Politics, Partnerships and Petroleum
Recently I attended Oxfam in Ghana’s Country Learning Review – an end of year appraisal with its partners. A topic on the agenda was “active citizenship”. One speaker stated that historically, effective states have not come into existence without the efforts of active citizens. Oxfam’s partners would certainly testify that any successful advocacy campaign requires the support and actions of a critical mass of people. To be an active citizen we were told, a person should be aware of both their rights and their responsibilities and be as active in ensuring the protection of the former as in the execution of the latter. But what about the state?
In the course of my work for TradeAID, I have seen individual active citizens let down by branches of the state neglecting their responsibilities to the citizens. I do not mean in this post to criticise the whole Government of Ghana, I would like to present my experience of working for a small development NGO which has reinforced my thinking that without the co-operation of local and perhaps national government departments, any small-scale development project will fail, or at best be unsustainable.
In the rural communities I have visited around Bolgatanga, a common complaint from people living there was that having eeked a harvest from scarcely available, infertile and un-irrigated land, they struggle to get any surplus to market due to insufficient or non-existent public transport or poorly maintained roads which disintegrate during the rainy season.
These same communities are surrounded by shea nut trees. The seed of the fruit is currently used to make shea butter for cooking or cosmetics. The shea nut has huge potential to bring industry, employment and additional income to these communities. However it is currently in direct competition with cocoa – a profitable crop and significant foreign exchange earner – subsumed as it is under the cocoa board. If a separate shea board were established and investments made in the necessary infrastructure to establish a viable value-chain, then money really would be growing on trees up in the north!
On a touristic visit to Tongo a small town close to Bolgatanga I was shown the small hospital and was surprised (due to the size of the hospital) to see a shiny new ambulance parked under a shelter outside. However my friend related to me that unfortunately this vehicle was not working.. I learnt at the Oxfam conference that one partner has put taxi drivers in their area on standby to transport people to hospital as they also have a useless ambulance. Those being forced to pay for the taxi have most likely paid their National Health Insurance premiums to the government on the understanding that health care facilities and services would be there when they needed them.
What I’ve seen and learnt echoes the established ideas of the importance of viable institutions for equitable economic and social development. For a simple example, how can a state effectively provide for its citizens without an efficient tax department? And for development projects, partnerships with state apparatus is crucial. There’s no point in increasing agricultural productivity at village-level if the road is too bad to get the surplus to market.
It appears that Ghana has a citizenship very capable of being the force to ensure an effective state. A favourite topic of conversation here appears to be politics and politicians, mainly what they are failing to do for their citizens. Politics to Ghanaians is what the weather is to the British. But it extends beyond idle chatter… turnout at the presidential election last December was around 80% (last UK general election 65.1%) and Oxfam’s partners at the conference provided some great examples of successful advocacy campaigns involving mobilising citizens to generate a collective loud voice.
One particular area where the efficacy of the state, and the strength of its citizens to uphold their rights is being tested, is the management of Ghana’s latest oil discoveries. The Jubilee Oil Field was discovered in 2007 and is reported to contain up to 3 billion barrels of light oil. To date the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporations has received $337.3m in revenue since production started in December 2010. We heard at the conference that communities in the vicinity are yet to receive the expected developmental advantages, and in fact their fishing industry is suffering as a result of pollution.
With the example of nearby Nigeria (what not to do) to learn from; the skills and experience of Ghanaian and foreign activists and advocates to benefit from; and the political engagement of a significant proportion of the population in this issue, much attention will be focussed on Ghana and Ghanaians as explorations and revenues increase. We wait with impatience to discover if the liquid gold will be a blessing or a curse on the country.