To the accompaniment of Phil Collins’s “That’s Just the Way it is”

Dear Ghana,

Last week, you officially became a very important country in world geo-politics as you joined the league of oil-producing countries. The first gush of oil came after a ceremony attended by President John Atta Mills. I would have advised President Atta Mills and every member of Ghana’s leadership to travel to a village called Oloibiri in Nigeria and read what is written on the withered foreheads of the villagers before pumping that epochal first drop of oil in Ghana. It would have been a sobering learning experience for them. Anyway, welcome to the world of Nigeria, Angola, and Gabon. Now that you are no longer just a backyard producer of cocoa and gold, you will begin to notice significant shifts in how you are treated by the international community - defined as the countries of Western Europe and America. You see, in international relations, all men were not created equal. The rule here is Orwellian: the owner of black gold is infinitely more equal than the owner of gold and cocoa. Don’t even mention groundnut sellers like Senegal. They are not on the radar and will not be until the Americans discover in the future that groundnut contains ingredients that could cure obesity. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

Here are the early indications of your new status that you must watch out for: you will be promoted from occasional spectator status to enhanced spectator status during G8 and G20 summits; President Atta Mills will be invited to Washington in the first quarter of 2011 on a grand state visit and White House chefs will be taught to prepare gourmet kenkey; your Ambassador in Washington will suddenly become a very important man and will begin to receive lots of invitations to White House diners much to the displeasure of Nigeria and South Africa; your Ambassador will soon become the Dean of the African diplomatic corps in Washington. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

Hillary Clinton will now regularly mention a special relationship that has always existed between Ghana and the USA in her speeches - her speechwriters will arrange for more than 50% of African Americans to trace their root to a village near the Akosombo dam in 2011. Luckily, African Americans tend to discover and locate their roots wherever the wind of augury is blowing in Africa. Many of them discovered their Zulu and Xhosa ancestry when South Africa was the talk of the town in 1994. Oprah Winfreh may now announce that she is no longer of Zulu heritage but her ancestors were actually proud Akan warriors. And the brand new Reverend Al Sharpton Okomfo Anokye Junior may announce an emotional trip home to his roots in Kumasi. Hillary Clinton may start carrying a kente handbag in her public appearances; President Obama may now suddenly remember that his father’s family actually migrated from Ghana to Kenya sometime in the 19th century; some lunatic Republican Senator may declare loudly in Congress: “we are all Ghanaians!” People from Guyana in South America should expect their enlightened American neighbours or colleagues at work to say: “hey buddy, I heard that your African country now has oil. Good for ya!” That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

There is more: before the middle of 2011, the State Department will suddenly discover an old memo recommending the construction of a bigger and more functional American embassy in Accra that will rival the embassies in Baghdad and Kabul in size; before the end of 2011, AFRICOM commanders will recommend the establishment of a major Accra substation and Green Zone to pre-emptorily break the linkages between Ghanaian terrorists and their newly-discovered Ashanti relatives in the rugged regions of Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; China, as usual, will do her job more quietly and effectively than the noisy Americans to make sure that your black gold comes under the red flag and not the star-spangled banner. In other words, you own that oil the way a child in Africa is said to own a goat that he feeds and cares for only to discover the true owner of the goat the day it is slaughtered and he gets the entrails while the elders in the compound feast on the real meat. Somewhere between America and China, you will soon know who the real owners of the oil are. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

For now, the oil companies running the show are unknown British and American quantities called Tullow Oil Plc and Kosmos Energy LLC. Exxon Mobil is said to have sniffed around like a dog and walked out on a deal to buy Kosmos Energy’s share of the new booty in Ghana. That is because it is still morning yet in Ghana’s oil destiny. Don’t worry. ExxonMobil will be back. They always come back. The other big boys will also descend on Ghana once they secure China’s permission: BP, Shell, Chevron, Total Elf, and ConocoPhillips. I’m afraid the arrival of all these people will mark the official end of the independence you got in 1957. They will establish and run parallel governments in Accra complete with their own sovereign armed forces that will have the right to shoot down your citizens in broad daylight if they are deemed obstacles to pipelines. Henceforth, no one will win presidential elections in Ghana without their say-so. Five years from now, watch out for Wikileaks’s release of conversations between the American Ambassador in Accra and the CEOs of these Western oil companies. They will talk about Ghana’s president like an obedient school boy. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

My dear Ghana, please do not be distracted by these little things. Washington, Beijing, and the oil companies are the least of your problems. Your real problem now is Abuja. I am sure you know that little story about the road to hell being infinitely more attractive than the road to salvation? Hell, for you Ghana, is Abuja. Abuja is inhabited by an irresponsible political rulership that has done with Nigeria’s oil everything you should not do with your own oil. Whatever you do, do not take the road to Abuja with your oil. It is a sure road to perdition. You want to make sure you go the way of the United Arab Emirates with your oil. I am writing, therefore, to help you develop an early warning signal based on the colour codes developed by the Americans in the age of terrorism. The mechanism I am advocating will help you determine how dangerously close to Abuja you are at any point and quickly retrace your steps. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

You need to pay attention to the language of your citizens. The fumes of oil are worse than the fumes of alcohol. Oil inebriates in a far more lethal fashion. Your citizens may start using words, phrases, and sentences hitherto unknown in Ghanaian English. Monitor and police them closely. When regular Joes, sorry, regular Mensahs, suddenly begin to gather in Kwame Nkrumah Circle or Labadi beach in Accra to talk about “resource control”, that is bad news. Not good at all. You should put your warning signal in code yellow when this happens. From resource control, your politicians and public officials may suddenly begin to make a lot of noise about “onshore” and “offshore” dichotomy. When you begin to hear talk like that, put your alarm system in code orange. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

Watch your parliamentarians. They are not unaware of what their irresponsible counterparts are doing in the National Assembly in Abuja. It’s just that cocoa and gold could not in any way have guaranteed parity of extravagance with Abuja. Now that there is oil, parliamentary discourse in Accra may suddenly be exclusively reduced to the following keywords: estacode, upward budget review, upward contract review, supplementary appropriation, constituency projects, hardship allowances, newspaper allowances, furniture allowances, recharge card allowances, convoy allowances, renovation allowances, anticipatory approvals. I pity and fear for the Cedi. She will become an endangered species in the language of your politicians and government officials once the petrodollars begin to flow. They will carry out all their transactions in dollars and frown whenever Cedis are mentioned. They may begin to stash raw dollar bills in the presidential Castle in Accra. When all this happens, you are still in code orange. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

Watch out for the big brother and giant of Africa disease. It is worse than HIV/AIDS and has no cure. You see, oil is at once sociology and pathology. Behind every irresponsible national elite in Africa there is plenty of oil. And you must know that Nigeria’s national elite may be the king of irresponsibility, they have no monopoly over it. Your politicians and the new oil elite in Accra may forget that there is still hunger in Ho and Hohoe and begin to ship loads of dollars to places like Chad, Guinea, Niger Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Gambia, Mauritania, the Congos, and Sierra Leone. Rivalry with Nigeria being an ever-present stimulus, they may get ambitious and begin to fund every peacekeeping operation in the continent. They may even begin to tell ECOWAS and the AU that Ghana’s problem is not money but how to spend it. When this happens, Ghana is already in the outskirts of Abuja, approaching downtown Abuja at breakneck speed. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

If you want to travel the big brother route with your new petrodollars, you must always remember that no matter how much you give in aid to fellow African countries, your citizens will be the first to be stereotyped and spat upon when they visit those recipient countries. Well, you already know how you treat Nigerians in Ghana these days so we are not in strange territory here. And you know that our friends in South Africa now see a makwerekwere in every Nigerian despite millions of petrodollars sunk into the anti-apartheid struggle by Nigeria. Very soon, our friends in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya will erect airport showers to disinfect the Nigerians they grudgingly allow into those countries after frisking worse than any indignity an African could suffer in a Euro-American airport. And remember that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ran to Washington to thank them for money and limbs that Nigeria lost while preserving her country even as the unconcerned Americans watched the carnage on TV with their hamburgers and budweisers in hand, between the NBA and the Super Bowl. It is not certain that Mama in Monrovia even remembers that Abuja spent the money to defend and later patch up her country, not Washington. Those are the little indignities of big brotherhood in Africa that you must be prepared for as you begin to flex some muscle with your oil. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

You want to ensure that things do not reach code red by which time your citizens will be talking of MEER – Movement for the Emancipation of Every Region. Somewhere above the cacophony of Kalashnikovs, a stupid oil billionaire may even announce publicly to Ghanaians that he does not know what to do with the five hundred million dollars he just made in profit from the sale of a single oil block. Once you get to this stage, it is too late. That’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is.

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