The Paradox of Plenty

Over the past 24 months I have traveled to Ghana in West Africa 3 times.  Three years ago I would never have imagined I would have done this.  These trips have introduced me to people, experiences and places I never even thought about.  And now, Ghana is personal to me.  I care.

On a recent trip to Ghana I met a young woman, Laura, who suggested a book, Untapped:  The Scramble for Africa’s Oil by John Ghazvinian. This book tells the story of the discovery of oil in several countries in Africa and the resulting effects on those nations economies, people, governments and stability.  Oil was discovered off the coast of Ghana recently.  Even in the past 2 years on my 3 short visits I have seen a surge in development in the capital Accra.  Last month I saw numerous hotels, high-rise office buildings and condos in various stages of completion.  It was obvious that Accra was preparing itself for something big. After reading this book I fear they may be opening Pandora’s box.

A growing body of evidence suggests that oil, far from being a blessing to African countries, is a curse.  Without exception, every developing country where oil has been discovered has seen its standard of living decline and its people suffer, while its less-well-endowed neighbors have gone on to (relative) prosperity.  Scholars have dubbed this phenomenon, which depends on a curious matrix of economic and sociological responses to a sudden influx of petroleum money, the “paradox of plenty” or the “resource curse.”  Inevitably, little of the oil wealth ever makes its way to those who need it most.

Now that Ghana is personal to me I have a great concern for what lies ahead for them as a nation.  And what appears to be the wealth and resource to develop their country and lift them out of poverty, improve health standards, infrastructures, education and vocational opportunities may instead be a veiled step towards instability and decline.

I’m not sure what one person living in upstate NY can do about sounding the warning signal to the government about these concerns.  But instead it has caused me to think about the relationships my church has with an NGO in Ghana and the resources we have made available to them.  It’s probably silly to compare the amount of money we work with to the billions of dollars that will be available from the oil revenues.  But I’m not sure that the same principle might apply.  When we work for something we have much greater ownership in the outcome, the ongoing development and the investment of that resource.  I see this in my life.  When I work, save and then eventually attain something I am much more careful to manage it well.  But when someone gives me a gift, a windfall, I do not have the same sense of value or ownership.  I enjoy the gift but I’m not sure I can appreciate to its fullest.

In light of this, as I think of the partnership with my friends in Ghana on our small projects and endeavors, I am reminded how important it is for them to own the work and the outcome.  To strive to achieve the goal.  It is only in the striving that you are able to truly experience the joy of the victory.  There are many lessons and victories along the way that are learned through the hard work and daily disciplines.  And in this we must both strive together, as a coach/trainer and athlete work together towards a common goal.  This binds us as partners working together, each sharing in the victory and removes the potential dangers of dependency, pride and self-interest.

The paradox of plenty.  When I have enough I become complacent, lazy and content to coast.  I have more time to look around and envy what I don’t have and focus on petty issues and problems.   This is true in more than just my bank account.  It carries over into faith and relationships too.  Being a little hungry might not be such a bad thing.

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