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Otabil Exposed Himself By His Comments

Wed, 16 Mar 2011 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

But Don’t kill The Messenger

Before 1973 not many people gave a second thought to how dangerously the world’s economy is dependent on what someone with poetic skills has dubbed the black gold. The oil shock after the Yom Kippur War brought that home with a frightening consequence. It caused the United States, the high priest of free market enterprise, to do the unthinkable, the rationing of petroleum products. It also brought down the Conservative Heath’s government in 1974 and speeded up the stock market crush of 1973-74. In Ghana, it pulverised all the remaining pillars of the already faltering economy not to mention other vulnerable Third World countries. Without any coherent economic policy Ghana’s economy was set on a downward slope that gave birth to a character like Rawlings and the resultant brutalities of the 1979 June 4th coup d'état. Sadly, we are still dressing up the wounds.

So ever since I became conscious of the power of oil and its controlling effect on our economy I have always prayed that the country will discover oil in commercial quantities that will not require sophisticated technology like the off shore oil rigs that will soon become a common sight in our territorial waters to pump it from the ground. In the least, it will stop the constant inflation brought on by the perennial oil price increases that renders our currency worthless.

So it came, rather, as a surprise when the news broke that Rev Mensa Otabil in an interview to London Financial Times is alleged to have said for many years he had prayed that Ghana would never find oil. Because he believes that won’t help the country develop the work ethic required to develop a productive society. Instinctively, I wanted to respond then I reached a conclusion that much of what I will have to say have been said in earlier articles. However, the news started its own little storm in a tea cup that saw people venting their anger to a man whom they felt was biting the hand that fed him.

One writer in this forum had already taken him to the shed and banged his head pretty good. On the other hand as ploughed through all the commentary I felt that it was a knee jerk response to a destroyed reaction to a real national problem. Much of the contention was derived from the fact that he said he prayed to God and I think if he had express a personal wish then we will not be having this discussion. What will have to be made clear is man proposes but it is God that disposes.

Now, putting the religious slant of his comments aside and ridding ourselves of the emotional brouhaha there is gem to be gleaned if we should approach it without any prejudice. It is Francis Bacon, the man who sounded the bell at the dawn of the Renaissance who said knowledge itself is power. And Winston Churchill, in a prescient remark said empires of the future are the empires of the mind. Meaning success in life comes with the application of knowledge, and abundant resources don’t mean anything if you lack the knowledge to manage it. There are people who thirst in the abundance of water simply because they lack the skill and technology to treat disease infested river wholesome to drink. This is just to put it so crudely, but this the bane of our problem, besides political interference in our economic development. Our colonial name was derived from the abundant deposit of the precious metal, and we have been exporting it year in and year out, in addition to cocoa, diamond, manganese, bauxite and many more and we are still poor.

In reality abundance of resources makes people slothful. For example who will think very hard to cultivate the land and raise animals when he can forage for his daily requirements from nature day in and day out? With abundance of resources people think about what they can get but not what they can create. A lot of Ghanaians have their own expectations about the oil find and sometimes it borders on psychosis. It prompted me to write a piece entitled ‘The Wholesale Lies That Has Become An Integral Part Of The Fledgling Oil Industry’. Strangely, some even believe they will be having kerosene in their lanterns for free. At the time of writing the piece which is more than a year ago a guy that I met claimed the government was in receipt of $2 billion of oil revenue every month, which was a blatant lie in view of the fact that not a single barrel had then been pumped for sale at the time.

It is important to note that there is not a single enduring economic giant in the world that relies on the export of primary products. There are few who are very rich exporting oil because of its indispensability but if the wells run dry those economies will be like that of a church mouse. Because they have not developed the work and productive ethics that Otabil is talking about. The richest countries in the world like Japan and Switzerland do not have any serious natural resource endowment. Ironically, Japan was worried about that and they embark on a policy of conquest leading up to the Second World War to lay their hands on cheap raw materials. It ended in the total destruction of the country with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bearing the brunt of that misguided campaign.

Any smart guy knows that prosperity does not depend on what a country has in the ground but what the people have in their skull, their values, work ethics and most importantly the dependability of their laws. The tragic state of affairs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo speaks volume. The country is very rich in mineral resources, yet it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Gangs have taken over and literally tearing the soul of the nation apart just to get their hands on its natural resources. The expectations of the average Ghanaian is heightened, perhaps, shrouded in an iron clad romantic notion they have about oil economies like Nigeria during their oil boom that attracted over a million Ghanaian expatriates, which ended with bitter taste in our mouth. Oil is not the enduring salvation we are looking for; it is ephemeral. Let me chip in a hypothetical idea based on supposition. Imagine that tomorrow a new economically viable substitute for oil is discovered. Well, the purist will say then we use our own oil, which is quite reasonable. Because though natural gas and oil have supplanted coal it is still being used all over the world. However, think a bit harder and just extrapolate. We don’t produce our own cars meaning we have to buy the cars manufactured to meet the requirements of the substitute. And my brothers and sisters there go in flames all our investment. Though we might think of mitigation by using them in thermal plants it will not be economical since the price of oil will fall to the extent that operating those rigs will not be feasible. Otabil’s statement is encoded it is meant to get us thinking. The truth will always remain the truth, and it doesn't matter whether it is coming from a scoundrel or a saint. He wants us to be able to manage a corporation like the erstwhile Ghana Airways and make profit. The corporation shouldn’t have collapse but it did, though it had better competitive advantage than most of her competitors. Sometimes it is very difficult to assume the unthinkable. Whether he prayed against it or not the oil is here. Let us not be overwhelmed by the euphoria to the extent of being consumed by intellectual laziness and condemn a statement that is supposed to polish our intellectual antennae.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr London baidoo_philip@yahoo.co.uk

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina