The Search for Golden Opportunities in the Land of Gold
(first in a series of blogs bringing the voice of people in or affected by the oil industry all over the world - ed)
As a little girl I loved flying and always thought I’d be an Airhostess so I could spend as much time flying as possible. Later my passion was shifted to Pharmacy after spending some time with my mother in her drug store. As I grew older I realized my favorite subject was Mathematics thus I should look for a new passion that wouldn’t cause me to say goodbye to Math.
Finally I decided on Geological Engineering since the prerequisites were studying Mathematics Physics and Chemistry which I had and it offered me the chance of a career in the outdoors not tied to an office all day. Another major influencing factor for choosing this course was getting into the mineral exploration industry. I always wondered why Ghana as a country producing quite an amount of gold did not have much in its coffers to show for it. Half way into my studies I decided it would be even more worthwhile to specialize in Petroleum Geology because I had seen very few Ghanaians owning gold but every Ghanaian was affected by fuel prices.
With lots of hopes and aspirations I started off my journey into the petroleum world with an internship at the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). My lecturers thought I was crazy they said Ghana would never produce oil it was a waste to go into that area but I was sure the future had something for us in the Oil Industry as well. After my degree I tried to get a job at GNPC which was the only possibility of getting any work experience at the time in the petroleum sector. Unfortunately there was a serious political attack on the whole need for such an agency and a strong cut in staff numbers and operations was being undertaken that same year so I wasn’t able to make it in there. I had no choice but to enter the mining sector so I went into mineral exploration then and did a bit of exploration also in a mining company.
My two months in the mines opened my eyes to a shocking reality. In secondary school I had read a novel ‘Mine Boy’ by Peter Abraham and what I saw in the mines was very similar to the things I read which I only associated with Apartheid South Africa. There was a vast expatriate – non-expatriate divide there, even among senior staff. These expatriates came mainly from South Africa (whites), Australia, Canada and Britain. Expatriates who were drillers had access to the same facilities that the senior staff Ghanaians had whilst Ghanaian drillers were considered junior staff. There was very little consideration for the rights of workers and most of them were over worked. We worked twelve days (ten hours a day) and had two days off then started another twelve-day shift. On Sundays whilst all the Ghanaian workers worked, the expatriate workers played golf.
Another shocking incident was the environmental degradation which the drillers got away with. They employed temporary laborers to dig sumps in which the fluid that served as lubricants for the drilling rods was released. I believe the chemicals were not overly harmful but the effects could increase over long periods of the soil’s exposure to them. The sad thing is that it doesn’t take a Geologist to know that digging a sump doesn’t save the soil from being polluted by the chemicals since everything would first seep into the subsurface and permeate and spread over a larger area than the area of the sump. The laborers who dug these sumps were engaged for a whole day and paid at the time approximately a dollar or less for the whole day. This was what broke my heart most. We also transported them at the back of our trucks with no safety measures just like goods. I had never imagined that there were people in my country working under such conditions. They were happy to get these jobs because they always thought it was a stepping stone into getting a more secured job in the Mines-their license to a wealthy future. In the first few weeks my job was to supervise what went on around the rigs thus make sure these laborers did their job. I felt like a slave master. I used to put on my sunglasses and cry.
I lasted only two months in the job and my boss thought it wise to send me back into some exploration out of the mines because I would bring down the moral of the team. I was sent away one afternoon after work without any prior notice. I stayed on in the next position for two weeks and decided this was just not my place it would be better to change my course while I was still young so I resigned.
More unfortunate revelations
I got a job in the Ghana Geological Survey Department so I would serve my nation rather than the foreign industries. I was wrong. There too almost every major project was sponsored by some foreign government meaning they brought their Geologists along as the Managers of the project. It was much better than the mines and there was much more dignity in the treatment but there was just no room for growth. When would it ever get to be our turn? We were waiting in line in a long queue. First were the expatriates who always had everything planned without any consultation with us and then came our own bosses who weren’t involved in the planning but tried to get as much control as possible over the projects, then came the geologist who had been there for longer. By the time it came to us the Assistant Geologists we ended up taking the positions of just Field Assistants or tourist guides for the our senior colleagues or expatriates, respectively.
Looking into the future with hope
Equipped with a strong desire to make a difference in my country and realizing the only way would be to be in management, I decided to do a Master in Public Management. Combining my experience as a Geologist and the knowledge acquired through my masters degree, I decided to write on how the resource curse can be prevented in Ghana. I join with other Ghanaians now as part of the Ghana Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, to try and combat the resource curse in Ghana by crying wolf when need be. If what I saw in the mining sector isn’t curtailed and is repeated in the petroleum sector then in years to come Ghana could be cursed by the oil findings. Even if other aspects of the resource curse are dodged, there is the danger that; few pockets will be directly influenced by the wealth that will come in, our environment will suffer gravely, and Ghanaians will no longer be racially tolerant.