Obama in Ghana: A symbolic visit that hides a subtle US oil strategy?

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Barack Obama has chosen Ghana for his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa. He is expected Friday evening for a two day visit. Although Mr. Obama has said that his visit is an encouragement for democracy in Ghana and Africa at large, some argue that the visit habours subtle economic interests. Ghana, the worlds second larget cocoa producer and Africa’s sencond biggest gold producer, officially becomes an oil producing nation from 2010.

Ghanaians are happy! Their country has been chosen to host President Barack Obama on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. While this is not the first time a US head of state is visiting the weastern African nation, one engineer interviewed by the AFP insisted that this particular “tour” is something else. “He is African and he understands the economic difficulties related to Africa” he added.

On one hand, there are many, like this engineer, who believe that the U.S. President’s Ghana tour aims to encourage the strides the country has made towards democracy and good governance — Barack Obama himself indicated that he needed to visit a country that respects democracy and the rule of law. On the other hand, many are those who also expect this trip to have a significant economic impact. In the area of tourism, for example, the U.S. president’s visit to Cape Coast Castle, a colonial slave fort, only two hours drive from the capital Accra, could encourage more African-Americans to go in search of their roots in Ghana.

Ghana has many other colonial castles and forts, including the very imposing Elmina castle (15 minute drive from Cape Coast castle), which most consider as important as the Cape Coast Castle.

“I hope it is not just for our oil”

Fortunately, some Ghanaians have remained calm and collected. Having chosen to intellectualise the American President’s trip a bit more than his colleagues, a taxi driver admitted to the AFP that he hopes “it is not just for our oil”, according to him “it is known” that the United States pursues its interests first.

Patrick Morris, CEO of the Gold Star Resources, also shares the taxi driver’s views. The oil company of the State of Vancouver (Canada), Morris’ company, is looking for opportunities to exploit oil and gas in West African countries, including Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. “U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Ghana on July 10th-11th is a subtle White House oil strategy to secure another source of energy on the continent of Africa,” he told Fox Business.

The Energy department’s forecasts on oil supply, according to some, prove this point. By 2020, the United States would need an annual import of 770 million barrels of oil fom Africa, 25% of which is expected to come from the western region of the continent as against a current 15%. Others disagree with this as a motive for his choice of Ghana, saying that Angola, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea would fit the bill better as they would continue to produce, relatively, more oil than Ghana. Nana Yaw Osei, a Ghanaian student believes that “Ghana stands to benefit from its oil exports as long as it deals with partners who are willing to do business in a transparent way”.

A reserve of about 600 million barrels of oil was discovered in Ghana in 2007. Commercial operations are expected to begin next year with a daily production of 120 000 barrels. This is not all. Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world, producing over 20% of the world’s cocoa beans. The western African country is also the second largest producer of gold (its former name was Gold Coast) and has huge deposits of industrial diamonds and bauxite (aluminum).

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