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