Ghana pledges to make oil wealth a blessing

Ghana has begun production from one of the largest recent oil discoveries in West Africa, transforming it into a significant producer, but raising fears over the associated risks. President John Atta-Mills flew by helicopter to an oil-processing vessel located at the offshore field and symbolically opened a valve signifying the start of production last Wednesday.

He pledged his government would ensure the oil became “a blessing and not an oil curse”, with output set to result in revenue that has been estimated at as much as $1bn (R6.9bn) a year. “We will not let you down,” he said, promising the oil would be used to catapult Ghana into a “modern 21st-century prosperous industrial nation”.

A video of Atta-Mills performing the ceremonial opening was screened to dignitaries gathered at the nearby town of Takoradi, where traditional drumming greeted the start of production.

“I hope we put this resource to good use,” Ghana’s former president Jerry Rawlings said. “At the same time, we should not over-rely on this resource and neglect other areas of the economy like other states have done.” The oil curse, some say, could well take hold in Ghana, reversing development and political gains.

The country is already a major producer of cocoa and gold. Tullow says it will produce about 55000 barrels a day (bpd) within the first few months before more than doubling output to 120000 bpd. While considerable, the amount is only a fraction of Nigeria’s 2 million? bpd.

Ghana will be keen to avoid the unrest that has plagued Nigeria’s main oil -producing region, the Niger Delta, where scores of attacks and kidnappings have occurred.

Traditional chiefs in Ghana are already calling for 10% of oil wealth. Investment in villages close to the oil field is crucial for Ghana to avoid a situation like the one in the Niger Delta. Awulae Attibrukusu, a traditional chief in the region, one of Ghana’s least developed, said the oil “provides new hope”.