Akwaaba! Welcome to the world of nations that produce oil …
With first oil production not too far away, there is a need to warn you of the many pitfalls that lie ahead. Your ability to keep it all together will be severely tested and it would be disastrous if you fall victim to the famous ‘Dutch disease’ of resource rich countries. You should not go the route of other resource rich African nations such as Nigeria and Congo.
That ‘edginess’ (for lack of a better word to describe it) for which we, Nigerians are noted, is both a blessing and a curse, is something you should avoid. By all means lose your alleged penchant to being laid back but in the name of all that is good, do not exchange it for our ‘do or die’ attitude. That’s why we cheat, steal and will think of self first rather than the larger community once we assume any position of authority. You have so far set an enviable path for yourself, please do not derail. Some of us want to be able to answer people who ask “what is the problem with Africa?” by pointing to you as an example of what could be possible when there is good leadership.
Politically, except for a few bumps (including the period when you decided to get rid of the perceived troublers’ of your nation in a very nasty manner) you have done well. Your recent showing in the concluded FIFA 2010 World cup, when for a few days every African was a Ghanaian is evidence of the discipline of your nation (I am sure you know we just banned and ‘unbanned’ our own team!). You have managed to improve power supply (we are still at it and apparently will need to import Martians from outer space to sort out this problem!) and lure international companies to set up their African headquarters in your country. They trust you because it’s not all about ‘show’ but more of substance. To a large extent, you walk the talk and have a track record to show for it. Your artisans are renowned for their skills – truth be told a Ghanaian bricklayer will lay a straighter plumb line than a Nigerian one. And more importantly if he gets it wrong will be prepared to make correction rather than produce a shoddy job. Tourists from other parts of the globe prefer your shores to ours. Even Nigerians now come to your country for holidays and the wealthier one’s own homes there (at least they can be sure of constant power supply). We also send our children to your universities because we are sure they will be learning the right things.
My prayer is that your almost egalitarian lifestyle is sustained; that your big men remain humble and avoid the penchant for an ostentatious lifestyle that needs to be funded via looting. All that may change when oil comes…. You have exotic looking, nicely named private estates springing up. That’s all well and good; many more will spring up with the coming of oil. Let me warn you the trend is that greedy leaders will want to own real estate not only in the four corners of your country but of the world and will steal public funds to attain their objectives. Most of the estates though gated have nice low walls. May they remain so and may your society not became victim to armed robbery/kidnapping partly fuelled by the ever increasing gap between the haves and have-nots as well as an increasing number of jobless youths. It is crucial that you continue to operate the same set of laws for the wealthy and those that are not so well to do otherwise you may polarize your society irreparably. Your value system which is largely premised on trust (and not money) is evidenced by the fact that one can give a taxi driver (literally a stranger) dollars to change and he will do so without running off with the money. As a nation, we mouth the name of God but fail to practice what know and hold to be true.
Some Nigerians get irritated when we compare your performance with ours and I wonder why. It is only rational that we do so since we remain in the same peer group at least for now- if you continue on your current track you may leave us behind in the rot but I can only pray that will not occur. I am not saying you are all saints as the recent increase in cocaine smuggling through your shores reflects but at least you are courageous enough to admit your problem and truly attempt to nip it at the bud. Please be careful that those small pot holes that are appearing on your roads do not become huge sized craters because I can assure you that once that starts happening that is the beginning of the end – contracts upon contracts to fix the roads over and over again will become a feeding mill for the corrupt ones amongst you.
I have so far told you things you should not do, but I should end by telling you things I think you should do. Please make sure there is transparency concerning the oil money from day one. We in Nigeria are having difficulty determining exactly how much money we make from our oil. Do set up a sovereign wealth fund with some part of the money as it would serve as a buffer in the day of trouble which will surely come. Do keep an eye on the continued development of your cocoa industry. Invest in your educational system. Your people are your greatest resource and they need to be educated such that they remain assets and do not become liabilities. A word is enough for the wise.