News / Africa

Ghana’s Oil Wealth Not Reaching Poor

Taxis drivers wait for passengers near an beachfront slum in Accra's Jamestown (VOA/Laura Burke, Sept 2012).
Taxis drivers wait for passengers near an beachfront slum in Accra's Jamestown (VOA/Laura Burke, Sept 2012).
Two years after oil began flowing in Ghana, ordinary Ghanaians are wondering where the oil money is going. The government says there has not been much oil revenue coming in thus far, and analysts say the money that is coming in is not reaching the poor.

Like many Ghanaians, Julie Anum had expectations that oil production, which began in December of 2010, would bring about epic changes to life in Ghana. The 54-year-old housekeeper said Ghanaians like her thought oil money would bring about free electricity, free medical care and more jobs.

High expectations

"Because we’ve been hearing from other countries that when there is oil, they have everything for free. If it’s been flowing for two years, then there should be a change," she said. "There should be an improvement in people’s lives. Because you know we have so many in unemployment. So if the oil has started flowing, then they should employ more people to work on the field, the oil field and maybe in their offices. The ministry should employ many people."

Vast reserves of oil were discovered in Ghana in 2007, and production began almost two years ago in the Jubilee Oil Field off Ghana’s western coast.  In 2011, its first year of production, Ghana brought in about $444 million -  which was half of expected revenue.

The oil revenue gets divvyed up between the national oil company to fund its share of operations in the field, an investment and savings fund, and then the annual budget funding amount, which can be used in the current year.

But Finance Minister Kwabena Duffour says Ghana has not yet been able to get enough revenue from the oil to bring about changes for the wider population. He says the revenue in 2011 amounted to about one percent of Ghana’s GDP.

In 2011, government documents show that some $167 million in oil revenue went into the annual budget - and only a percentage of that into social services.

"Insignificant" impact

Bright Simons, the director of Development Research at IMANI Center for Policy and Research, an Accra-based think tank, agrees the money has not been sufficient.

“The money that’s supposed to go into the funding of social services, etc, has been very miniscule compared to a… GDP of $38-39 billion," said Simons. "You know, probably $13 million or so may have gone into the budget, into social services. That is clearly less than 0.1 percent. So when you look at the impact that oil money on social services has had over the last couple of years, its insignificant." 

The Finance  Ministry projects that Ghana’s oil revenue will not increase significantly until 2014 or 2015 when production should reach peak levels.

Not a simple issue

Even then, economists say there are challenges to making oil production benefit the wider population.

Nicolas Depetris Chauvin, a senior advisor at the Accra-based African Center for Economic Transformation, says the greatest benefits to a local economy are seen when countries don’t just export a raw material, but process that raw good into other products.

"Think - the Arab countries. The Arab countries, when they discovered oil 90 years ago, they were exporting raw oil," he said. "Now, you go to Saudi Arabia or to Dubai or Abu Dhabi and you ask them: Are you in the oil business? They will tell you no, no. I’m not in the oil business. I’m in the energy business. I’m in the aluminium business, I’m in the steel business. So they have used the fact that they have oil as a resource to develop other industries.”

Depetris Chavin says the problem is that Ghana’s oil is only predicted to last about 20 years, and it would take a long time to build up the infrastructure and capacity for new industries.

Another solution, Simons suggests, is for the oil companies to contribute to the local economy. He said they should buy local products and support local industry. Simons said right now even products like bread are imported onto the oil rigs, and only local elites are profiting from oil contracts thus far.

He and other analysts agree that  as long as the oil industry continues to be an enclave industry with very few links to the community, it’s unlikely Ghana’ oil will benefit the poor.

You May Like

Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs