As president Obama reads the reactions to his first fleeting visit to the Middle East, his first proposed African visit is also causing quite a stir.
In just over a month, Obama will undertake his first visit to the continent. The country he will visit is not the powerhouse of West Africa, Nigeria, but its smaller neighbour Ghana.
In Nigeria this is already being seen as a political snub. Some see it as a reflection of the political and economic chaos in the country, which is vividly shown by the continued oil-related violence in the Niger Delta.
If anyone looked at the chaos of the Nigerian oil industry, it would be probably be incomprehensible that anyone would feel jealousy at the situation in the country. After 50 years of oil exploitation, the Niger Delta remains a vortex of violence, corruption is rife, and millions continue to live in poverty.
Companies such as Shell which has exploited the Delta oil for decades, now find themselves in the dock in a new York Court room accused of complicity to murder and other human rights abuses in a case that has far reaching consequences.
You might think that Ghana would see the curse that oil has brought to Nigeria and would feel blessed that they do not have any oil reserves. But rather than walk away, Ghana is about to follow Nigeria down the oil- road.
As the BBC recently reported: “After decades of casting jealous looks at its oil rich-neighbours, the taps of Ghana’s very own oil boom are about to open.” It is full steam ahead and yesterday the country offered 11 more exploration licenses and the prospects of more finds are “extremely high,” the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation said. “It’s looking very exciting and there’s a lot of potential,” said Michael Aryeetey, senior geologist at the GNPC, which oversees the industry.
“We’ve seen what others that have found oil have gone through and we’ve looked at their mistakes” adds finance minister Kwabena Duffuor, adding that “In 10 years time Ghana will be a very prosperous nation. “Our oil will be a blessing and not a curse.”
That will be easier said than done. Already former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has got involved trying to make sure that Ghana avoids the mistakes of the Niger Delta. “There are a million lessons that Ghana can learn from Nigeria,” Duncan Clarke, an oil expert at Global Pacific & Partners told the BBC.
The monetary stakes are high. Earlier this year the International Monetary Fund (IMF), predicted that Ghana could generate some 20 billion US dollars from its oil and gas reserves.
There are major differences though to the Niger Delta, where Shell’s operations are historically based onshore, adding to the tensions with the local community, who bear the brunt of the pollution, including gas flaring and routine oil spillages, whilst having to witness expat oil workers living a life of luxury.
Ghana’s oil will be offshore. But even this has problems. “An offshore oil business can be designed so that no oil actually comes on shore, limiting the ability of locals to benefit,” says Tutu Agyare, of London-based Nubuke Investments. “If locals do not have the skills and access to the oil industry, then you end up with a situation where people are very aggrieved.”
Maybe President Obama should visit the Niger Delta first and see for himself the curse of oil, so he could personally warn Ghana of the dangers of black gold.