Resources at the heart of Western Togoland struggle between Ghana and Separatists?

Separatists display Western Togoland Flag Photo Courtesy: DW

Two factions are in a historic battle for land in Ghana’s east with claims over the lands by each faction steeped in history in connection to the rubble of two World Wars. The Republic of Ghana and a separatist group named Homeland Study Group Foundation were thrust into the spotlight in an election year in 2020 when the separatist group made sovereign claims and moves over the stretch of land that straddles the border with Togo from the north to almost the southern tip of the border.

Roads were blocked, tyres were burnt and a flag was flown to represent (what supporters of the separatist group) a new country called Western Togoland. There were reports of armed wings ready to defend this claim but the insurrection was quashed by Ghana’s army that keeps the land in dispute in the bosom of the country at the centre of the earth. Reasons behind Ghana’s decisive move to keep the lands within its borders could be linked to several outlets.

It could be Ghana’s way of dousing the flames of separatists on ethnic lines that have hurt the country in the past or the immediate and strong response could be Ghana’s way of showing the strength of the state. Whatever the reason is, Ghana’s borders haven’t changed since the plebiscite was conducted and bar a complete breakdown in intelligence gathering, the situation looks under control.

However, an important but less explored angle to this debate is the role of economics. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union came after world oil prices collapsed in the 1980’s depriving the Union of its ability to provide food and soap to its citizens, pretty much all moves that consolidate or break up states are linked to economic resources.

The discovery (in 2007) and production of oil and gas in commercial quantities in Ghana in 2010 has given Ghana extra source of income and the prospects of further discoveries have led to exploration works in onshore fields particularly in the Voltaian Basin which has almost of all the lands of Western Togoland in it. In’s publication on February 11, 2018, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo stated “It is good to hear that that directive appears to be yielding dividends, as GNPC (Ghana National Petroleum Corporation), from the results of its pilot survey in the Voltaian basin, has established the presence of a working petroleum system.”

Onshore production of oil in Africa is a bigger challenge than offshore production since a myriad of issues including land litigations and attacks on oil facilities are real threats. While offshore production has its challenges including dwindling fish stock for fishermen as a result of oil platforms attracting fish via bright lights on rigs, artificial reef creation via the platforms presence in the sea and food scraps thrown into the sea from these platforms, it is less susceptible to the dangers posed onshore. For instance, Ghana’s oilfields in operation are six hours via helicopter offshore from the Western Region’s capital, Sekondi-Takoradi.

From President Akufo-Addo’s statement, it is clear there is a high probability more oil fields with recoverable commercial quantities are to be discovered in the coming years from the Voltaian basin. As such, having the rights over the lands is imperative to secure the economic well being of the country in the near future. This move isn’t new and it mirrors what China has done over the years to a far lesser degree in Tibet and the Muslim Uyghur’s dominated Xinjiang Province. Quelling demonstrations for autonomy in these provinces sometimes brutally has dominated world headlines and cast China in a bad light.

Despite consistent wide condemnation reportage on mass incarcerations and human rights abuse tactics deployed, China is still moving on and its adamancy is directly linked to the riches of Tibet and Xinjiang Province. Rivers and tributaries in South East Asia are fed by water from the Tibetan plateau and with water playing a key role in international diplomacy (just look at the rift between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam), China wants to utilize the resource to its advantage. The past and present China relies on coal to power the country but the future China looks to rely less on coal and more on gas as it works to develop more sustainably.

However, in both scenarios, China needs coal and gas from the Xinjiang Province to ensure this happens; the Province holds China’s largest coal and gas reserves. Akin to this, the Silk Road was an ancient route that linked Europe and Asia for several centuries and commuters went through Xinjiang Province. In the modern age, China’s Belt and Road initiative or the new Silk Road is an ambitious plan by China to construct bridges, ports and roads across several countries to hasten transportation of goods and people. Xinjiang Province is key to this initiative due its location in the North West part of China that borders Kazakhstan where China imports a bulk of its oil over land from.

Without having control of the province, China can’t roll out such initiatives and gets weakened. With larger oil fields possibly in the Voltaian Basin, Ghana isn’t ready to give up Western Togoland. It does set up ground for armed rebel conflicts with the separatists in the future should the Basin prove to be rich as predicted on the contrary.

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