ghana’s Natural Resources: Announcement & Book Review

Professor Ato Sekyi-Otu

Kwamina Panford, Africa’s Natural Resources and Underdevelopment: How Ghana’s Petroleum Can Create Sustainable Economic Prosperity

NY Palgrave Macmillan, 2017 249 pp Bibliography Index $123 Hard Cover E Copy $25

This is an excellent critical study of contemporary Ghanaian economic history, more specifically, a study of the fraught consequences and prospects of the discovery of crude oil and gas in 2007. They are called “natural resources,” but Panford’s principal message is that the possibilities they harbour are not decreed by nature but are a function of human agency and political will.

This is an important message. In the age of the “Pastors,” those crafty human-freedom-deniers adept at putting to profitable use the freedom they teach their flock to abjure, this book tells us that there is nothing ordained about what happens to an economy or a nation that comes into sudden possession of these resources. Appeals to the devil or its inverse, “ adom ara kwa” ( God’s will in Akan/Ghanaian language) , will find no quarter here. Panford examines the unholy family of concepts invoked to explain the catastrophes that have befallen economies and nations which happen to have acquired the black gold: “resource curse,” “the paradox of plenty,” “the Dutch disease”.

He finds the mystical powers ascribed to these phenomena vastly overrated. He examines contingent circumstances and, above all, actions that brought disaster to some natural resource endowed nations and spared others. His resounding conclusion founded on careful scrutiny of the evidence from many nations is this: “The resource curse is not destiny nor is it cast in stone.” This is not foolish optimism nor an abstract philosophical assertion. Panford marshals evidence of modes of management, public policy, oversight and structures of accountability that have forestalled and can forestall disaster. These serve as so many cautionary tales for the prospects and perils of Ghana’s infant experience with oil and gas.

Panford places the specific prospects of what is to be done with oil and gas within the more general question of the enabling conditions for economic transformation and shared prosperity. Here he extents his daring exercise in demystification into addressing what I call, facetiously, Korea envy, the shaming comparison of African wretchedness with South Korea’s astonishing self-invention as an economic house of wonder – and more generally the famous “Asian Miracle.” Kwamina Panford’s answer to this other, related species of magical thinking? There is nothing miraculous about the “Asian miracle.” In each instance, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, to say nothing of China, he details the determining role of favourable geostrategic conditions and conscious resolute decisions, fuelled by political will, which brought about the great transformations. Above all, he stresses the importance of industrial policy for an integral project of development. And here he goes against the secular religion of our time. None of this could be done without the state. Demonized by neoliberal dogma as inherently wasteful, corrupt and corrupting, Panford points out what is now an open secret, namely that none of these recent “miracles” occurred without the paramount role of the state. He has thus little time for ideologists – don’t believe the nostrum that only the left espouses “ideology” – who instruct us to “keep the state out” and leave it all to the “private sector.” It can’t be done. That was not the path pursued by the very apostles of the “free market,” Britain and the United States, not in their ascendancy and not today.

We are grateful to Panford for reminding us of such demonstrable truths and for the cautionary lessons he offers for ensuring that the potential wealth derived from our recently discovered natural resources will help alleviate our people’s conditions of existence.

Professor Ato Sekyi-Otu, York University &
Brafoyaw, Central Region Ghana

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