Page last updated at 17:48 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Poll stakes high in oil-boom Ghana

By Will Ross
BBC News, Axim

Fisherman Joseph Tandoh
In five years time if you come back I hope you are going to see a good living standard for every Ghanaian
Fishermen Joseph Tandoh

The stakes in Ghana are especially high in this weekend's presidential and parliamentary elections as the West African nation is due to become an oil producer by 2010.

It makes the race to succeed President John Kufuor, who steps down after serving two terms, a close one.

In the small town of Axim in western Ghana the beach front is a hive of activity.

As each colourfully painted wooden fishing boat returns from three or four days at sea, the beach rapidly transforms into a market and large metal bowls of shiny silver herring and tuna are hauled ashore by men who look like Olympic medal-winning body builders.

Fishing is the main economic activity along the coast but ask the fishermen how the work is going and many complain fish stocks are dwindling partly because of the activities of local and foreign trawlers.

Now news of the off-shore oil find has provided a bubble of optimism and a hope that some lengthy wish lists will be addressed.

"In five years time if you come back I hope you are going to see better roads, better health facilities, better education facilities and a good living standard for every Ghanaian," says Joseph Tandoh as he waits for his two fishing boats to return from several days at sea.

It seems Ghanaian children also have high hopes that the money from the oil boom will be well spent.

"I want more teachers, more books, pens, erasers, mathematical sets and sharpeners. I also want Axim to have more block (brick) houses," says 10-year-old Raymond Afedzi.

The boy says he wants to become a bank manager rather than a fisherman because he wants money every day.

Wish lists

In Axim town there are signs of recent development.

Children in Ghana
Children selling fish on the seafront have to tip-toe through the filth

The tarmac road and the covered market are two examples to which residents point.

Last year the hospital was kitted out with a generator and water filter but there is still plenty to be done in the fight against poverty.

Axim's residents are hopeful that the oil boom will tackle their wish lists.

"We want more toilets in the town," says Kingsley Quayson, who looks after the trickle of tourists at Fort St Anthony, built by the Portuguese in 1515.

It seems like a simple request but sanitation is a real challenge in much of Ghana and Mr Quayson is sick of the endless stream of people defecating in front of the fort on the beach.

A filthy gutter runs through Axim and children selling smoked fish from bowls balanced on their heads have to tip-toe through the filth as they do the rounds.

Not surprisingly, many of the patients at Axim's hospital are being treated for malaria as the town provides plenty of ideal breeding grounds for the dreaded mosquito.

Revenue tension

Ghana's National Petroleum Corporation, GNPC, says the first oil should be on stream by late 2010.

The field is operated by Britain's Tullow Oil, in partnership with Kosmos from Texas and GNPC.

The Chief of Lower Axim, Awulae Attibrukusu III
The land is being given out irregularly and if care is not taken we will be slaves on our own land
Chief Awulae Attibrukusu III

They predict 120,000 barrels per day rising to 250,000 within two years.

Exactly how the oil revenues will be shared in Ghana is a source of possible tension.

Some of the traditional chiefs in the region are pushing for 20% of the government's share to be spent on the communities along the coast.

They argue that their subjects have lived and worked close to the oil fields for generations and their fishing activities have been hampered by the presence of the rigs.

"We don't want what happened in Delta State in Nigeria to happen in Ghana," said the Chief of Lower Axim, Awulae Attibrukusu III.

"It would be suicidal if after 10 years people outside are taking a lot of money and the people here are poor.

"We do not know how much money we will get. If we got 20% of the money I would be very happy.

Fishing boats
News of the off-shore oil find has provided a bubble of optimism

"What we are demanding is that 60% of the jobs are from our region and it is our right, not a privilege. Our people need to be trained in the petro-chemical industry."

Awulae Attibrukusu III - who is also the president of Western Region House of Chiefs - also said people were buying up large tracks of land on the coast which they intend to sell on for huge profits, in anticipation of the oil boom.

"The land is being given out irregularly and if care is not taken we will be slaves on our own land," he said.

"I will not allow that.

"Those who are buying the land, be they government officials, politicians, other citizens of Ghana or foreign investors, they should be very, very careful. Nananom (the chiefs) will not spare them."

Buck the trend?

The town is plastered with election posters and judging by the beaming smiles of the candidates you might be forgiven for thinking the oil money was already flowing.

Kwesi Aning
Chop chop (stealing) is the name of the game, it doesn't have anything to do with ordinary people's interests
Researcher Kwesi Aning

The party that wins could be in power for a long stretch, provided the oil money is well spent.

Some analysts are adding caution to the optimism and warn politicians may be keen to "chop" or steal the money.

"Chop chop is the name of the game, warned Kwesi Aning," warned senior researcher at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in the capital, Accra.

"It doesn't have anything to do with ordinary people's interests and development," he said

"I mean no-one is convinced that is why people are fighting for power in this country.

"We have had natural resources in this country already and they have not been managed too well so this great dream of petro-dollars cascading into the national coffers and transforming people's lives should be taken with a pinch of salt."

The other point of contention is where the hefty oil account should be held.

Some warn against it being kept under the presidency as past performance in other African countries has seen oil money being used as a personal bank account.

Following the election Ghanaians will be watching to see just how transparent the oil account is.

This is a great opportunity for Ghana to buck the trend of oil being a curse in Africa and to increase public faith in the nation's political leaders.

The onus is on them to prove the sceptics wrong and ensure that Ghana's next generation benefits when the oil billions finally come ashore.

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