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Ghana begins to tap oil, but can it avoid the 'resource curse'?

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Local chiefs demand 10 percent of oil revenues

In spite of being the source of much of the country’s gold, manganese, bauxite, timber and cocoa exports, lawmakers have long neglected Ghana’s Western region, says Awulae Agyeifi Kwame, a traditional chief from the western town of Nsein.

In November, Mr. Kwame and other chiefs took a petition to Parliament demanding ten percent of oil revenues for the Western region to develop its poor infrastructure. Although Parliament rejected the proposal, it stoked debate about how to distribute the windfall, which government estimate will be around $400 million in 2011 and increase as production ramps up.

“Since [independence from Britain in 1957], we [in Western Ghana] have been cheated,” Kwame says, wrapped in a thick Kente cloth that resembles a toga. “We all want to see the success of the industry, but not at our expense.”

Although Kwame downplays any hint of violence, his sentiments echo those of militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, who attack pipelines and kidnap expatriate oil workers in a purported battle against the theft of its oil and in protest at the environmental devastation.

“If our voice is not heard, there are those who might handle it in a more radicalized way,” Kwame says.

Is Ghana prepared for the flow of oil?

The problem with oil, says Nicholas Shaxson, author of ‘Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil’, is that the question “who gets what?” starts to dominate local and national politics. It can be incredibly divisive.

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