June 2007

click on the map to see the larger view

I spoke to family in Ghana tonight and asked what people were thinking about the oil discovery. Mostly it was very low on the list of concerns. And the general feeling I heard, was that the oil news is mostly government propaganda. This was a minimal part of the conversation, but interesting none the less.
I found the map above, showing the location of the oil discovery, and also the information below from rigzone.com:

Anadarko is the technical operator of the well with a 30.875% interest. Kosmos Energy is the block operator and holds a 30.875% interest. Other partners include Tullow Ghana Limited, an affiliate of Tullow Oil plc, with a 22.896% interest and Sabre Oil and Gas Limited with a 1.854% interest in the block. The E.O. Group, a Ghanaian oil and gas company, holds a 3.5% interest in the block. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation will be carried through the exploration and development phases with a 10% participating interest.


This sentiment seems particularly apt since the announcement of an oil discovery in Ghana. With appreciation to Amaah’s photos. He is also the author of Koranteng’s Toli.

Njei Moses Timah

Most African countries’ petroleum revenue has simply disappeared.

He continues:

It is my opinion that Kufuor’s elation about this oil find is a little bit naive. As a seasoned politician and African Union (AU) chairman, he is better placed to know that oil and other minerals have contributed more to African backwardness than the want of resources.

These resources have fanned civil wars in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Chad. Coups and mercenary incursions have occurred in almost all resource-rich African countries. The corruption and graft that follows the discovery of these resources has destroyed the social fabric of many of these so-called oil or mineral producing African countries. Bad governance, weak and inefficient institutions, poor accountability, crime and parasitic state employees (now a hallmark of these countries) have all contributed to chase Africa’s best brains out of the continent. There is no doubt that this brain drain is negatively affecting the competence and the commitment of those left behind to negotiate trade terms with foreign partners and administer these countries.

Timah proposes that the African Union band together to negotiate oil contracts and to stand firm against the predatory exploitation and interference that is sure to come.

The AU should be seriously thinking about how they can negotiate the management of African resources with external powers. The current way of doing things will never move Africa out of backwardness. Leaders of most African countries are usually manipulated, cajoled, bullied or simply bribed to sign unfavorable contracts with foreign partners. Those that have resisted these pressures in the past have simply been “physically removed” or their governments subverted in one form or another.

Oil is the most important commodity in the world today and those that need that commodity most are very powerful nations. China and the United States are not going to fold their arms and allow Ghana to quietly enjoy the proceeds of the over $40 billion worth of oil (less exploration and production costs) that has been discovered. It has never been so in other oil producing African countries. The AU should understand this and accept the reality that many African countries can neither protect their resources from external economic predators nor negotiate fair trading terms with them.

The comments on his article are interesting as well

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.

Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor pose for photo with local children during a road completion ceremony near Accra, capital of Ghana, June 19, 2006. Wen and Kufuor co-inaugurated Monday the road between Ofankor and Nsawan, a portion of the trunk road linking Ghana’s capital Accra and the west African country’s second biggest city Kumasi.

Harold French has an article in the International Herald Tribune about the Chinese footprint growing across Africa. China’s fundamental interest is oil, China really needs to expand supply to meet skyrocketing demand.

French compares an Ethiopian Airlines flight filled with Chinese, to those flights he has taken to Africa from the United States:

Yes, there is a smattering of business people and of tourists. But the Americans who travel to Africa tend to be aid workers of one kind or another: officials of the U.S. government and of the international financial institutions, like the World Bank, and the army of well-paid consultants and contractors that they deploy. They are also relief workers and missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers, and academics doing research.

There is much to be gleaned from the contrast here. Chinese people today look at Africa and see opportunity, promise and a fertile field upon which their energies, mercantile and otherwise, can be given full play. Too often, the West looks at Africa and sees a problematic pupil, a sickly patient, and a zone of pestilence, where failure looms in the air like a curse.

To be sure, China will not forever be the fresh-faced and idealized suitor that many in Africa take it to be today. This is clearly a special, honeymoon-like moment. But the very appeal of China owes a great deal to disillusionment in Africa with the West, whose preachiness and shifting prescriptions, whose unreliability and penchant in the face of frustration for damning cultural explanations for Africa’s failures, free of critical self-examination, have left many Africans exasperated.

This exasperation has been the all but unacknowledged backdrop to a string of recent events, from the Wolfowitz scandal at the World Bank to the recent Group of 8 summit meeting, the common threads being Western posturing about helping Africa, a failure to deliver on promises and the dearth of African voices heard, or even admitted into the debate.

It is particularly this last that truly infuriates Africans: the dearth of African voices heard, or even admitted into the debate, as well as the West’s unreliability and penchant in the face of frustration for damning cultural explanations for Africa’s failures.

In a previous post I quoted Kenyan journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo on the World Bank:

Not too long ago, in many African countries, the second most powerful person after the president was not the army commander or the vice president, but the World Bank country representative.

The policy prescriptions of the Bank . . . and loan conditions could neither be reviewed nor questioned by elected parliaments and cabinets.

And following World Bank and IMF prescriptions has left many African countries with these results:

So, at the end of the day, by following the advice of western experts you’ve destroyed your rural economy, gone from a country which could feed itself to a net importer of food, created huge slums around your cities, increased the instability of your country – and haven’t modernized.
. . .

When citizens of third world countries talk about how the West in general, and America in specific, is keeping them down, this is much of what they’re talking about.

French notes the same thing in his article, including the following statements:

Thérèse Mekombé, a member of a Chadian commission created to supervise the use of that country’s oil revenues, was categorical in an interview, saying, “The World Bank is not a partner in development, and can never be a partner in our development.”

Another recent exception was an op-ed column by the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, which was published in this newspaper, urging G-8 nations to invest in Africa “like India and China.”

And as French ads:

Compare this with China, whose diplomacy has been on a tear across the continent recently, writing off debt, exempting African exports from trade duties, lending increasingly huge amounts of money, and, generally speaking, making things happen quickly and in a big way.

Surely China is pursuing its own interests. Just as surely, much of what it is attempting will not pan out, or will have deleterious effects, particularly since no distinction is made between governments that are relatively clean and representative and those that are odious.

(Between the West and China) . . . it is not hard to see who is gaining ground.

Despite Bush, the United States still has a moderately good reputation in Africa, and still holds a position of some respect. Most African governments continue to deal with the US. This is primarily the result of work by Presidents Carter and Clinton. Carter’s emphasis on human rights made a huge impact around the world. It is a great shame the US turned away from this immediately following Carter under Reagan. And Clinton has enjoyed a fabulous relationship with Africa where he is viewed as a brother.

Southern thinking and traditions are not often held in esteem by the US intelligentsia, aside from the GOP southern strategy to take advantage of white racism. But I often think that leaders with open minds, who come out of the south, have a greatly enhanced ability to achieve some success in resolving intransigent issues. Southerners know how to talk and keep talking. They have had to keep talking to work out the issues of civil rights. And when you have two sides that are completely opposed, the only possible peaceful solution lies in talking and talking and keeping talking, even when there looks like no possibility of compromise.

The present US approach to Africa, military assistance, the Africa Command, with diplomacy and aid subsumed under the Pentagon’s aegis, is exactly the wrong way to go. It continues the western mistakes and arrogance that French describes. The Africom message is control and containment.

Those people who “look at Africa and see opportunity, promise and a fertile field upon which their energies, mercantile and otherwise, can be given full play” are likely to do better both for African countries and for themselves. Although the same caveat applies here as everywhere in the world. It is critical for everyone to think long term about human rights and about the environment.

With some thoughts on American justice Bush/Gonzales style.

Salah Abdallah “Gosh” has been accused of failing to stop the mass murder of 300,000 people and making a further two million homeless in Sudan.
The African multi-country Committee for Intelligence and Security Services (Cissa) met in Sudan this past week. Sudan made it into a big party and spectacle, which seems oddly at odds with spying. Spies and media were flown in at the expense of the Sudanese government.

You can read more about it here at iol.co.za:

Dennis Dlamini, Cissa’s executive secretary, took a firm hand of the briefing, spelling out the guiding principles behind Cissa, which had been somewhat glossed over by the conference chair, Brig Mohammed Al Hassan. Sanctity of human life, individual security and not regime security, and “shunning” genocide were all assumed to be the values of its members. Immediately, there was a barrage of questions from Arabic journalists, on whether Cissa was going to collaborate with the United States. Of course, most African governments already are, including Sudan, but Dlamini did not want to divulge any details. Neither was it clear how many members Cissa had. At the end claims were made that 46 African nations had joined, but many of them did not appear to be at the conference. Then again, maybe that’s why they’re called spooks.

The account includes this noteworthy description:

Then we were herded after being scanned twice into a briefing room and then taken to attend the closing remarks of the new Cissa chairman, General Salah Abdallah Gosh, Sudan’s top security agent. Gosh looked like he hadn’t slept for years. He had a soft voice, and his one eyelid drooped, and overall there was only one description for his demeanour: Spooky.

And Gosh made this rather astonishing set of remarks:

Gosh was waylaid by some American journalists. Rather flustered for a spymaster, he returned to the podium and began to take questions. He responded most of the time in Arabic, with no attempt being made to translate. However, he did make the astounding statement that the Darfur crisis only existed in America, where it was an issue between the Democrats and Republicans.

Which raised the very serious question: Is Gosh the right person to run an organisation that is supposed to feed Africa’s early warning system for possible conflicts?

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