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Oil trap and the Ghanaian worker's yoke

Fri, 22 Apr 2005 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Samuel Osei-Frempong

Accra, April 22, GNA - Along the long tiny Spintex road, where urban road planning and population growth have nothing in common, bad tampered drivers add to the frustration of workers, who commute daily on the z-shaped road.

When the huge population of old Accra and Tema started moving towards the area as a result of real estate development boom, a long strip of dried bitumen remained as the only smooth surface to commute on.

So when a driver, who claims to hail from Saltpond in the Central Region and a Muslim Cleric, who claims to have visited the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, tango violently, over a thousand cedi change after sunset, fellow passengers could only watch, after all, such drama are staged daily.

The driver had increased the fare unilaterally, knowing very well that few commercial vehicles would ply the route after sunset. He had told the Cleric that oil was being drilled in his beloved Saltpond and that he knew how difficult it was to get petrol so he must pay to make up for his loss.

He said passengers complained about hikes in fares because they were short sighted and had no idea about the oil business. The Cleric said he had walked the oil fields of Arabia and would not allow a naughty driver who had never possessed a passport to cheat him. It is a struggle that goes on in the life of the Ghanaian as he employs zeal in his pain to understand the trap in which he finds himself.

It would not be out of place to say that when petroleum price goes up, the price of everything in Ghana goes up. Porters otherwise called "kaya yoos" double the cost of their services as the Landlord seeks upward adjustment of rent. No one can begrudge them because when they go to the market, foodstuff vendors would blame the new cost of transporting her stuff to the market from Techiman or Bumprugu to Accra.

The price of a substance that was once regarded as waste in refineries has shot up.

The search, drilling, transporting and selling of oil is a highly confusing enterprise for those who are not part of the chain. In fact it is confusing. It is economics laced with ideology and power. Most non-oil producing poor countries have no idea how this commodity has ensnared them, throwing their economies into undesirable directions and subjecting them to the whims of some grandeur principles of economics and international relations.

Most economists say that oil prices adversely affected the economies of poor nations in 1970s when the Jews fought the Arabs in one of their apocalyptic wars.

But poor nations looked on and had their economies swept away. Several years later, they are faced with another major oil price driven by the desires of the almost awakened giant of the East -China - and a number of obvious factors.

When ministers of poor countries speak on the effects of oil on their economies, they display high-pitch ignorance, forcing watchers to conclude that if a once brilliant student of economics cannot understand what goes on in the rigs and refineries and commodity markets, would a driver from Saltpond and a sad local religious Cleric ever know what goes through the mind of an oil Sheik? His flock measures much in length and in value. His headband secures a hold of a veil around his ears and forehead and even the contours that seem to express thoughts are concealed. He intends to blame the managers of the huge haulage sea tanks and argues that patent owners of oil drilling technology and the bizarre tax system are to blame.

But the owners of a once wasteland now turned pristine cannot be absolutely free of blame. He would do anything to finance his most cherished habits-flamboyance and extravagance. The lack of oil promotes poverty as the possession of it sparks high levels of consumerism.

The lucky ones are those whose leaders used oil revenue to rejuvenate the agricultural and manufacturing sectors but for the majority, giant offshore companies zoomed in with the luxuries and allure of complex advertising strategies, which sent the locals to supermarkets rather than factories and farmlands. Some brought in guns to silence loud-mouthed locals while they littered and messed up the environment as they wire huge profits into unknown vaults.

A leader of a big African nation once sent one of his best writers to the gallows for daring to talk about the pollution and deprivation that oil drilling had brought on his community. The poor driver would certainly not appreciate the matrix that baffles his leaders.

Nations that appreciate the work of their scientists are gradually drifting towards the development of alternative sources of energy to escape the oil trap. But strangely, Ghana is contemplating the expansion of its thermal facilities. Environmental politicking is one activity now helping many countries as they researched diligently into solar; wind; biogas and community based hydro projects and other sources of energy to avoid political trouble.

We live in poor communities like Nima where the stench, sight and sounds of public toilets could be turned into biogas to power local generators.

Apollonia was supposed to be the cradle of biogas and that the facility was to be replicated all over the country but Ghanaians struggle daily to dispose of their waste

The sun shines and raptures our sweat buds but we seldom talk about solar energy while the Japanese squeeze their eyes to filter every ray of the little sun they get in their cold environment. In mountainous areas and beaches, the wind blows to rip off the roofs of houses and when a simple windmill could have turned a simple generator into an energy provider.

All these interventions are not achieved overnight but are fought for in anticipation of a larger freedom from manipulation and economic uncertainty.

With a state sponsored research facilities like the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, such issues should have been dealt with by now but the poor dedicated scientists struggle for the shelves and not for the good of the public because their findings are not well marketed. When all the mathematics has been done, the one who bears the blunt is the poor worker who is sometimes forbidden to talk about a realistic wage.

He has a few friends in the power circles where the elite would do everything to justify their privileges and comforts and even "sight" low productivity as the reason for poor wages. In a nearby wasteland, a pothole had gathered water after a downpour, children had gathered around it enjoying the ripples that formed after dropping pebbles into the pound.

These children are unconsciously learning the rippling effects of a highly priced commodity but would they appreciate the need to avoid a rippling effect of petroleum price in their time? It is a trap that every nation must avoid especially when one's wealth is not substantial.

Columnist: GNA