Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The first barrel of oil: 15/12/10 - Ghana joins oil states of Africa

As of 10:06am today, Ghana has officially opened the valve to pump Ghana’s first oil and has put this country on the map, irrevocably as an oil producing country.

As I write this, my Ghanaian colleagues are huddled in the boardroom, in front of the TV sharing their reactions to the live program broadcasting the ceremony, where Ghana’s President Mills did the honours of turning the valve.

Many are excited. It’s palpable. What could this new beginning mean for Ghana? What possibility, opportunity, future is held in the frightening prospect of becoming Africa’s next big oil producer?

Being the skeptic that I’m apt to be after my 15 years in Africa, I think of the dangers. Oil in Nigeria virtually destroyed the agricultural sector — which now contributes only two percent of foreign exchange earnings. The same expansion of oil led to inflation and the growing culture of corruption. Ghanaian leaders are proving they are definitely not immune to such temptations…

David Throup of Online Africa Policy Forums Blog points out that:
Ghana urgently needs to improve its infrastructure: it needs new sewers and water pipes and ring-roads in Accra, a revamped electricity grid, improved generating facilities at Akosombo, improved rail-links from Accra to Kumasi and Tamale and on to Burkina Faso, and a renewed and extended network of secondary and tertiary feeder roads through the rural hinterland.

Others will argue for improving educational and health facilities. Such development spending would generate employment in construction and ancillary services, and hopefully promote sustained economic activity and growth. In a society where 60-70 percent of the population depends on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods and 90 percent of the population in urban areas depends on the informal sector, such job-generating spending could be beneficial. But the money must be spent wisely and over a number of years if it is not to exacerbate inflation and exceed Ghana’s capacity to absorb the spending.

These are the first days of the rest of Ghana’s life. Ghanaians are proud and hopeful. The flag is flying high and the children are so full of possibility.

These are the days where the integrity of the politicians and the maturity of the decision makers will be tested. The results will follow in years to come. The judgments must be left to posterity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ghana Chief calls for end to poverty - buys $4.7m holiday mansion

As we made our way to work this morning, through the streets of Accra, traffic lights out, dodging potholes and veering past the maimed and legless beggars, the BBC radio featured a story about Ghana’s Ashanti King, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Specifically, that the regional king, once a council worker in the UK, now on his throne in Kumasi, has just bought a GBP3million (USD $4.723m) holiday home on 22 acres in England.

By this stage I should just laugh. I have been in Africa long enough to see that the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is alive and well. I have witnessed unfathomable poverty and watched while African leaders fill Swiss bank accounts with billions and buy fleets of private jets.

The funny thing is that this time, like all the others, I am not numb enough. I still think it is pathetic and disgusting. I haven’t learned.

In October, VSO (a UK voluntary agency that works in Ghana) touted a story about the Asantehene and how he was dedicated to reducing poverty.

About how he was determined to tackle the endemic problem in his region and across the country as a whole.

As the BBC reporter described the stables and lavish swimming pool as well as the full cinema room in his new abode, I couldn’t help but wonder how many lifetimes of earnings of hundreds of thousands of poor Ghanaians would equal such a purchase.

So here are a couple calculations:

The nominal GDP per capita in Ghana is $698 (or GBP443)

This means that it would take the average Ghanaian about 6,770 years to amass such an amount.

Or to look at it a bit differently, the Asantehene could forfeit his splurge on the holiday home, and cover 6,770 of his citizens annual wages...

The Asantehene has talked a lot about targeting education, with a focus on making it more accessible and of a higher quality.

I wonder if he considered this (source):

$10 will pay for a healthcare insurance policy for a child and his or her caregiver for 1 year

$25 will pay for school fees for 1 child for 1 year

$200 will purchase 150 textbooks for 30 children for 1 academic year

$500 will pay for antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 1 child for 10 months

As his majesty walks the cold marble corridors of his new mansion, someone should let him know:

189,000 Ghanaian children could have attended school for a year with that amount; children who otherwise have no means to go.

23,615 textbooks could have been donated to needy Ghana schools

Ghanaian children could have had a better quality of life, with antiretroviral therapy for a year.

As he sips tea with global royalty, I hope he hesitates before begging for donations to aid his impoverished country, lest he burn his tongue and bite his lip at the perversion of it all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ivory Coast faces civil war while I battle the bulge...

Well I hate to admit it, but keeping at it (perseverance), not cheating (that’s no Death by Chocolate for dessert), and exercising frequently are the basic recipe to losing weight.

It’s so non-mysterious! It’s not like finding a miracle fad diet (read Twinkie diet!), and it’s not like trying for a long time and giving up because it just doesn’t work.

The bottom line is that if you eat healthily, and keep your calories in check every day, plus exercise, it doesn’t matter what age you are, it will make you more fit, and help you lose weight (or inches – since muscle weighs more than fat).

So, since my last rant, 16 days have past (bad blogger!), and that makes 24 days since I started my quest to lose the muffin top.

I am happy to report that, despite a trip to South Africa (Cape Town for the weekend! – which is always quite dangerous on the culinary front) in between, I have not cheated, I have exercised at least every second day for an hour or so, and

….drum roll…

I have lost over 4 kilos! (That’s about 9lbs). After my despair with the scale, I left it alone for a couple weeks and voila! It rewarded me when I returned, having done my part every day in between.

So, even though this only brings me back to a starting weight from previous diets, it has done wonders. I am swimming in my fat clothes and fitting (some still snugly) into my ‘medium’ jeans!! Yippee!

Does this mean I can O.D. on Nanaimo bars over the upcoming Christmas holidays back home? I mean what is a good Canadian Christmas without the 800 calorie per glass glug of egg nog (Jack in the Box brand), and trough like quantities of shortbreads and homemade balls and bars?

I am planning on doing my best to keep the indulgences at bay for the most part. Except Christmas day of course!

I WILL NOT bring my fat jeans along on this trip… but there is always the temptation of comfy leggings that accommodate any lumps, bumps and expansions. But I resolve! And how important is it in the big scheme of things??

As a little reality check – I am sitting in a capital city, 200 miles from the border of our neighboring country, that is at the brink of civil war as I write this.

Last week two political rivals were each sworn in as president and leader of the same country, and neither is willing to step down. Power sharing is apparently out of the question (and isn’t much of a solution if you take Zimbabwe as an example!).

Stay tuned.

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