WASHINGTON — They found oil … in Ghana.
In 2007, UK-based Tullow Oil and U.S.-based Kosmos Energy and Anadarko Petroleum discovered a large accumulation of crude oil at an exploration well off the Western Atlantic coast. Soon after, Ghana’s then-President John Kufuor addressed a crowd of journalists and public officials at the Osu Castle government seat in the capital of Accra.
Reportedly, Kufuor was holding a glass of champagne in one hand, happy.
One BBC correspondent quoted the president as saying, “…you come back in five years, and you’ll see that Ghana truly is the African tiger, in economic terms of development.”
Since then, the Jubilee Oil field has become a major find. The International Monetary Fund gave a total revenue estimate of $20 billion from 2012 to 2030. By 2030, the reserves are expected to reach depletion, after reaching a 500-600 barrel mark.
Certainly, oil revenues will surpass those from gold and cocoa, which are the nation’s main commodity exports. With some 120,000 barrels of oil to be extracted per day at its peak, the country’s proven reserves will be near the reserves of its neighbor, Ivory Coast which are at 100 million barrels, according to the IMF. Peak production will be from 2011 to 2016 and is expected to generate nearly $1 billion a year.
Kosmos Energy, founded in Dallas in 2003, is an international, independent oil and gas exploration company. The company’s Ghanaian affiliate, Kosmos Energy Ghana HC, signed its first petroleum agreement with the country in 2004.
Now, negotiations and contracts to begin drilling have been signed and President John Atta-Mills has articulated the government’s goals for increased structural development. Not surprisingly, dozens of scholars and think tanks have released reports on how Ghana should properly manage its potentially vast—and lucrative–oil resources.
Many of them say that if Ghana can find a way to make its oil a curse and not a blessing, it will be a great boost—not just to its own people, but to the continent of Africa and beyond. Otherwise, they say, the consequences will be dire.
“If Ghana fails to manage its resources well, then, there’s no hope for Africa,” said Howard University professor, Wilfred David. In an interview, he said Ghana’s government must do everything it can to not follow Nigeria’s poor example of oil management.
“The country must look at the needs of the rural poor and urban poor in providing the basic sectors for the people,” said David, who was a senior economist at the World Bank where he researched African development policy and economics before becoming a professor in 1979 at the reputable historically African-American university.
There are many indications that Ghana could be a good steward of its newfound resources.
Since its independence, Ghana has not had a civil war. The occasional ethnic rivalries have been contained for the most part. Its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, put in place a basis for nationalism and patriotism with the implementation of a number of social programs and economic stimulus initiatives, most notably- the Akosombo Dam, which supplies Ghana with hydroelectric power and forms Lake Volta. Although the country did experience economic downturn in the 1980s with many of its patriots fleeing abroad and to neighboring countries, especially Nigeria, signs of recovery emerged in the mid- 1990s. The progress has continued since then.
Many view Ghana as the hope of Africa in terms of development and democratic sustainability. The World Bank reported that the country has become a “stable state.” The World Bank also reported that Ghana, unlike Nigeria, has effectively monitored corruption and government effectiveness. It has had five successive presidential democratic elections.
When President Barack Obama visited the West African nation last July, he said he was proud that Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation he had visited as President and that oil will bring many opportunities.
“Here in Ghana, you show a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity,” he said in an address to Ghana’s parliament, “the people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing.”
But Ghana must also learn the lessons of some of its neighbors, which have found that managing their oil reserves can become what the locals call the “black curse.”
Throughout Africa, the discovery and subsequent exploitation of natural resources have brought the good, the bad and the ugly. Too often, the political elite usually enjoy a disproportionate share of the revenue of natural resources. While these tiny percentages of the population live luxurious lifestyles, the majority live in penury. The dreams of how the minerals, cocoa, diamonds and other natural resources will uplift the country too often turn into hellish nightmares as civil wars often erupt and impoverished people live under authoritarian rule riddled with corruption.
Nigeria has been a vital supplier to the U.S. For more than three decades, it has led oil production in sub-Saharan Africa and as the continent’s most populous nation, it is also one of the world’s 10 largest oil- producing countries. Its highly prized crude oil is light and sweet, which means that it is low in impurities such as sulphur.
However, violence in the oil-rich, Niger-Delta region has been more than problematic. Kidnappings, brutal murders, and civil upheavals have occurred frequently in recent years as local residents demand that the oil revenue trickle down to the needy populace. The situation had gotten so intense and so unpredictably volatile that even Royal Dutch Shell reduced oil production in the region by nearly half a few years ago.
In their 2009 report, researchers Todd Moss and Lauren Young, with the Center of Global Development, an independent, non-profit research organization, explained that civil conflicts, government corruption, economic instability, increased poverty, authoritarianism and the destruction of the social contract are directly linked to the exploitation of natural resources.
In an interview, Lauren Young said these negative outcomes usually arise when the interests of the governments of these natural resource- dependent nations are not in sync with those of the people.
In the end, says David,
“You judge the society by how your people are doing.”
In Ghana, the increased flow of money should help bring its residents to middle- income status, thus reducing poverty. And Ghana may reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline. These comprehensive development goals supported by every UN member state and several international organizations, target chronic poverty around the world. Some of the eight UN’s MDGs include: ensure environmental sustainability, develop a global partnership for development, achieve universal primary education and eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.
With a growing middle class, Ghana will attract more business, as Obama noted in his speech to the country’s parliament.
“If people are lifted out of poverty and wealth is created in Africa,’’ Obama said, “new markets will open for our own goods.’’