education


Map of Tullow’s recent oil discovery in Ghana
click on the map to see the larger view

The Guardian published an article this week about the oil discovery in Ghana, and potential effect on the Ghanaian economy. Ghana enters oil age with wary eye on neighbors.

.

. . as the euphoria dies down, people are debating whether oil is really the economic injection their country needs.
. . . “Nigeria has oil in abundance, yet the local people have nothing,” said George Moore, a 29-year-old restaurant worker in Axim, a fishing village near Cape Three Point. “Is that what is going to happen here?”
. . .

“Our country works, but the idea of us producing oil still scares me,” said Kofi Bentil, a business lecturer at Ashesi University in Accra. “It will totally change the structure of the economy. It could push us into overdrive, but it could also lead us to self-destruct.”

One advantage that Ghana has over its oil-producing neighbours, said Mr Bentil, is experience and political stability. While countries such as Nigeria were already swimming in oil money at independence, Ghana has had 50 years to build up institutions to manage its finances.

It is also one of the few countries in the region to hold free and fair elections with peaceful transitions of power.

Although corruption at state level remains significant, accountability has improved greatly in recent years, donor officials say.

Mats Karlsson, the World Bank country director for Ghana, said that even without oil, Ghana was on track to become a middle-income country by 2015, when it would start to wean itself off aid. Oil revenues could accelerate that process.

Or, oil revenues could reverse the process.

The US Africa Command could be a destabilizing influence in Ghana as well as other countries. The focus of Africom is oil. Cooperation with African military organizations is an attempt to manage this resource. And the more the interests of the military in a country are supported above the interests of other citizens, the more chance there is of creating and extending coups and military governments. Currently Nigeria, Equitorial Guinea, and other places, are experiencing this kind of US military support. In the words of Vijay Prashad:

Resource wars in the Congo (over diamonds and coltran) and in West Africa (over oil) have set the continent on fire. The U.S. has thus far engaged with these conflicts through Africa’s national armies, who have increasingly become the praetorian guards of large corporations. None of this can be justified directly as a protection of the extraction of resources, so it has increasingly been couched in the language of the war on terrorism. The Pan-Sahel Initiative (created in 2002) draws U.S. Special Operations Forces to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In 2004, the U.S. extended this to the major oil producing countries of Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia and renamed it the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative. After 9/11, the U.S. moved a Special Operations Force into a former French Foreign Legion base, Camp Le Monier, in Djibouti. In July 2003, the U.S. earned the right to deploy P-3 Orion aerial surveillance aircraft in Tamanrasset, Algeria. Under the guise of the War on Terrorism, the U.S. government has moved forces into various parts of Africa, where they were able to train African armies and to intervene in the increasingly dangerous resource wars.

Ghana needs to diversify her economy, and protect and develop her agricultural sector, if the oil is to help rather than hurt. And Ghana needs to provide health care, and free universal public education. This is a public good, even necessity, and should not be an individual privilege. Ghana needs all its brain power active and healthy, not just the brain power of the rich. Rich brains are not always the best brains. Every cedi invested in education will be paid back many times over in business development and revenues.

As b real points out in a comment, the US Senate has a hearing today on the Africa Command, Exploring The U.S. Africa Command And A New Strategic Relationship With Africa. In his opening remarks there were a few words Senator Feingold said that offer a glimmer of optimism even though the goal is still to acquire African oil and resources. I have emphasized them below.

I am prepared to fully support a unified, interagency U.S. approach that creates a military command with the primary mission of supporting our policies towards Africa and ensuring continued diplomatic, development, humanitarian assistance, and regional initiatives led by the Department of State, USAID, and other key stakeholders – including national and international NGOs, other bilateral and multilateral development bodies, and of course, African political and military leaders.

African leaders look a bit like an afterthought, but at least they are mentioned, unlike in the Bushco documents from the Heritage Foundation that lay out the Bush/Cheney vision of Africom.

One of my favorite blogs is Ramblings of an African Geek. He writes with a measured tone, and a great deal of insight. He recently assisted with the secondary school programming competition in Tamale in the Northern Region. Click here to read his account of the competition, and see pictures of the students working intently. I really like to see this. Still, so many young people need this kind of opportunity and more. When governments invest in education, it pays back many times over in business development. Everyone benefits. It would be nice if more people in government understood this, in Ghana, in the US, and pretty much everywhere else.

He writes:

As usual, this was fun and refreshing. The schools need more support than they currently get from the government by far but they are doing a lot with what they have and I suspect the nationals will be seriously competitive. Still, I’d rather not have to hear stories of high performing schools only doing well because a teacher brought in his 3 year old laptop and trained his kids on it.

Still, the sights made me happy.


There have been a number of reports of the discovery of a significant oil field off the coast of Ghana. Everyone I know is jubilating about it. Let us pray that Ghana does not fall victim to the oil curse. Poverty has increased in those countries that have oil, and agriculture that lets a country feed itself, has died.

Rawlings made some particularly brilliant moves when he governed Ghana, setting up the government in a way that tied a contemporary, and generally democratic government to traditional local and regional ways of governing. Ghana has the tools to make government work. Ghana also has problems with corruption that have gotten worse under Kufuor, who owes his position to some very corrupt people. Kufuor will be gone about the same time as Bush. He has used the Presidency as a paid travel vacation around the world. He is rarely and briefly in Ghana. Let us hope Ghanaians chose the next President wisely. Oil encourages corruption, and there are many dangers.

If Ghana is able to invest a significant portion of oil earnings in education, Ghana could become a regional strength and beacon. Ghana needs to restore compulsory free elementary education, as was the case after independence and before the coups. Ghana needs universal and compulsory secondary education, and it needs advanced learning, colleges and universities. The need and demand is there, but the supply has been neglected. Universities create economic success. For those parts of the United States that have invested heavily in universities, it has paid of in economic booms and sustained economic success. Businesses want to set up shop where they can find a trained and talented pool of workers. Education brings business, education develops business, and business brings money.

Ghana also needs to think long term. What happens when the oil runs out. Ghana needs to develop economic and energy resources independent of oil. And Ghana needs to protect her environment. No country yet has done very well in planning for the end of oil. I recently watched a tv program, Equator, in which Simon Reeves travels around the equator. In his travels through Gabon he said that with oil supplies depleted, and local agriculture barely in existence, President Bongo had declared a number of large forest areas as protected reserves, and is encouraging tourism as a source of income to replace oil. The program showed people in a rural village dancing for tourists, as that was their only means of making a living. They had little agriculture, and were forbidden to hunt in the reserves where they used to hunt. It made for a very peculiar situation. To my eye, there was little joy in the dance, and I really wondered what the tourists felt, and what they were thinking. I would not enjoy seeing this sort of thing again.

Some of the oil strike stories from:
The Statesman
The Daily Graphic
The Accra Daily Mail
Joy Online
BBC News

Also from BBC News:

Mr Kufuor said the discovery would give a major boost to Ghana’s economy.


We’re going to really zoom, accelerate… and you’ll see that Ghana truly is the African tiger
Ghana’s President John Kufuor

“Oil is money, and we need money to do the schools, the roads, the hospitals. If you find oil, you manage it well, can you complain about that?” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

I am praying fervently that he is right.

I am a member of a commission that awards about half a dozen scholarships per year to the local community college. A scholarship pays for a full year of in state tuition, and students can reapply for more than one year. This two year college does a very good job of educating students who come from all over the world, providing them with associate degrees that will give them chances to get better jobs, and to further their careers. Many of the applicants come to the US from other countries. Most came here with their families when they were younger. Some are separated from their families. Many of them were displaced from their homes by war. And the US has often had varying degrees of involvement or responsibility for these wars.

Last night we reviewed the applicants for this year. They were a good group, most with real potential. There was one girl applying this year who fled Sudan. Her family fled and she heard her father had died. Her mother kept them together, fed and sheltered. But war came again. Her mother had a breakdown, and they had to drug her in order to bring her with them when they fled. Eventually she and her family arrived in the United States, and she attended public schools. Another young applicant had fled war in Guatemala, a country in which the US has had a long involvement, managed to get to the United States and attend public schools. Over the six years I have been on this commission we have read many biographical essays by many students who have fled horrors, and suffered here, but refuse to quit.

There are opportunities in the United States, but it is not a kindly place, particularly these days. If you are undocumented it can be brutal. People here, including citizens, often live isolated lives with no support network. If you have a child, or children, there is often no one to turn to for help. And undocumented immigrants often have no legal protections. Many immigrants, in fact many citizens, have to work multiple jobs, because one job may not even pay housing costs. The young applicants we review lead complicated lives, and their stories are often heart breaking. Making the scholarship decision is often very difficult because all the applicants have financial need, and all are deserving. Not all our applicants are immigrants, among those who are immigrants, some are economic refugees, but many are here because their families fled war. In their essays many of these young people say they wish to be back in their own countries, without war.

After spending my evening reviewing these applicants and their stories, and the mostly glowing recommendations from their teachers, this morning I read the latest post from Riverbend in Baghdad. She and her family are leaving Baghdad. She writes:


The Great Wall of Segregation…
…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It’s a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest ‘Sunni’ area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will ‘protect’ A’adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn’t empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, “Oh look- we’re just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!” And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn’t enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It’s time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of “Shia areas” and Shia out of “Sunni areas”.

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
(emphasis mine)

The United States needs to deal with other countries in ways in which the military is the last option, not the first. Oil has been behind a number of the wars that have sent refugees fleeing into other countries and to the US. Oil is behind the Iraq war. And oil is behind recent US interest in Africa, including Ghana. That is the background for creating the US Africa Command. The people involved in Africom talk about leading with diplomacy, and talk about peaceful intentions. I recently heard a soldier interviewed on TV who said, the job of soldiers is to kill people and break their stuff (he said as opposed to police, whose job is to protect people and protect their stuff.) As long as your military is your lead contact with a country, the people you contact are in danger. The US should not be making it unsafe for people to stay in their own countries.

120 young people competed on Saturday in the i2CAP –‘I Too Can Program’ computer programming competition, the

first-ever computer programming competition in the Ashanti region.The competitors are selected from thirty (30) Senior Secondary Schools in the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo region.
. . .
The competition is both incredibly challenging and fun; it is interesting to note that students who participated in the past competition have started developing software applications.

You can see pictures here, courtesy of Ghanageek. It is wonderful to see the fierce intelligence and concentration of the young people reflected in these pictures. And it is wonderful to see female competitors as well as male.

Ghanageek adds some particularly important points:

  • This should not be a project that is dependent on only one private donor for the majority of its financial needs. There really should be more official and private weight behind this.
  • The computers the kids used. Again I got to see a lab full of old machines dumped on people in need who can’t complain and which we will have issues dealing with when they finally break. Africa is becoming way too much of a dumping ground for crappy old hardware and too many times its under the guise of altruism.

As a general observation too, these school labs might be a great place to introduce linux to kids. The schools are already broke with old hardware and yet trying to run Windows XP. it would be nice to be able to teach the people running those labs basic Linux admin and networking skills and use them to run their labs.

I thoroughly agree about the problem with “altruists” dumping crappy hardware on Ghana and other poor countries. And there should be a lot more government and private money invested here. Despite problems such as bandwidth, hardware, and collecting the necessary training expertise, I think linux is the way to go for any country who does not want to be the captive of a particular company, particularly one located in another country, and for any country that does not want to be locked into paying extortionately prohibitive licensing fees. Brazil and other countries in Latin America have been catching on to this.

Ghana’s President Kufuor reminds me of the United State’s President Bush. Both preceded their presidencies with a series of unsuccessful businesses. Both appear comfortable with looting the treasury for themselves and their cronies at the expense of the people in their countries. Both countries will likely survive these presidencies. But both will be damaged, and will the voters in both countries have the wisdom and the will to choose better leadership?

In many areas where Ghana was a leader 50 years ago, she has fallen behind. The most critical of these areas are education and health care. A healthy and educated population is the foundation of successful business and development. The best thing Ghana could do to improve her position in the world is bring back free universal public education. As an article on GhanaWeb points out:


Socially, Ghana’s government says the country has made strides in both health and education.

KSP Jantuah, disagrees.

“A child from a poor family had a better chance of going to a good school then than now”, he told AFP.

“We made (primary) school free and compulsory.

After the coups people had to start paying again”, he said, insisting that the same applies to health care.

If Ghanaian businesses wish to grow and expand, the best thing they can do is work to restore and expand access to education and health care.



The remarkable thing about teachers is that very few of them are on record to have gone completely insane in class.

I just love this lead sentence from this article, it made me laugh. The overall point of the article is that teachers need to be paid better, particularly in Ghana. This is true in the United States as well, and the author says it is also true in the UK.

Education is the foundation of economic success for any country. It is what built the economic power of the United States. And that power has only been damaged by successive Republican efforts to damage or destroy public education.

One reason for Ghana’s success has been its public education system. But that system is way underfunded and has remained somewhat stagnant. And because not everyone can afford school fees, a lot of Ghana’s talent and potential is never realized. Low salaries are a push out factor for teachers, as they are for other professionals. A serious national effort to promote and fund free universal public education would make Ghana an economic powerhouse in Africa.

Mr Kwesi Dzidzienyo, IFESH/Ghana Country Representative, presenting medical
supplies to the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital, Mapong-Akwapim.

The February 1 issue of the New England Journal of medicine has an article by Fitzhugh Mullen MD about the flight of Ghanaian professionals out of Ghana, to the United States and Europe. Doctors and nurses can make a lot more money in the US or UK.

“It’s the same for football players as it is for doctors,” I was told by Tsiri Agbenyega, dean of the medical school in Kumasi, Ghana. “We have to train a lot more than will end up in Ghana, because they all leave. The football players go to Europe, and the doctors to America and the U.K.” Agbenyega spoke with a mixture of frustration, pride, and resignation. He was pleased that Ghanaian athletes and physicians were competitive internationally, but their success meant a loss to the country — a loss more problematic in medicine than in football.
. . .
Ghana has a strong tradition of education, a public health system that has resulted in greater longevity and lower infant mortality than in much of West Africa . . . If Ghana could show the way, one might think, other African countries might be able to follow.
But not so. For much of the past decade, health improvement in Ghana has been at a standstill . . . Today, there are 532 Ghanaian doctors practicing in the United States. Although they represent a tiny fraction of the 800,000 U.S. physicians, their number is equivalent to 20% of Ghana’s medical capacity, for there are only 2600 physicians in Ghana. An additional 259 Ghanaian physicians are in practice in the United Kingdom and Canada — and this group includes only those who have successfully been licensed after leaving Ghana.
. . .
“Our only recourse is to try to train more in the hopes we will keep more,” explained Yaw Boasiako of Ghana’s Ministry of Health, who outlined an ambitious plan for doubling the number of physicians and nurses educated in the next few years. Ghana, like many English-speaking developing countries, is caught in an educational conundrum: the better the quality of their universities and the more health professionals they train, the more they lose to the United States and the United Kingdom. They have a leaky bucket now. In desperation, they’re building a bigger leaky bucket.

But that’s not all they’re doing. As in most developing countries, the private medical sector is small, and most physicians work for the government health service, which staffs the public hospitals and clinics where most people receive care. Although the salaries of Ghanaian doctors are better than those in many African countries, doctors are quick to point out that their pay is still modest. “A trained physician can make more in London in two months than we can make in a year in Ghana,” I was told frequently.
. . .
To augment physicians’ services, the ministries of health and education are expanding training opportunities for community health nurses, technical officers, and “medical assistants” — midlevel practitioners who substitute for doctors in shortage areas. For many years, the Rural Health Training School in Kintampo has provided experienced nurses with a year of advanced training and 6 months of internship to enable them to function independently as medical assistants. The school is doubling its class size to 200 but is changing to a non-nurse model, since the loss of nurses to emigration has depleted the ranks of program candidates. In the future, medical assistants will be secondary-school graduates who will receive 3 years of didactic training followed by a year of internship. Although all health care workers are subject to the pull of emigration, the global market for midlevel practitioners is not standardized, and the government hopes that most medical assistants will remain in Ghana.

. . . the single most important contribution that the United States could make would be to train more doctors at home . . . For 25 years, the number of students admitted to U.S. allopathic medical schools has remained constant, while the number of physicians we import has climbed steadily. Without ever enunciating a strategy of dependence on the world, we have created a huge U.S. market for physicians educated elsewhere, inadvertently destabilizing the medical systems of countries that are battling poverty and epidemic disease.

A commitment in the United States to ramp up medical school opportunities to a level closer to national needs would do much to slow medical migration and bring stability to medical programs in poorer countries. Perhaps soccer players will always migrate to the elite leagues of the world, but if doctors and nurses stayed closer to home, lives would be saved.

I would add that although medical professionals may be able to make a lot more money in the US or UK, there is a good chance they can live a lot better and more enjoyably in Ghana. At the same time, the Ghana government has to pay good professional salaries, and pay them on time.

The US should educate more of its own doctors and nurses. Unfortunately the Republican education policies of the last several decades have severely damaged US educational resources and opportunities. I’m hoping the tide is finally turning on this, but nothing is going to happen very fast.

Read the whole NEJM article: Doctors and Soccer Players — African Professionals on the Move.

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