10 June 2008

Ghana: Oil, Millionaires And the Poor


Tamale — The question hanging today in the dusty Ghanaian air is: creating few millionaires out of the oil yet to be tapped or putting in place sustainable structures that will ensure lasting prosperity for millions of Ghanaians who have suffered too long? This is what we all want to be sure of. We are all interested in which direction if we take is likely to build for us a new Ghana.

A new Ghana which is respected by even those who have never taken as serious and only see us as tame gorillas, a new Ghana with a prosperous economy, a new Ghana which has recaptured its lost hope and can see an incredible bright future. But it is like we are going to fall into the oil trap. Already some Ghanaians have started having fantasies of becoming extremely rich to be accepted as a member of the millionaires club.

God bless whoever pushed the idea of Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) into the heads of Rawlings, his men and women to invest in the oil exploration and also Kufuor, his men and women who did not abandon the project. Ghana is to become a proud member of global oil producers by 2010. By either late 2009 or 2010 Tano Basin of the Gulf of Guinea in the Western Region is to start oil production.

When production starts, it is expected that 60,000 barrels of oil will flow in a day and this will be increased to 300,000 barrels a day by 2012. Also Kosmos Energy has a good story for Ghanaians.

Its oil field at West Cape Three Points also in Western Region is the largest discovery in deep water West Africa and potentially the largest single field discovery in the region.

According to the story, first oil production is to start by 2010. These stories make the oil production from Saltpond field no story. Saltpond field produces 700 barrels a day, which is so insignificant. And Ghana is to make about 51% share of the revenue from the oil production. What a fortune!

It is therefore time for Ghana to become a truly land of great opportunity for millions of Ghanaians to succeed here and not to go to South Africa to be chased out. This is the time for lessons in basic virtues, like integrity, self-denial, hard work, self-reliance, ambition and courage. This is the time to infuse into the Ghanaian a spirit of enterprise and focus our attention to things that will most benefit us all not just a privileged few among us.

The story coming from the oil producing countries should make us wiser. In those countries today, millionaires have been created out of the oil boom but the rich-poor gap is growing wider by the day. The poor are getting poorer than when they did not boast of millionaires. And that security for the rich is a big problem.

Yes, it is good to create millionaires out of our own resources but it is better to make sure that they live in society where every family poor and rich can live in a decent home in decent neighbourhood, where children can play in parks and not the streets of slums, where no home is unsafe or unsanitary, where a good well motivated doctor and a well equipped hospital are neither too far away nor too expensive and also where the water is clean and the air is pure and our streets are safe all the time.

Rockefeller of America created his wealth out of the commodity as important as oil. He became a well recognised American millionaire but Rockefeller devoted much of his life and resources to charity. He endowed the University of Chicago and went to the extent of setting up a foundation to dispense millions of dollars to educational and health efforts not only in his country, U.S. but around the world.

It is on record that Wal-Mart gave rural Americans, people of modest means, more choice and quality for less cost. Its founder, Sam Walton, became the richest man in the world. When he died in 1992, his fortune was worth about 28 billion dollars.

The ambitions of these millionaires were to improve the quality of life for millions of people. And they did. This is real legacy. It points to the ethical heart of those who have: help to others. Without it, wealth is meaningless.

There is nothing wrong to be very prosperous beyond imagination, but what is the purpose? You can dream to become so rich, but once you get more than enough, it is a blessing to picture what you can do with your good fortune. There is the need to search for the meaning. Helping poor people to get out of their poverty will bring the meaning.

Today everyone is talking about making a fortune from the oil yet to be produced. It is dangerous for us to build our economy from oil alone. Rather we should think of diversifying our economy away from the oil dependency. Russia and Nigeria have fallen into the oil trap. They have become lazy riding on the back of oil money.

They are not too much interested in the needed modernisation of the manufacture sector and dealing with the devil called corruption.

Ray Kroc, an eminent American used a shrewd real estate strategy to turn a faltering hamburger franchise operation into a fast-food empire. Another American, Mary Kay Ash, built a billion-dollar direct sales cosmetics company by preaching a message of economic empowerment to women.

There were many millionaires in America and elsewhere who made good profits from not oil but commodities like flour, sugar and tobacco they traded. There were others who made money from working on their farms. They built their fortune slowly on reputation, connections and attention to detail. They were passionate patriot. Their large fortune had a strong influence over the future of their beloved country. They became the financiers of their country.

All these people have something in common: uncompromising vision, a willingness to take great risks and exceptional business acumen. They did not only amass great wealth for themselves, their families and their friends, they revolutionalized business and contributed so much in shaping societies. Indeed, names like Morgan, Rockefeller and now Gates are virtual synonyms for great wealth. But there is one thing that should be upheld, and it is that the success stories of these fantastic millionaires are far from just greed.

What we need in Ghana today, are people with larger-than-life ambition to provide inspired leadership and hard work to make and sell, to organise and finance, to discern and serve the needs and desires of others.

They will have to help put in place sustainable structures that will ensure that the less privileged have employment to earn them decent income that will give them at least the basic things they need to make their lives reasonably enjoyable. Then the millionaires can be secured and have their peace to enjoy their wealth. We should also make sure that the communities that will produce the oil will have a good share of the wealth. Those communities should become modern towns with all the good things that will even get other people from other towns to want to go and settle there.

Else the oil production will become a curse. The signals coming from Western Region should tell us that they will not sit down to be cheated this time.

They will fight to have the share of the wealth from their land. Western Region has given mass wealth to Ghana from natural resources and food but the region remains poor. With the 700 barrels of oil coming from Saltpond a day, it should have been more pleasant living at that small town which has a place in the history of the independence of Ghana.

Let it take 20 years to tell whether the oil helped us or hurt us, but it should be said that certainly the oil did not leave us where we once found ourselves.

Copyright © 2008 Ghanaian Chronicle. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.