To make it happen at the time, more than 80,000 people had to be forcibly relocated. That meant a loss of their land, economic activity from fishing and agriculture, ancestral home, important social values and as one author remarks, a loss of their loved ones’ grave sites. They lost their naturally fertile soils for farming for the construction of the Akosombo dam.
I was not born when the Akosombo hydro electric power plant which sits on the Volta River was commissioned in 1966. This river that runs through Northern Ghana through Volta to Eastern region has been the ‘raw material’ without which the power plant would be useless. And because of this raw material, for over 44 years the power plant has been supplying the country with much of the electricity it needs to drive the economy and sustain meaningful and enjoyable life. As expounded in the article “Who is who: Electricity or Telecommunication”, electricity ranks atop all the social provisions a nation needs for it developmental progress.
We are all aware the consequences we face as a nation when the Akosombo dam is shut down or operate below its normal capacity. During a prolonged shutdown of Akosombo dam, temporary workers are laid off, crime rate soar, hospitals are brought to a standstill leading to many premature deaths, and our homes becomes miserable. Even government of the day dread such occasions as it makes them unpopular.
And although a sizable portion of our electricity production now comes from thermal plants, there is no doubt the Akosombo dam has served Ghanaians in a manner that cannot be quantified. It is still the cheapest source of electricity in Ghana and quite frankly given the price of oil and gas on the world market, we wished we had several of such an important asset. In a sense almost every Ghanaian benefits from the Volta River.
Ironically, those from the part of the country where the Volta River runs have not been the major beneficiaries of this gift. The majority of the electricity generated even today is consumed by those in the southern part of the country. Even the consumption rate of the Eastern region is nowhere near that of the Western region. So why is it that the inhabitants along the Volta River are not clamoring that the river is in their area and therefore should be paid royalties and all the youth provided jobs? Why have these people been so generous to allow all Ghanaians to benefit from such a valuable river without demanding royalties upon royalties? Are they not aware of the value of Akosombo dam to Ghana?
Let us turn our attention to the mining communities. Although some of the mining companies pay royalties to chiefs in these areas such royalties are a token of the value of the resources taken. Again, are these people not aware of the real value of the resources on their land? Why don’t they hue and cry over the fact that they receive very little from the value of their own resource?
We must appreciate the tolerance and generosity of the people of Obuasi, Tarkwa, Prestea, Bogoso, Damang, Aboso, Kenyase, Ntronang-Abriem, Bibiani, Ahafo, Akyem, to name a few for the gold they have shared with us all this while. We must be grateful to the people of Awaso, Kyebi(Kibi), Nyinahin, Ejuanema and others for the bauxite they have long shared with us. The people of Nsuta-Wassaw, Akwade, Yakau, Himakrom must be applauded for the manganese they have long shared with us. Equally well must we be grateful to the people of Oppon Manso, Shieni, Pudo and Adum Banso for the iron ore they possess. The people from the cocoa producing areas in Ghana whom the country have depended upon for much needed cash to pay its civil servants, build schools, roads, and hospitals for years must be saluted as well.
And lastly, we must honour the people of the towns and villages who had to be relocated to give way for the construction of the Akosombo dam (which even Togo and Benin are beneficiaries) for the willingness to give up their most prized asset for the good of mother Ghana.
As such recent pronouncement by some of the chiefs and people of the areas of Ghana’s oil find is an insult to the tolerance of the above mentioned towns and villages and a mockery of their tacit willingness to share whatever they have equally with every Ghanaian citizen.
All Ghanaians should be aware that what makes a nation strong is its ability to share equally the resources scattered across its length and breadth among its citizens regardless of where one resides. That is why those in Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi and Cape Coast are able to enjoy the benefit derived from the Volta River though this river is nowhere near these towns. It is the same reason why the people of Obuasi and Tarkwa and all mineral producing areas in Ghana allow the government of Ghana total control of the mineral resources on their land.
It may interest you to know that I am from the Western Region and leaves closer to where the oil is found and naturally should join those singing the new line of chorus ‘the oil is in our land and so we should be giving the largest share’. Far from it! Contrary to the high expectations of the people I stand as a stubborn local boy reminding the people of the oil communities the immense sacrifices other communities who, for years have and still do, support our dear nation by continually sharing their valuable resources equally with all Ghanaians. And they have done this irrespective of their tribe or region. We must therefore desist from such sayings and lower our flimsy, fanatical, and seemingly high expectation of a bigger share of the oil proceeds.
I agree those displaced either economically or materially should be decently settled and there must be programs to improve the infrastructure in the area, but I do not think the people of the oil communities should be treated any differently to those in the gold or bauxite producing areas.
We must not forget that just as some people freely provided their land for the establishment of universities to which every Ghanaian has equal access to, we must also be prepared to embrace this common ideology of equal sharing that binds us together. As some willingly offered to be relocated from their rightful and perhaps ancestral birthplace and gave up their entire village for the building of the Akosombo dam, we too must be prepared to collaborate with the government and not behave like those in other oil producing countries in Africa. Again it should not be lost on our minds that just as some people offered their vast land for the creation of Kakum and Mole national parks so must we be magnanimous in accepting the authority of the state over the control of the oil resources. And just as others freely gave up their rivers for the provision of portable water in our homes so must we equally replicate this gesture by understanding that this oil find is a gift from God to all Ghanaians irrespective of where one reside.
If we can do this we will be perpetuating one of the valuable tenets that hold as together as a nation: equality and love for all.
Many Ghanaians do not know that a lot of villages in the gold-rich areas especially those living along the railway lines in the Western Region continue to be relocated from their ancestral home to make way for commercial production of gold. That is a tremendous sacrifice.
With this said we are reminding the people of the oil producing communities that it is their turn to give back to mother Ghana as done volitionally for many years by others. They should bear in mind that if they have been gifted with the sea, others too have been gifted with valuable rivers. If they now have FPSO Kwame Nkrumah, others long have had Akosombo dam. And if they have oil, others too have electricity.
But I trust the people and the chiefs of my region. As the saying goes “the best comes from the West”, we have and continue show that we are people of love and understanding. We have cocoa, gold, timber, bauxite, manganese and now oil, and all the while we have led the way for the building of a better Ghana, always flying high the glorious flag of Ghana. It is this virtue that led Nkrumah to die for the whole of Ghana and not Western Region alone.
Let us therefore keep hold to our treasured virtue and continue to demonstrate to the other regions that we care. Let us not degrade our cherished ‘best’ by giving the other regions a reason to tell us that “if you have oil I too have Akosombo dam”. If anything at all let us use diplomacy to press for a reasonable share of the resources on our land.
By Anthony Afful-Dadzie
The Ohio State University