A guest commentary for Deutsche Welle (DW) ECO – http://p.dw.com/p/2hDl7
Ghana is about to trade 5 percent of its bauxite deposits to China for $15 billion. In a guest commentary by environmental advocate Joshua Amponsem, he questions the motives and long-term impact of such a move.
As an environmental activist, I have come to appreciate that nature gives us everything. Our basis of life is dependent on nature and thus, it’s important that we see nature as our source of life rather than a resource for mere exploitation. It is this second line of thinking, which I believe has the people of Ghana troubled as the country’s vice president enters into an agreement to acquire $15 billion from China. The weariness of the citizens is very strong as the country strives to stop illegal small-scale mining which was largely driven by Chinese immigrants in Ghana.
The deal which has been described as a joint partnership between Ghana and China, and later termed a “joint venture” by the vice president, has received intense criticism from the public. As per the details provided by the government, the $15 billion will be a joint venture where China will receive less than 5 percent of Ghana’s bauxite reserve as said by the vice president at the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Programme on the theme: Building resilient industries and infrastructure for economic transformation in Africa: The role of China. He said, “This agreement will not add to our debt stoke but will rather help boost development because it is a win-win venture.”
How Ghana intends to use the billions
China has built a reputation when it comes to partnerships involving the exchange of money for natural resources in developing countries. And such partnerships have often been later regretted by many under-developed and developing countries that have entered into such agreements. Ghanaian citizens are worried, social commentators are not sure of the outcome of the partnership.
Generally, the government is planning infrastructure development with this money. The projects made known so far span across supporting the government’s one-district one-factory initiative, road construction, railway development – including a railway line from Takoradi to Kumasi (two trade cities in the country), interchange, purchase of vehicles and other resources for the security service, building regional hospitals, and an inland port along the Accra Kumasi road. The plan for the money is to strengthen the country’s infrastructure sector and enhance trade within the country.
The big question
If China finds it profitable to trade $15 billion for less than 5 percent of Ghana’s Bauxite, then it is important that Ghana develops a sustainable strategy to reap the same amount from their natural resource while regulating it at their own pace rather than trading it away.
What happens when the $15 billion runs out? Will the country keep trading its natural resources to acquire money for development? What is Ghana’s approach to becoming self-sustainable? It is important for the leadership of Ghana and its people to realize that the country will not be built on the foundation of extractive industries. These riches have not translated into wide-ranging job creation, social welfare or stability.
Economy versus Ecology
It comes across very often that environmental activists do not understand the need for economies to grow. However, this is not the plain truth. The quest to develop economies via unregulated and unsustainable exploitation of natural resource does not build our economies – it destroys our life source (fresh air, water, food, and functioning ecosystems) and gives us nothing more than a short term representation of wealth.
Building the economy should not rip up our quality environment which translates to quality health conditions and less cost on healthcare. Already, our forests, water bodies, and arable lands have suffered severe damage which is (and will) cost us millions of Ghanaian cedis. Polluted air, water, and food mean that a higher percentage of income will have to go into healthcare.
The bigger picture should be our focus – the very reason why there have been initiatives like “green economy” and “sustainable development.”
The land – especially for a country like Ghana where 57 percent of its total land area is classified as agricultural land – provides us with healthy and nutritious crops. These lands need to be protected and used wisely.