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Ghana aims to avoid the 'oil curse'

President John Kufuor says he will put safeguards in place to ensure that newly discovered oil reserves will not be mismanaged.

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The recent discovery of oil off Ghana's western coast is inspiring dreams of national wealth.

"Thank God for oil," says Sylvester Mensah, a hotel employee.

The country's political leaders are equally enthusiastic.

President John Kufuor recently said that oil will transform Ghana's economy into an "African tiger."

But while the discovery by London-based Tullow Oil of up to 600 million barrels in June has been hailed as a birthday present for the 50-year-old country, observers question whether Ghana, an oasis of stability in volatile West Africa, will find the black gold more of a curse than a blessing.

They hope Ghana can avoid the instability that has plagued other African countries as a result of their failure to prevent small cliques of elites from channeling most of the proceeds into their own bank accounts.

"We have opportunity of learning from the experiences or the failure of others," says John Boadu, a youth organizer in Ghana's ruling New Patriotic Party.

How oil has hurt African countries

The continent's leading oil producer, Nigeria, has received more than $400 billion since its boom began in 1970, yet its Gross National Income per capita is about 25 percent lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Corruption and poverty are rife, fuel shortages are endemic, and armed gangs regularly kidnap foreign oil workers and battle the Nigerian Army in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The annual budget of Angola, Africa's number two producer, is $31 billion, but its official figures for infant mortality are the among the worst in the world.

"What most people don't understand about oil is that, not only does the money not filter through to the majority of the population, but it's much worse than that," says Nicholas Shaxson, an oil analyst at the London-based Chatham House think tank and the author of "Poisoned Wells," which examines how the resource affects countries. "It actively makes most people poorer."

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