Defying the Garden of Eden Syndrome

ACCRA – When you fly into Takoradi, Ghana’s fourth largest city and an industrial and commercial center, one of the first things you notice are the oil rigs along the coast. It is a panorama that is increasingly characteristic of modern-day Africa.

Nearby, in the city of Elmina, one can see the scars of the past. An eerie feeling clings to you even after you finish the tour of the dungeons of the notorious Elmina Castle, the nerve center of the former West African slave trade.

In Ghana last month, I met ministers who shared with me impressive figures on how much progress the country has made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Some traditional leaders, academics, representatives of civil-society groups, and students, on the other hand, were more worried about whether the country’s new oil wealth would benefit ordinary people.

Is oil a blessing or a curse? Will oil and other natural resources force Ghana, ranked among the leading producers of cocoa, coffee, and oil palm, to turn its back on agriculture? Will oil wealth create a kleptocracy on the bones of 30 years of progress in meeting standard criteria of good governance?