From Africa’s “Brain drain” to “Brain circulation”.

  • Of Africa’s natural resources, underdevelopment, and poverty (Part 2).

About 1980, while serving on a board as an alumni representative of my alma mater – California State University, Los Angeles – I was approached by another member, now a vice-president of a large oil company. Knowing I was African, he asked if I would be interested in joining their sales sector to market oil in Nigeria. In my naïveté I replied, “But Nigeria is a member of the OPEC, and has oil in abundance”. He shrugged off the response and said, “Yes, they have crude, but not refined oil.”

Adding value to Africa’s natural resources

 The quest to add value to Africa’s huge natural resources brings into the focus the gist of Professor Kwamina’s Panford’s new book, “Africa’s Natural Resources and Underdevelopment: How Ghana’s Petroleum Can Create Sustainable Economic Prosperity”. Panford is a professor of African Policy, Natural Resources & Development at Northeastern University, Boston.

Panford’s book covers three major themes: One, Ghana’s ongoing galamsey menace (Illicit gold and diamond mining derived from broken English – “get them for sale”; two, how Ghana is doing with respect to oil leases and ensuring that Ghana’s oil and gas become “a blessing and not a curse”; and three, how Ghana can optimize the use of its petroleum and other natural resources.

The practical solutions are based on his experiences from Ghana and other African states plus those of North America, Europe and Asia.

The roots of Galamsey

Panford traces the growth of galamsey to the post 1986 mineral laws Ghana passed with the technical advice of its development partners and the IMF/World Bank to attract foreign investment. He demonstrates that policies inspired by the west to allow more multinational companies to exploit Ghana’s gold and diamond contributed to the indiscriminate and almost uncontrollable use of such deadly toxins like sodium cyanide and mercury for gold production and the current social monster nicknamed galamsey.

He shows instances from all over Ghana—the blockade of the Black Volta threatening Ghana’s hydropower supply, abandoned water-filled pits leading to the drowning of innocent citizens, and the dangers of working right under high tension electrical cables. He explains in this easy to read book why and how galamsey came into existence and its adverse socio-economic and environmental consequences. Panford connects what happens in Ghana and Africa with global developments.

Some recommendations

Panford’s book is recommended to all readers including the secondary and tertiary youth. The ease of language without sacrificing technical details and relevant key terms offers much to aid the reader grasp what’s going on with Ghana and Africa’s bounty of resources: how Ghana’s gas, for example, can be used to become a “socially transformative asset” for real economic prosperity for most Ghanaians.

He first lays out the negative health and environmental effects of using charcoal and firewood instead of a natural cooking gas from Jubilee and other oil fields in Ghana. This book is recommended for adoption in other developing countries as part of a new and progressive education and curriculum and as a guide to create a new blueprint for avoiding the menace associated with the resource curse from the abuse of and depletion of important natural resources.

Professor Kwamina Panford: homeward minded

Panford shows how Africa’s tertiary institutions, especially the public universities, and committed stakeholders willing to truly transform Africa can use petroleum, gold, diamond, timber, oil palm, rubber, cobalt, uranium, cocoa, bauxite, and other rare earths to unleash a new economic growth on the continent. Such progress can be based on creating salient, skill centred education, new infrastructure such as information communications technology, rail lines, sea and water transport; converting raw cocoa beans into chocolate, butter, alcohol, and cosmetics, while petroleum may used to produce refined fuel, plastics, petroleum jelly, skin products, and natural gas for cooking, baking bread and smoking fish.

The number one responsibility of African governments is to create “Jobs, jobs, jobs” by helping raise the youth with “Skills, skills, skills” to avert what has been referred to as the “bulging African youth population being a ticking time bomb”.

To the “doubting Thomases” and “Afro-pessimists”, Panford alludes to the 1950s’ and 1960s’ manufacturing achievements such as the Made-in-Ghana Bonsa tyres that outlasted the French made Michelin top brands, the Sanyo standing fan that moved in four different directions, GIHOC drugs and even vehicle assemblies.

The New Argonauts

Panford’s commitment to Ghana and Africa easily classifies him among a breed of people termed, “The New Argonauts”. These may be professionals, scholars, technocrats, or entrepreneurs who contribute to the development of their home countries through their international knowledge and professional ties in technologically advanced countries. Because of their cultural ties and institutional knowledge, they collaborate with home-country counterparts by circulating their brain power.

As this column is being written, Panford is now on another sabbatical at the Institute of Development Studies / University of Cape Coast (IDS/UCC) working with colleagues there on a “Baseline socio-economic survey of the six oil districts in Ghana”. The survey will be used in the future to evaluate the impact of oil on the environment and on the people living in the affected areas.

It was once said by a Kenyan professor of law that in Africa those who have the power have no ideas, and those who have the ideas have no power. It’s quite clear now that the two – the holders of power and the holders of the ideas – have to merge for the sake of salvaging a continent so rich in both human and material resources.


Of Africa’s natural resources, underdevelopment, and poverty.

· Kwamina Panford: the brain behind a brave new book.

The exodus of U.S. based Indian and Chinese professionals and entrepreneurs to India and China to contribute and do bigger and better things there has initiated what has been termed “Brain circulation” as opposed to the nauseous “Brain drain” of the past. I have often been intrigued by the large numbers of African professionals in the diaspora and wondered how such energies can be turned homeward and harnessed to benefit Africa. Why must Africa continue to be poor and marginalised considering the continent’s substantial natural resources coupled with the mind power of its sons and daughters in the diaspora!

On first meeting Professor Kwamina Panford

 In 2012, while visiting Boston, I expressed the interest in meeting some influential Africans in the area. Right away the name of Professor Panford was suggested and his telephone number duly given to me. I called and met him at Northeastern University where he taught in the African Studies department. We had lunch at the Faculty Lounge in the company of a young Ghanaian he was mentoring.

Panford’s story reflects a case study of how Ghanaian professionals abroad can be of immense help to Ghana in particular, and Africa in general. He was born in Koforidua in the Eastern Region and attended Koforidua Catholic Schools, St Augustine’s College – Cape Coast, and the University of Ghana.

Since being abroad finishing his Masters and PhD degrees, he has contributed to Ghana’s higher education by donating books to University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast, and hosting over 400 Ghanaian students and faculty at Northeastern.


Liaising with Ghanaian compatriots

Panford is now on a sabbatical and fellowship leave to teach at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Cape Coast (IDS/UCC). His earlier visits to Ghana have entailed other assignments. From 1991-2003, for instance, he was engaged with the Ghana Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Government of Ghana / Labour Department to review and craft Ghana’s labour laws.

 With Ghana’s discovery of oil in June 2007, he shifted gears and became involved in this bold new sector. He started this journey of oil discovery and production in September 2009 on a sabbatical at IDS/UCC. Led by the then director, Prof J.V. Mensah and the new director Patrick Agbesinyale and other colleagues, they conducted a massive survey of Ghana’s six oil districts to provide a baseline for measuring the social and economic impact of Ghana’s new oil industry.

Panford literally commuted from Boston (from 2009 to 2014, and from 2015 to the present) to stay engaged with his Ghanaian compatriots.  Additionally, in 2010 – 2011, he helped the Ministry of Finance under the guidance of Prof Joe Amoako Tuffour – another Ghanaian diasporan expert and adviser to the Ministry of Finance – to draft the nation’s landmark Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA) and the creation of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC).

He then collaborated with the TUC’s leadership including the recently retired Secretary General Kofi Asamoah and the current one, Dr Yaw Baah, to get TUC a full recognition and representation on the PIAC.

About that same time, Panford was on the public lecture circuit – Daily Graphic Business Forum on Oil, and Institute for Economic Affairs’ Ghana Policy Journal Special Edition on Ghana’s Oil, and drafting the Ministry of Energy’s Local Content Legislation. He even liaised with the Catholic Bishops on oil at Takoradi in 2011, and addressed TUC’s Executive Board in 2012 at Tema.

Institute for Oil and Gas Studies

Panford was the lead consultant who together with Ghana’s current Minister of Natural Resources, Peter Paul Amewu and the current Deputy Minister of Energy, Dr Amin Mohammed, wrote Ghana/Africa’s first and one of the world’s rare government accounting for oil revenues and expenditures.

Coming from a labour background with experience from the ILO (Geneva, Switzerland), Panford led the TUC’s effort to write its maiden oil policy paper and as a resource person helped UCC to found Ghana’s first public university affiliated Institute for Oil and Gas Studies.

Although Ghana still has teething petroleum production issues, some of the measures and bills and institutions he was involved in – if managed as intended to perform – will assist Ghana to avert the proverbial resource curse.

The brave new book 

After reflecting on his experiences in Ghana and many African / non-African states’ experience and involvement with oil and other natural resources in December 2016, Panford has now completed his 249-page book, “Africa’s Natural Resources and Underdevelopment: How Ghana’s Petroleum Can Create Sustainable Economic Prosperity,” (Palgrave Macmillan, NY 2017, 249 pp.)

A candid book it unravels the myths surrounding a hugely popular but flawed theory called the resource curse and its application to Ghana and four major natural resource producing African nations—Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola.

Focusing on Ghana’s recent discovery of oil, the nation’s woes with “Galamsey”, and how to turn natural resources into assets for economic prosperity, the book is poised to contribute to discussions and policy formulation in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa. More importantly it is full of practical policy recommendations.  For example, at the time the new NPP administration seeks to eliminate the scourge of galamsey, illicit environmentally destructive gold and diamond miming, Panford provides a history of this social menace and lays out how Ghana can exploit its gold, diamond and now oil for the greater good.

{To be continued}


God helps those who help themselves.

· The vicious mass poverty behind “the miracles”.

My attention was stirred by a caption culled from President Nana Akufo Addo’s 2017 May Day Address posted by the Accra based Citi 97.3 Fm radio. The caption read as follows:

Lazy habits that enforce poverty

“We arrive at work late and then spend the first hour in prayer; we become clock watchers and leave in the middle of critical work because it is the official closing time. Everything comes to a stop when it rains and we seem to expect the rest of the world also to stop.

“We have no respect for the hours set aside for work. We pray; we eat; we visit during working hours. We spend hours chatting on the telephone. We take a week off for every funeral and then we wonder why we are not competitive.” The president charged the leadership of the various unions to lead a campaign to change that deplorable attitude.

A leader’s unflinching grit to look at his people straight in the face and tell them the uncomfortable but necessary truths is the stuff of which greatness is made. That courage reminded me of the recent conference organized by the Methodist University College (at M Plaza, Accra, 27th – 28th March, 2017) dubbed “International Conference on Entrepreneurship, Business & Technology” (ICEBUT). In his opening address, the president had urged Ghanaians “to desist from hiding behind the cloak of religiosity to indulge in habits that have robbed the state of countless hours of productive time.”

Slated to be a keynote speaker and seated on the dais right next to the podium from which the president spoke, I could not help nodding over and over, feeling the president’s passion radiate from a committed sense of purpose. He said, “We come to work and spend the first hour or more not on the job that we are paid to do but on prayers. We go to all-night prayers and we come to work the next day tired and unfit for any purpose. We take out one week for every funeral and expect our businesses to thrive because we invoked the names of the Almighty.”

Progress comes from hard work, not miracles

The President noted that the country was in danger of getting things out of balance and allowing our lives to be taken over completely by a narrow interpretation of religion. He was concerned that an increasing number of people seemed to think that success in all fields of endeavour was dependent on miracles and not hard work.

Do we expect prayers and God to clean up the mess we create?

The openness was most welcome in the sense that opportunistic leaders tend to shy away from telling the truth to their people; but there’s sharp distinction between serious work and incantations for manna to drop effortlessly from heaven. The biblical parable of the talents is a serious reminder that for those who work, more shall be added; but for the sloth the little they have shall be taken away.

The quality of experience of people who transform their environment and create healthier, fruitful surroundings is clearly more developed as well as more enjoyable than those who resign themselves to all-night vigils and prayers! If you were God, which of the two kinds of people would you respect and support? Work not only adds value by building bridges across rivers and cultivating barren lands, it transforms a person from a derelict stranded by wishful thoughts, into a conscious, goal directed, skillful individual full of life and purpose, and with the ability to help others to better their lot.

It’s an insult to God, to expect Him to come down and clean the mess we create, to fill our pot holes, clean the gutters while the so-called prophets regale themselves in limousines, suits and gold ornaments.

Sensible lessons from serious nations

Floating anonymously from a genius in cyberspace are the following productive lessons worth sharing:

 “After independence, in order to build a great nation, each country went to work. But in Ghana, after independence, our people went to pray and fast. So, while we were praying, Malaysia came here and took our palm seedlings and built great factories for it. While we were praying, Singapore went into investment in technology.

“While we were praying, India went into ICT. While we were praying, China went into massive industrialization. While we were praying, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) went into massive infrastructural development. While we were praying and casting Lucifer, Japan went into technological development.

“While we were speaking in tongues, Denmark went into the education of her citizens. While we were mounting big speakers in our places of worship, USA was mounting a man on the moon.

“After our prayers, God, being a wise God decided to reward us according to our labour. Since then, those that went into industrialization, technology, infrastructural development, ICT, education etc. have been rewarded accordingly. It’s only wise God rewards us for our efforts not prayers.

“That is why today, Ghana’s pastors are competing in building the biggest churches. That is why there are more prayer houses and worship places than hospitals and schools. That is why people rush to prayer houses for medical solutions instead of hospitals.

“Ghana is a prayer loving, God fearing nation. Religion has taken the place of technology, infrastructure, education etc. When travelling, we ignore all the necessary road requirements, the servicing of our vehicles and pray. And, once we pray, we put half serviced vehicles on the road and blame our step-mothers or mothers-in-law if anything goes wrong. It’s “Obonsam’s” fault. That is why there are more people dying on our roads.”

Godliness resides in the commitment to the good work we do; the blessings flow from the quality of that work; there are neither godliness nor blessings in a void of laziness and apathetic all-night prayers. God helps those who help themselves. Amen!



Is education in Africa beating about the bush?

· Time to create an industrious Africa through the head, heart, and hands.

It will be tough to separate Winston Churchill’s command of the English language from his wicked wit. While a lesser idiom might suggest, for example, that “It’s time to stop beating about the bush,” Churchill might capture Africa’s education dilemma thus: We must “now lay eggs instead of scratching around in the dust clucking. It is a far more satisfactory occupation.”

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

I recall moderating a panel discussion at Ashesi University (March 8, 2017) on the theme: “Engaging Current & Next Generation Leaders on Sustainability Issues, and Shifting From Debate to Solutions.” The three panelists were Prof James Calvin of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and Associate Prof Kairn A. Klieman of the University of Houston – both from the United States, and Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh – Ghana’s new minister of education.

My introductory presentation focused on the SDGs – successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The key elements among the seventeen goals in the SDGs included:

  • Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere,
  • Achieving food security through sustainable agriculture,
  • Ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages,
  • Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,
  • Building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation.

But among the key kingpins to make those laudable objectives happen was an inclusive and equitable education that promoted lifelong learning opportunities for all.

All theories and no action

With regards to the relevant education for Africa today, it is so patently clear that the future is in technology, production and entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, developing the skills that add value to Africa’s tremendous natural resources must be a prime educational commitment to eradicate poverty on the continent. The status quo academic education – as we know it and are conditioned to accept willy nilly – is fast becoming an enemy of the good.  “Laying eggs” supports a more satisfactory education, in lieu of scratching around in the dust and clucking at theories and reports.

Africas Minerals

Ask a typical academician, what is the alternative to the present passé state of education and they may show a disguised anger. Many are in denial, even from the very top echelons; and being ill equipped, unwilling, or shy to be retrained for the modern expectations to support the pressing needs, some remain stuck in their old stuff. But why take the youth on a wild goose chase, beating about the bush in theories as if that will resolve, say, the challenge of employment for the youth?

Frankly, how many of our academicians teaching the youth today are truly comfortable with computers and technology? The arguments often heard from academicians who tend to defend the status quo is that they are teaching students to become critical thinkers. So then the question is simply this: What do critical thinkers do? And I believe the answer to that question resided in a caution advocated long ago by J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey: “Don’t tell me what you know; show me what you can do!”  Aggrey endorsed the view that the combination of the head, heart, and hands when mobilized helped the educated person to be truly productive and effective. He spread that caution in the 1920s, about a good hundred years ago. In short, all theories and no action, make African nations dull and poor.

Work and happiness

Interestingly, we desire progress and happiness but not the work that makes the impossible possible. President Kwame Nkrumah’s “Work and happiness” corroborated Aggrey’s advocacy. Frankly speaking, for Africa generally and for all developing countries like Ghana, there’s the imperative to do honest work, to eradicate poverty, disease, and raise standards of living across board for everyone, in support of the SDGs. Africa’s youth flood at the entrances of foreign embassies to look for a better life; and the flood includes many university graduates who have lost hope in their academic education in their respective countries.

Singapore, for example, concentrated on getting factories started. As Lee Kuan Yew put it, “Despite our small domestic market of 2 million, we protected locally assembled cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, radios, television sets, and tape-recorders, in the hope that they would later be partly manufactured locally. We encouraged our own business people who set up small factories to manufacture vegetable oils, cosmetics, mosquito coils, hair cream, joss paper, and even mothballs!”

On the agricultural front, it is time to replicate the Asian agricultural model that resulted in the food self-sufficiency of India, China, and turned Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam into major food exporters.

Africa agric pot
Africa’s agricultural potential

Industrial development must include the equally important need for agriculture, fishing and forestry.

Factories in lieu of offices

 For some lazy reasons, there seem to be more offices and churches in poor countries than factories. As I asked in a previous column, “why do the various governments – one after the other – continue to build majestic offices where some tend to bask in air conditioners pushing paper, listening to political insults, and watching movies about superstitions? Won’t it be wiser to spend those resources building factories to produce for the nation’s needs? Wasn’t independence about avoiding dependence on others? Such concerns ought to keep rocking the nation’s conscience until they are resolved.”

By the same token, at the university levels, why not focus on workshops and laboratories where the present and future reside?