At midnight on March 6, 54 years ago, when Ghana stepped out of the shadows of colonialism and became an independent nation, its visionary first president, Kwame Nkrumah, said, “Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever …” adding, “the independence of Ghana is meaningless without the total liberation of Africa.”
Our hopes were great for Ghana to become a significant player on the world stage. For too complicated a scenario to describe here, that did not happen. But, today, Ghana has a second chance.
Ghana has had two decades as a successful democracy. It is has been growing economically and is well on the way to becoming a middle-income country. Oil has been discovered off the western coast and the first wells are coming into production.
Oil has been both a blessing and a curse for many countries. It has brought countries money but also pollution, violence over disparities, inequities in development, exploitation by foreign companies and an increase in corruption. Ghana will not be immune to these problems any more that the U.S. is, but it is certainly moving in the direction of having the oil propel it to greater prominence.
Money, both local and donor funds, has been devoted to determining the conditions of the environment and marine resources in the area of drilling to minimize potential damage.
A vibrant press and, particularly radio, is providing the mechanism for the people to watch the government’s behavior and improve transparency.
New, large, hotels are rising near the airport, including a Holiday Inn. New housing is springing up in anticipation of both newcomers and residents with increased financial resources. Commercial building is expanding. A new mall is in place in Accra, the capital.
Yet, what encourages me is not just the economic activity, as that can burst and just benefit a few, but the long-range actions for a better future for all.
I recently participated in a workshop looking at opportunities to move fish farming into the sea by placing cages in the open ocean. Doing so takes advantage of the oil activities at sea and increases food supply. It also provides alternative livelihoods for some fishermen and developes new markets brought about by the oil boom.
A second area is the improvement of the capacity of the laboratories of the Council on Science and Industry Research (CSIR), led by my good friend, the first woman deputy director-general, Dr. Mamaa Entsua-Mensah. She is developing partnerships with universities such as McGill in Canada and Cornell and Tuskegee in the U.S. and with the Agricultural Research Institute in Colombia. The products of CSIR laboratories can drive the economy.
It is forward looking efforts such as these, combined with the income from petroleum development, that will move Ghana towards a greater role on the world stage. I am convinced that the advancement of African countries will benefit us in the struggle for justice and equality in the United States. Just look at how the rise of the Asian countries has impacted the U.S. in the last 50 years.