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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Oil Money Brouhaha: Euphoria Has Turned To Despair

THE VOICE OF REASON:

Barrels of Oil, the Western Region Militants And Corruption Are very Combustive Elements.

The Militanization of Ghana’s Oil fields…..

PEOPLE; LET’S TAKE a peek into what’s in store for our corrupt and lousy politicians and their foreign collaborators when the oil starts flowing.

Few weeks ago the Ghanaians’ dreadful fear was amplified to the highest decibel by the report that the Niger Delta notorious militants from Nigeria –who are known for their kidnappings and blowing up oil installations --are allegedly in town to train and arm the Ghanaian locals in the western region---to destabilize the impending oil industry, and possibly make life unbearable for the government and the average Ghanaians.

That news is resulting fear that our policy makers and politicians might not be able to enjoy the life style they have envisioned. It sends a wave of uncertainty rippling through the political corridors; just as they thought they got everything down pat .The anxiety is making the Ghanaian officials very nervous and causing some sleepless nights at Castle. The news is making everyone jittery, without paying any attention to the real issue on the oil debate. Make those three issues: inequity, inequity, inequity!

Right now the only stumbling blocks are the politicians’ unwillingness to handle the nation’s money with clean hands and put the people’s interests and aspirations ahead of their own and give the people reasons to dream big and live a more fulfilling life. Folks, that is too much to fulfill if you’re thinking of going on a shopping spree in London and stash few million dollars here and there, in foreign bank accounts when the oil starts to flow.

If you have been following the “oil money” debate in the media and on the web lately, you will notice that most people believe in two things. One: The oil money will bring us more misery than bliss. Two: The criminal elements will camp out in Ghana and prey on innocent people.

But, there is one thing no one is saying—at least not in public. Yes, Ghanaians are going to be super lazy and wait for government’s handouts, but the next election is going to be very deadly and dangerous, to say the least. The surest way for one to get access to the oil money or wind up having a Swiss bank account is be an elected official or a politician. Therefore, the next Ghanaian election seasons are not going to be the same. There will be serious incidents and accidents because the career politicians won’t go away calmly .Those waiting in the wings to taste the gravy will do anything and everything to get rid of the old guards. If you don’t believe me that is your business. But, I will be proven right come next national election. So stay tuned!

Let’s face it. Ghana is not a member of OPEC, yet more has been written about the dangers and negative impacts of oil on Ghana than its benefits—I wonder why! Come on, People, don’t be too negative!

Ya, way to go! Give it up to the Nigerians, they know how to start trouble and teach Ghanaians how to make a living. Does an armed robbery, or 419 or Sakawa ring a bell? Why bother to look for a job if you can pick up weapons and terrorize the nation, all in the name of looking out for number one and the fair share of the “national pie”?

The fact of the matter is Ghanaians are very suspicious and wary of the politician’s ability to handle huge amounts of the nation’s money very judiciously. That suspicion is fueled by the fact that African politicians in general and Ghanaian politicians in particular, are not trustworthy when it comes to the people’s needs and money.

Akwatia in the Kwaebibrim district is tucked between Asamankese and Kade .It was once the only diamond mining center in Ghana ,back in the days ,yet the revenue from the diamond never trickled down to the residents of the area—who lost their faming lands and livelihoods in lieu of a better life for their future and their families’ future. But, that didn’t materialize.

Driving around in the middle of the town that once was among the most productive towns in Ghana, there was little traffic and minimal commercial activity, other than the storekeepers selling their dusty, outdated and suntanned wares, and the residents hanging out to kill time. Now Akwatia is just a ghost –town with no viable business activities. What you’ll see are wasted landscapes and empty bungalows with their bushy lawns.

The last time I checked the mines were closed and the only thing left is the hope of the people and a little resilience to believe in miracles .It’s amazing how they still stand in line several hours every four years to cast their votes. They surely deserve medals.

The story repeats itself across West -Africa and the entire Africa region. There are many instances of corrupt African officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use, while their people starve.

Either they receive bribes or extortion payments from the companies doing business in their countries, as a percentage of their contracts, or they cook up cockamamie schemes to transfer their countries’ hard earned money into personal foreign bank accounts.

In our own neighborhood in Ghana, politicians are not great custodians of our money and natural resources either .Case in point :during the rush for presidential candidacy and the lunatic display of cold cash by some of the NPP aspirants, the impression was created that they had their private central banks that mint money with no restriction. That speaks volumes of our politicians’ lack of compassion, responsibility and humility.

Recently, the New York Times has featured articles upon articles about West African governments’ corrupt officials that really bring head-scratching and embarrassing moments —to say the least. In November 17th 2009 issue, The Times outlined the assets of Teodoro Nguema Obiango. He’s the son of the Equatorial Guinea’s president and minister of Forest and Agriculture. Yep, he is in charge of the timber logging industry and the other natural resources. Go figure!

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According to the news report, he allegedly owns an Oceanfront home in Malibu, California with a price tag of $39 million, a Gulfstream V jet which costs only $38million, two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, at $350,000 each. Two Maybachs, at $350,000 each .Bentley Arrange at $240.000.00, speed boats and other worldly toys and amenities. He “travels routinely to United states with (pocket money) over $ 1 million”--- Oh, Lordy!

He’s not the only one. His cousin next door in Gabon--Ali Bongo, the son of the late long time ruler Omar Bongo, is not doing badly at all. The “Bongo system”, as the people refer to, left him a lot of worldly toys. It’s rumored that the elder Mr. Bongo left his son “66 bank accounts, 153 cars, 38 luxury properties in France and big government constructions in Libreville. The Bongo family owns every thing in Gabon.

The late Omar Bongo envisioned his capital as a monument to him: “Legislators meet in the Palais Omar Bongo, students attend the Universite Omar Bongo, and athletes compete in the Gymnase Omar Bongo”.

Ali Bongo who won the Presidential election in last August, is living in the fortress-like presidential palace and enjoys his booty from the oil money with his government officials ,who are protected by the French military base, whilst the rest of his country men and women are just getting by.

Look at the legacy of the late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s mega 40 billion franc Basilica, he left in Yamassokro, Cote d’Ivoire .I wonder how many people’s lives could he have changed if that money was directed into poverty eradicating programs and education.

Let’s also take a look at the legacy of the late Siaka Stevens of Sierra-Leone who treated the country as a personal business venture whilst his people starved. He surely prepared the country for a civil war which claimed many innocent lives. He sowed the seed of militancy, thugs and discontent.

Nigerian politicians also have their own corruption genes and the taste- of - fleet- of- cars tendencies in the highest proportion, which subsequently germinated and perpetuated the birth of the Niger Delta Militants .So we all know what our politicians can do and will do when the oil starts to flow. However, no one is going to cry for them when they forget the ones who elected them, especially the poorest members of the society.

The answers to militancy is job creation, education, provision of infrastructure and give the people the reason to be optimistic .This can be achieved by the government using the oil money to design legal source of income for the Ghanaians who want to work in general and the residents of the area in particular.

Oh yes I know, as soon as the oil money starts to flow the corrupt officials will come out the woodwork and begin to go on a shopping spree, and leave the people dry to fend for themselves. That will be the surest way to sow the seeds of militancy, thugs and other unhealthy elements to disrupt our development and fragile infant democracy. The inequities in the system can always, easily fuel violence.

In Nigeria it’s a well-known fact that eighty -percent of the oil money goes to one- percent of the population. I wonder why the Niger Delta is burning. Burn, baby burn!

In Ghana, we’re at a period when no one should play games with our minds. We need a whole new mindset, and visionary leaders to manage the oil money judiciously to yield the greatest dividend; if Ghanaians want to work, live, raise their families and ultimately die on their mother land.

Militants or no militants, Ghana is not an Equatorial Guinea or Gabon or Sierra-Leone where one family and its government officials run the nation’s affair like a personal business. Ghanaians have suffered too long and been poor for too long.

Sure, some of you reading this piece either were not born or too young to experience the hardships some of us went through in those dark days of I.K Acheampong’s regime .Some of us had to queue from 3 am till 9 am just to buy one bar of soap , a can of milk and a roll of toilet tissue. Trust me, I’m not making this up. We know what a hardship is when we see it. Anyone who hasn’t lived in that period can’t possibly understand the physical toll it forcibly extracted from us. The experience eroded my already limited trust for humankind and Ghanaian leaders, and perfected my fear of leaders who only look out for themselves and their immediate families and friends.

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So hell no, not this time, hell or heavens, no stone will be left unturned. This is a gospel according to the people. Can those with ears hear me now before things fall apart?

Are you there? Please don’t sleep on me !

The Western region can be a breeding ground for violence or a fountain of hope for Ghana. However, can the nation’s soaring expectations which are unwilling to be negotiated or compromised be contained if our leaders defaulted on their promises?

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (THE VOICE OF REASON) NJ, USA.

*The writer is a social commentator and The Founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment, Educational and Apprenticeship Programs.